Mentorship is the No. 1 benefit of being part of WIFS, according to our members. Studies show that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs to support talent development and retention. So if you have a mentor and the results are consistently extraordinary, why would you need an advocate? Because mentorship, with all its indisputable advantages, just isn’t enough. Having an advocate is a power-up strategy that can add velocity to your professional advancement.
In Creating a Culture for Women to Rise to the Top, I share five critical steps to establishing and sustaining environments where women can get where they really want to go in their career. Promoting advocacy is one of them. While mentorship is vital to professional and personal development, advocacy is imperative to break through barriers and achieve levels of exceptional success.
What are the differences between a mentor and an advocate? Three things: who they are for you, what they bring to you and what they can do for you. Firstly, a mentor is a role model while an advocate is a champion. Mentors bring value in the conversations they have with you, and advocates bring value in conversations they have for you. A mentor advises, counsels and supports you, helping you prevail over and grow from professional and personal challenges. An advocate, on the other hand, promotes you with the intention of accelerating your upward career moves. They spend more time speaking for you publicly to others rather than to you privately.
Secondly, a mentor brings their experience, expertise and wisdom to the relationship, imparting it so you can learn from them and emulate their success in your own way. An effective mentor is privately vulnerable as they intimately share their experiences, both good and bad. An advocate brings their connections, credibility and clout to the relationship so they can put you in front of the right people at the right time for the right projects, promotions and possibilities. An effective advocate is publicly vulnerable when they vouch for you, attesting to your abilities, your ambition and your commitment.
Thirdly, a mentor can help you evaluate and even maximize opportunities you encounter in your career while an advocate can actually create those opportunities, many of which you wouldn’t have had if they had not proactively sought them out for you. A mentor helps you perform better in the here and now, which impacts your future, yet an advocate lauds your performance to others and propels you into the future you envision.
Since mentors and advocates function differently on your success team, you must be even more strategic in determining whom you ask. Advocates are typically, but not always, inside your organization. If the organization is large scale, they are ideally two career levels above where you are currently and have some influence on your role or department. If the organization is smaller, potential candidates are the president, the founder of the company or someone who is part of their “inner circle.” If an advocate is outside the organization, they must have a sphere of contacts that include those inside your company with real power to influence your career path. Know this: Advocacy must be earned and must be earned continually. You may be calling on your advocate multiple times throughout your career, so gaining their trust, respect and support is never a “one and done” occurrence.
So how do you work with an advocate? In a similar way to working with a mentor, yet there are a few nuances that make it slightly different. Both mentors and advocates want to watch you succeed and find it tremendously gratifying to know they have been a part of your success journey. While protégés often worry they’re asking “a lot”, mentors and advocates understand that the balance of giving weighs more heavily on their side. A heartfelt acknowledgment with a sincere “thank you” attached really is sufficient reward for them. To watch you grow in your career and pay it forward is a bonus.
When developing a relationship with your mentor and your advocate, it is important to respect their generosity and their time by showing up, showing up on time and showing up prepared. While discussions with your mentor can develop organically and be more fluid, talking with your advocate needs to be very specific. Since your advocate will be working on your behalf, keeping their ears peeled for opportunities or perhaps making calls and setting meetings to promote you, you must be clear about what you want them to help you attain. When you meet with your mentor, you are naturally more vulnerable and humble as you ask for their guidance. It’s different with your advocate. While you want to truthfully represent yourself, you must be confident in who you are and what you’re capable of achieving when you meet with your advocate. Focus on your skillsets, your accomplishments and your untapped potential without abandon or excuse. Let them see your best self so they can portray your best self to others as well. To make the most of your relationship with your advocate, these are three simple guidelines to follow.
One: Know what your success pathway looks like before you meet with your advocate. While your advocate can help you map out some of the critical touchpoints along your journey to the top, they need to know what “the top” looks like for you. Working with your mentor, you can explore options and visualize your future to prepare you for your conversations with your advocate.
Two: Share your intentions with your advocate and ask them to help you find opportunities to move you forward. You must be bold and you must be brave in your requests! Ask your advocate to endorse you for pay raises and promotions, to increase your visibility with senior leaders in your company or introduce you to other leaders outside the company, to suggest that you are assigned challenging projects. Think big and ask big.
Three: Follow through with every door your advocate opens for you. This is the No. 1 guideline to honor. Your advocate is staking their reputation on you and probably calling in a few “chips” for you. Make it worth their effort by following up each time they do so. Even if the opportunity doesn’t pan out, it affirms to your advocate that you are committed, you are engaged and you appreciate all they are doing for you.
When considering who you want as part of your success team, never think you have to choose between having a mentor and having an advocate. You need both. Having a mentor is extremely important. Having a mentor and an advocate is a career game changer.
H.E. Dr. Aprille Trupiano, CEO of AT International, helps develop Million Dollar Producers. She lives in the US and Italy, where she delivers her programs and workshops to financial services professionals so they can enjoy life AND make money at the office. As a TV show host on ABC and STL-TV, a radio host on her show “Business Her Way,” a featured Expert in Forbes, Huffington Post and a host of other publications, Dr. Aprille has inspired literally millions around the world with her unique brand of business expertise. AT International, LC works with private firms and mid-size to large companies via Focus Groups, Trainings and Executive Coaching.
Dr. Aprille is an Ambassador at Large for the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. She was nominated for 2015 Small Business Innovator of the Year by USA Today. A firm believer in lifting others as she climbs, Dr. Aprille was also nominated for Woman of the Year by WIFS and has served as a WIFS National Mentorship Team Leader. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.