Tweet: This blog is about the roles of a career coach, mentor, champion, sponsor, & your network in how they can help manage & advance your career.
Although I have branded myself as a career and a life coach I often get queries from potential clients asking me if I would be their mentor or if I could champion their start-up venture to get Angel or VC funding. Many career professionals often do not see the difference between a Coach, a Mentor, a Sponsor, or a Champion. Although they all play a catalysts role in ones career each has a different place and how they can help catalyze your career. This blog is about clarifying the role of each catalyst in managing your career and in providing some guidance on how to reach out to the right one at the right time of your needs.
A catalyst is defined in the context of a chemical reaction as the action or effect of an agent in increasing the rate of that reaction without itself being consumed. In the context of ones career, reaction can be interpreted as the rate at which a career progresses and how it is facilitated by someone, who has the power to change its trajectory. So, a well-catalyzed career will have a steeper career arc than its counterpart. Here, a person is struggling to get moving in their career and is frustrated by how they are not able to move forward with sufficient momentum that provides them the growth, rewards, and self-actualization that they are after.
After I lay out the importance of the roles of each of these catalysts and how they can best serve your career needs I also want to touch upon how friends, acquaintances, relatives, and neighbors in your social and professional network can play a role in shaping your thinking about your career. I am doing this because many clients who come to me are often confused or lost because of the conflicting guidance from this group of people willing to offer help in their careers.
Career Coach: A career coach is a professional experienced in matters of how a career can be best managed by applying some experiential thinking, practical tips, and individual needs that change as one evolves in their career. A competent career coach has some knowledge of the industry in which you want to grow, but this is not a requirement. Each industry vertical has its own set of career requirements, resources, and lexicon, but a proficient career coach is able to conceptualize that understanding and to provide the guidance required to advance in the direction where the client wants to go. The diversity of clients they service and the range of their clients ages, levels, and geographic reach can test a coachs versatility. In fact, when selecting a career coach this is one of the elements worth asking about.
A good coach is not merely limited to what a client has in their mind, but is able to provide objective input to what the client may be able to achieve if they were willing to make an effort under the guidance of that coach. Such a coach always challenges clients to to reach beyond their grasp, and inspires them to act, providing the impetus, guidance, and the tools to achieve the objective. Of course, the client does the heavy lifting, with the coach providing the resources, expertise, encouragement, and the tools necessary to stay on track and to achieve the objectives.
A good coach is direct and open in their approach to improving a clients situation; they may use Radical Directness to get the client to change their behavior. They must be open to not merely providing a transactional solution to the clients problem, but also a strategic one based on some detailed root-cause analysis. This is where clients can benefit the most in breaking the repeat patterns of their limiting beliefs, self-defeating mindsets, and behaviors.
A good career coach is a one-stop shop for majority of a clients needs (rsum, interview coaching, LinkedIn Profile, Bios, negotiations, final job selection, workplace conflicts, a vast rolodex of contacts, among other needs). Unlike a medical practician, who can send a patient to different specialists in an endless cycle of diagnostic tests and treatments, a good career coach must be able to provide what is needed to improve their clients station with their own expertise in at least 90% of the situations. They should also be able to refer clients to the right employment lawyers, speech therapists, acting coaches, talent agents, and financial consultants as needed.
My own experience as a career coach is that those who retain coaching services on an ongoing basis benefit the most. Those who see coaching as something that helps them only during a crisis may benefit in overcoming that crisis, but are not able to sustain the required momentum to keep their growth on an aggressive path. They keep coming back to that coach every time the crisis returns to interfere with their career.
Some often look at the cost (hourly rate) as an impediment to seeking coaching advice. This is myopic. A good coach can provide value many times what it costs if the client has a good understanding of where they need help and how to use their own resources, using the coach only as a catalyst instead of a crutch.
As a career coach I help clients manage their rsum; as their life coach I help them manage their obituary when they are gone!
Mentor: A mentor is typically a well-established professional in your very field of endeavor who takes interest in you as a result of your interactions with them. Occasionally, too, someone in a mentorship position will notice a young and upcoming player in their filed who holds much promise and the mentor will take special interest in them to take that person under their wing as their protg and guide them to success. Examples of mentor/mentee or mentor/protg relationship abound: Most recent success of J. J. Abrams, the director of the latest Star Wars release, among many others, was noticed early in his career by Steven Spielberg and he mentored him in his early career; Steve Jobs of Apple took Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and mentored him during his early days at Facebook.
A mentor/mentee relationship is quite different from that of a coach and their client. In a typical mentor/mentee relationship there is no fee involved; mentoring is done as a professional and personal exchange between the two people, with the more senior person guiding the other with their wisdom learned from their specific expertise in their field of endeavor.
It is not uncommon to have many mentors at one time or over a period of ones career, unlike a career coach. A typical career coach/client arrangement is likely to last over a long period of time throughout the clients career, although as the client evolves their needs may outgrow what a coach can provide. Because of the paid relationship the client has no obligation to stay with their coach once they feel that they have outgrown its usefulness; such relationships can be mostly transactional.
Clients often ask me if their immediate boss would be a good choice for being their mentor. Such an arrangement is not a good idea for many reasons: For one, if your boss takes special interest in you preemptively then the optics of it can vitiate your own relationships with your immediate colleagues reporting to him; and for another, if the relationship sours for any reason your boss may stop being objective in how they see your performance. Bothand otherfactors make this arrangement a bad idea.
Sponsor: A sponsor is a senior member of a companys management team who has a special relationship with someone up-and-coming whom they want to help. The reasons for this interest may vary from very personal to very professional. Such a sponsor can be of great help in shaping the young persons career agenda within the company and act as their sponsor in promoting it. In highly political organizations such a relationship can be a major asseteven more than mere great job performance. Such relationship can be a double-edge sword because of this.
Unlike a Champion (see below) a Sponsor can be a long-term benefit in a company. Their influence is mostly limited to the ambit of the organization in which they play; not so much outside it.
Champion: A champion is someone who takes special interest in your CAUSE and decides to help you with it within their organization. A typical champion is in senior management, who may have their own agenda. If they find someone to advance that agenda they may act as your champion if you carry that cause for them. Unlike a Sponsor, a Champion can have relationship interest that is limited to their own agenda. So, it is best to ascertain what that is before entering into a relationship and getting favors from a Champion. Also, in an organization a person can have multiple Champions in various stages of engagement. In such situations make sure that you do not put yourself in political cross hairs and become a target that will compromise your own career.
Friends, Relatives, and Neighbors: It is good to have people in this circle, who can provide you guidance and their own wisdom in managing your career. Before you blindly follow their advice make sure that you acknowledge to yourself that they are not an expert in the area of career management, except perhaps sharing with you what has worked and what has not worked for them in their situation.
Just as you would not consult them in situations involving your health mattersbecause they require earned expertisecareer matters can be deceptively commonsense, leading you to take their advice on faith. I have too many cases of clients who were misled by blindly following such advice because the nature of that exchange was limited to the clients transactional needs. A career coach can provide a much more studied insight because a good career coach will explore detailed context of your situation and will provide guidance based on that and their much more comprehensive perspective having worked with clients facing similar situations in the past. Besides, when you seek outsiders advice and do not follow it you may be blamed later for not heeding what they advised you.
So, the above is a summary of the resources that can help you catalyze your career. Once you understand the role of each of these players it will be easier for you to make the right choice and get the right guidance to accelerate your career.
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.
After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.
During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.
Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.
Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.
Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.
Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.
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