Internal Advocates & External Mentors

Your boss is not your mentor. 

I don’t believe that you can truly have a “mentor” in your company. You may have a boss who has mentorship like qualities, but let’s be clear, they are your boss. And even the best bosses may struggle doing what is in the best interest for the company vs. what is in the best interest for you. While you are employed the best you can do is develop a group of internal advocates, which can be incredibly valuable.

While you are an employee take time to develop internal advocates

Your company is a vast collection of individual experiences, competencies, ideas, approaches, and advice. Tapping into this wisdom provides you with paths for advancement within and outside your organization.

Internal Advocates are the people that would go to bat for you in tough situations, sing your praises when you do well, and recommend you for projects or advancement when the needs arise. You most likely would do the same for them. One day, once you have parted ways, some of these internal advocates may turn into lifetime mentors.

The key difference between internal advocates and mentors is the presence of bias. Employees in the same company are biased. This bias may be insignificant, but they still have a duty and a responsibility to the organization.

Take time to develop internal advocates

When you first join a company your goal should be to develop relationships with one superior and one peer. Then turn this relatioship into one of advocacy. The superior does not need to be your boss, just anyone with some pull. It still should be a genuine relationship, rather than strategically designed. Take a few months to see if there is anyone you click with.

The best way to turn a co-worker into an advocate is to do a great job and help them do their job better, but don’t be the person who achieves greatness by being a workaholic, this just increases the pressure for everyone. Here are some more tips to turn a co-working relationship into one of advocacy.

  • Genuinely sing their praises often.
  • Ask for advice, and take the advice.
  • When you get advice, write it down right then. It shows them you are actually listening and care.
  • Communicate frequently your successes and failures.
  • Turn informal lunches into regular weekly check-ins.
  • Let them confide in you, and in return, confide in them.
  • Don’t talk office gossip or drama.
  • Give them honest and great feedback, but ask their permission before you do so.
  • This sounds very much like a mentor-mentee relationship, with one important distinction. Your internal advocate has a duty and responsibility towards the company, and not to you. It may feel like you come first at times.

Here are some things not do it:

  • Don’t be disingenuous
  • Don’t go around telling people they are your advocate or mentor.
  • Don’t use what they share with you to advance yourself (unless they give you permission)

When they leave or you leave the company (by quitting, layoff, another opportunity, retirement, etc.) you need to take some time to rekindle the relationship and reestablish your norms of your community. Your weekly lunch is not going to happen. This break is just a change in habit. Take some time (2-4 weeks) to let new habits form, then reach out and set up a specific time to share a meal. If your company offers exit coaching as a benefit, ask your coach for ideas on how to keep these relationships going.

The change is also a disruption in your topics of conversation. If the departure was negative it may be uncomfortable for you or them to talk about the company. Thus, you will need new things to talk about. Consider bringing your topics up a notch, and talk about bigger items such as career goals, skill recommendation, networking.

Pretty soon your internal advocate is now your mentor.