Higgins and Kram have written about reconceptualizing mentoring. Generally, we think of a mentee as having 1-2 mentors. In some organizations, those mentors are assigned. Often - if a person is cognizant of it - they will recognize other people who are informal mentors. However, the word "mentor" doesn't define what that person is supposed to do. Out of the research by Higgins and Kram has emerged four roles: navigator, sponsor, coach, and confidant. Briefly they are:
- Navigator: Advises on organizational dynamics and expectations.
- Sponsor: Promotes your interests within the organizational structure.
- Coach: Listens to help you develop the skills needed to negotiate your duties.
- Confidant: Listens to your challenges and triumphs. Cheers you on.
Notice that the last two roles do not need to be people within your organization. Also...you need all four roles! One person cannot do all of these things. In addition, some people are better at certain roles than others.
This is an unprecedented year with more change and turmoil than most of us could ever imagine. This is a year where you may need someone who is formally or informally your navigator, sponsor, coach, or confidant. It could be that you need someone to help you understand the changing dynamics in your organization. Maybe you need someone to help you develop new skills. Or perhaps you need someone who can listen to your challenges and cheer you on, even if that person cannot help to solve them. If you need people in these roles, look within your organization and at other people in your broader network. The right person may be hundreds of miles away and in an organization that is different from yours.
With any mentoring relationship, you may want to tell that person what you need from them. Do you need someone who will just listen (as if listening is easy) or someone who help you increase your visibility? Do you need someone to help you short-term or are you interested in developing a long-term relationship? Be honest...at least with yourself.
And do keep in mind that relationships change. That person who is an awesome mentor now may not be the person you need next year. That's okay.
- Monica Higgins and Kathy E. Kram. (2001). "Reconceptualizing Mentoring at Work: A Developmental Network Perspective." Academy of Management Review. 26. 264-288. 10.5465/AMR.2001.4378023.
- Kathy E. Kram and Monica C. Higgins. (2008) "A New Approach to Mentoring." Wall Street Journal.