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Mentoring Myths Decoded

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Preya Nixon

on 24 February 2015

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Transcript of Mentoring Myths Decoded

Three Common Mentoring Questions
Many of you have at least some understanding of mentoring, given all of the press focused on professional mentoring in recent years. In this Prezi, I've pulled together--with the help of the NUDC--three mentoring messages that many of us encounter, and have worked to decode them.
When people say "you need a mentor", what do they mean? My company does not have a mentoring program, so I am unsure what I should be looking for.
A Coach
This is someone who gives you good advice and encourages you. This might be a person at your workplace who is not your supervisor, but with whom you feel some rapport and can bounce ideas off of them. It could be your supervisor as well. The coach really has your best interest in mind, and helps you to see the choices in front of you.

A Sponsor
This is someone who helps to make you more visible, or who serves as an important reference when seeking a promotion. In your company or your field, there are often “good people to know” and these individuals often serve as the sponsors as their word is important and they may also have access to key resources or opportunities.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, Ph.D.
Associate Dean of Faculty; Professor of Psychology and Education; Director of the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership
First, you want to learn about different kinds of mentors. There are three prominent types that most professionals find helpful.
A Developer
This is a great supervisor or colleague who is known for giving stretch assignments and excellent feedback. If you think about people at your workplace who are on a great trajectory, you can sometimes trace them back to particular mentors at the company. These mentors are considered developers because they take a vested interest in developing your core skills. They might for example have you represent the team at a key meeting so you can get practice with presenting, and then offers to debrief your performance.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, Ph.D
The short answer then is you are looking for people who are willing to give good advice, who are associated with investing in new hires who go on to become successful. Or you might join a team or attend seminars where you are likely to meet key people who can learn more about the contributions you are making to the company by seeing you in action (not necessarily by hearing you talk about it—more on that in a minute).

I’m tired of people saying “You don’t need a mentor, you need a sponsor.” You can’t just walk up to someone and ask him or her to be your sponsor, right? If that is the case, how do you get a sponsor?

All too often, people throw out advice, trying to be helpful but end up being unhelpful because it is so vague. I know new professionals wish someone more senior would introduce them to their network. The problem is even in a formal mentoring program, where the senior colleague has signed up to help the newer professional, that senior colleague doesn't really know you. So they are not ready to vouch for you.

Sponsoring Involves Referral and Reputation
Few people are willing to risk their reputations easily. We rarely recommend just anyone. (Think about how difficult it can be to recommend a service or a restaurant to a very good friend.) This is why choosing your supervisor carefully is a good idea, someone who realizes the landscape includes sponsors, and that sponsors need to appreciate our contributions in order to move up. It helps when your supervisor provides you with visible assignments, or will give you credit when potential sponsors are in the room. 

Do you ever outgrow your mentor?
The short answer is Yes. At each stage of our careers or in various roles, we have different kinds of needs as well as interests. It’s an unpopular topic, but sometimes we stay working out of loyalty for a supervisor who is not providing the challenge that we need to move forward or in some cases, move laterally, in order to feel more satisfied. I have heard of cases when a once-supportive mentor does not agree with a career direction that you want to take, and even attempts to block the movement or fails to provide a timely reference.
The National Utilities Diversity Council

To learn more about mentoring and STEM, please visit http://www.millionwomenmentors.org
The Short Answer is:
All professionals need safe spaces (note the coach role some mentors play) where they can talk candidly about their career goals and relationships. For this purpose, some people seek professional coaching, which can provide a novel viewpoint to help you to navigate your next steps, without complication from asking someone at your own work or a close friend who knows so much about your life.
To learn more about these mentoring questions and answers,
we hope you will consult these resources!
Becky Wai-Ling Packard is a professor of psychology and education and is the Director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts. At the Weissman Center, she oversees all activities such as student leadership programming and public events, and she is responsible for Teaching and Learning Initiatives including new faculty mentoring. She is interested in the intersection of motivation, identity, and mentoring. She aims, she says, "to understand how young people without easily identifiable role models and mentors in career domains manage to find the mentoring they need and sustain their desired possible selves, or who they hope to become in the future."

To read Becky's full biography, and to learn more about her research, please visit
For questions about the NUDC please contact Laurie Dowling, Executive Director at laurie.dowling@nudc.com
For questions about NUDC's programs, please contact Preya Nixon at preya.nixon@nudc.com
The National Utilities Diversity Council conducts research to educate, develop best practices and guide efforts that will promote diversity in the utilities industry in the areas of governance, employment, procurement, language access/customer service, and philanthropy.
Packard's research focuses on mentoring, with an emphasis on how individuals such as first-generation college students, women, and persons of color construct and use mentoring networks and navigate complex pathways toward higher education and work.
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