Everything You Want To Know About Mentoring (Part 2)

Carmen O'Shea

In my last blog, I covered the how-when-where basics of mentorship. Here I’ll tackle some thornier questions about keeping up the mentoring partnership and about the mentor-sponsor link. And to wrap it up, I’ll share some final thoughts on mentoring that may come in handy.

How can I maintain the mentoring relationship?

Understand it’s your responsibility, not the mentor’s, to keep the relationship going. Be open and honest. Do what helps you the most. Don’t force it. If you don’t need to talk every month or quarter, don’t do it. If you feel you no longer need an ongoing relationship, let them know politely. On the other hand, when you and your mentor agree you’ll try something, make sure to follow up on it and give your mentor updates. Send mentors interesting info about you or tidbits about their area every so often. Share your wins with them.

How can I turn my mentor into a sponsor?

A mentor is not the same thing as a sponsor, although they may become one. Aim to have lots of mentors, but most people have one or two sponsors max (if any). For me, sponsors have usually been managers or people I’ve worked with very intensely and who know my strengths, weaknesses, and style. I always look at my managers as potential sponsors for me in the future. Mentors may not know you as well, especially depending on what you use them for.

That said, for a mentorship to turn into a sponsorship, the mentor needs to know your impact, have a deep understanding of your strengths, and be a willing champion for you. It should happen relatively naturally if it’s going to happen. You can test the waters out by asking your mentor if they’ll put in a good word for you for your job application or if they’d entertain your candidacy for a job in their organization (if there’s a mutual fit). But don’t push. Usually the people who know you best (i.e. managers or former peers) make the best sponsors because they assume less of a risk in advocating for you – they know what you can do already.

Can I be a mentor?

YES! Pay it forward. You can add value too, at any point in your career! Become a mentor too. You’ll learn! And feel good about giving back. And realize you have a lot to offer. Often mentoring others can lead to higher job engagement/satisfaction – for example, for me, mentorship and team management are the most gratifying and fulfilling aspects of my job, regardless of the content of my job. Try it out! I even encourage interns in my team to share their ideas with others – sometimes this concept of reverse mentoring can work well and bring new perspectives. All you need to do is mention to others that you’d be happy to speak further with them or brainstorm with them, and often people will jump on the opportunity to nab a mentor – whether on a one-time or ongoing basis. Don’t forget peer mentoring – this can be someone on a particular project or on your team or simply someone undergoing a similar career point in time, someone you’ve met along the way who has good ideas, someone who will be objective and “safe.” You can role play, ask for their advice and second opinion, or just vent to them when you need it.

 What are some final lessons learned from my previous mentoring relationships?

  1. Mentors don’t always make good bosses. Sometimes they’re awesome at mentoring and providing outside advice but in a different sort of relationship, the dynamic can be off.
  1. Mentors don’t have all the answers. They have one perspective and the benefit of both knowing you and being more objective, but the advice may not always work. Sometimes just getting you to think through something a bit differently is what is most needed.
  1. Everyone needs MULTIPLE mentors. No one person can address all needs, and people sometimes leave the company or are busy to interact. Having different perspectives can often help you think through challenges. Get mentors at different stages of their careers, from different functions, from different parts of the business, and from different cultures and genders.
  1. Be ready for the mentoring relationship to change. It may change over times as needs change, evolve into a sponsorship, continue through a company shift, or even end. I have as many mentees outside SAP now as I do inside SAP and even a few still from my days a decade ago at IBM. It’s up to you to keep it going or let it naturally run its course.

I hope this two-part series has been helpful in addressing questions you may have about mentoring. Whether you’re new to the concept or have mentored for years, you can always glean something useful (as mentee AND as mentor) if you make the effort to set up and maintain the partnership appropriately and effectively.

Read Part 1 of this series: Everything You Need To Know About Mentoring.

Carmen O'Shea

About Carmen O'Shea

Carmen O'Shea is the Senior Vice President of HR Change & Engagement at SAP. She leads a global team supporting major transformation initiatives across the company, focused on change management, employee engagement, and creative marketing and interaction. You can follow Carmen on Twitter.