My mentor today was first my boss, then my sponsor, and finally, my mentor.
I met Shamus when I started working as a tech reporter nearly nine years ago. I had journalism experience from a couple of internships and my first writing job out of college, but Shamus took an active role in improving my writing and reporting skills. I liked working with him because I learned so much from him and he gave me constructive feedback. We had worked together for about a year when he became more than a manager-- he became a sponsor.
At The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel events, we’ve boiled down the term “sponsor” to mean someone who is selling you when you’re not around. That's exactly what Shamus did during and even after his time as my manager. He supported me during my employee reviews, advocated for promotions on my behalf and made sure the company knew my value. He cared about my career path aside from just working as his subordinate.
After he left the company, his role in my life evolved to that of a mentor. I would run potential opportunities by him. I still reach out to him when I want to talk about my career or even talk about writing creatively, outside of what I do professionally.
An Evolving Role
My mentor/mentee relationship with Shamus didn't start out that way. In my experience, you shouldn't approach someone and ask them to be your mentor. Ideally, that role evolves over time.
Perhaps it's someone within your organization that you admire. Maybe it’s someone you've seen speak at an industry event. It can even be a peer. There’s another person in my life who I also consider a mentor, even though when I first met her, we were at the same level within our organization. She's hard-working, very intelligent and graceful in her interactions with others, personally and professionally.
That's important to remember -- you don't have to go "all-in" with a mentor. You can have different people you reach out to for advice on different aspects of your professional life, just as you would in your personal life.
Maybe there's someone in your circle who makes a good impression on you or their career path mirrors the road you'd like to travel. Ask them for a coffee to chat about their journey and what they learned along the way. Over time, you might turn that coffee date into a regular meeting or pivot it to a relationship where you call them once in a while to discuss an idea.
And remember, a good mentor/mentee relationship works both ways -- don't only call the person when you need something and be willing to chat about your life outside of work -- you both never know what you can learn from one another.