Mentor, Coach, or Champion?

GovFem_FinalIf you’re a professional woman working in government, I will bet big money that you have been told at least once that you should find yourself a mentor. It’s inevitably the go-to advice that I hear passed around when someone is facing career challenges or indecision.

Honestly, it’s not bad advice. Here at GovLoop, we are strong advocates for mentorship (we even have a program for govies!) because that sort of partnership can really help you develop your network, skills and personal ideals.

But sometimes you don’t need a mentor. Sometimes you need a coach. Sometimes you need a champion. You might even need all three.

Confused yet? That’s not surprising. These three terms are often used interchangeably to talk about peer-to-peer, supportive relationships. Nevertheless, you should learn the difference between each role so you can fit your career (or personal) need with the appropriate support.

Here’s a breakdown of each role:

coachThe Coach

What they are: A coach is someone who is willing to dedicate time and effort to helping you improve. She may teach you a new technical skill, introduce you to a new field, or enhance your soft skills. Coaching is task-oriented and most coaching relationships only last as long as it takes to learn the task at-hand.

When you need them: If you’re learning a new skill, entering a new field or department, or just looking to try something out of your comfort zone, find a coach to help you master what you need to move forward.

mentorThe Mentor

What they are: A mentor provides more holistic support than a coach, though they may not teach you a tangible skill. The goal of mentorship is to provide the mentee with advice, exposure, and inspiration through sharing. Mentors connect mentees to their networks, relate lessons learned from their own experiences, and foster critical thinking about career paths. To gain these benefits, a mentor should generally be someone in your chosen or prospective career field. Mentorship is indefinite because the relationship between the mentor and mentee is, in itself, the goal.

When you need them: If you’re looking to expand your network or perspective about a given field, find a mentor who can offer advice and support from their own experiences.


The Champion

What they are: A champion (sometimes called a sponsor) is an active and vocal supporter of your career. He should work within your organization, be a step or two above you in the career ladder, and have a keen understanding of you as a professional. Most importantly, a champion is someone who is enthusiastic about promoting your interests and ambitions (especially when you can’t). For champions, your success is their goal.

When you need them: Particularly if you’re facing institutional or cultural barriers of advancement, you need a champion to help you overcome obstacles and fight for your promotion.

Okay, so?

Now that you know the difference between the three roles, you might be thinking, “This all sounds great but ain’t nobody got time for three coffee dates every week.” Fair enough.

Thankfully, you don’t need three people to fulfill these three roles. A mentor may very well be able to coach you in the skills you seek, and she might also be a willing champion for you at work. In other instances, a coaching relationship may eventually evolve into a less task-oriented mentorship relationship.

These roles are fluid. What’s important to realize is how each role can help you in a professional situation, so that you know what to seek when you have need.

You can also use these roles to help better define and leverage existing relationships. For instance, if a department manager is constantly placing you on projects where you work side-by-side yet doesn’t show interest in deep conversations about your career, you want to foster the coaching and championing aspects of that relationship while possibly seeking a separate mentor.

Remember: no matter what you need in your career, it’s okay to ask for a little help. Just be sure you know what kind of help you’re asking for!

If you would like to get involved in GovLoop’s very own mentorship program, sign up for more information here or email me directly at [email protected]

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Angela Hooker

Thanks for this helpful post, Hannah! Here’s what I’m struggling with in my career:

“A champion (sometimes called a sponsor) is an active and vocal supporter of your career.”

What types of things should we ask a champion to do to vocally support our career (especially if you’re like am and you don’t self-promote often)?

Thanks for your insight!

Hannah Moss

Hey Angela!

That’s a little up to you and what you want/need support with but here are a few possibilities. You could ask your champion to:
– Recommend you for new projects
– Represent your career aspirations at leadership meetings (if you aren’t included in them)
– Request more funding or time for you to get new trainings/skills
– Generally brag about you to colleagues, mentioning your accomplishments and skills
– Help get your name out to new people and networks

If you still aren’t sure what to ask, or have a particular work hurdle you want them to address and want to talk more, feel free to shoot me an email at han[email protected]

Good luck!

Laura Free

Question–what’s a great way to turn a supervisory (or even a few steps above) relationship into a sponsor relationship, as the person in question is leaving my department? Tips welcome!

Hannah Moss

Hm, good question! I have a couple of suggestions.

The first would be to encourage your supervisor (or whoever is leaving) to keep in touch, letting you know what they end up doing in their new role and who they meet. Then, if you don’t hear from them, proactively follow up to ask them to coffee and get an update. That has to be step 1, because you (a) want to show interest in their own career and (b) you want to know exactly what they’re doing so you can ask for targeted support. If they are moving to a place you want to be, that’s perfect. But if they aren’t you can still tease out places where they can promote you and your goals.

Second, I wouldn’t be afraid to outright ask this person to sponsor you even as they move on with their own career. It doesn’t have to be awkward or super formal… Just saying, “Hey Jan, I’ve really appreciated all the help you’ve given me while you were here. I would really appreciate if you would continue to keep me in mind if you ever see an opportunity for me to grow.”

Again, you’ll want to follow up to help that person remember you and your cause! That’s probably the most important piece of advice here… even when a person leaves your org, make sure you keep the lines of communication open and remind them you (and your skills and goals) exist.

Does that help??