February 27, 2012 Articles

Where Mentoring Ends and Sponsorship Begins

A mentor often plays two chief roles, acting as both a mirror for seeing yourself more clearly and a prism for seeing organizations and systems more clearly.

By Susan Letterman White, JD, MS

Mentoring is an important element in advancing a lawyer’s career. A mentor often plays two chief roles, acting as both a mirror for seeing yourself more clearly and a prism for seeing organizations and systems more clearly.

Mentors can tell you about the culture of an organization or system—i.e., the hidden rules of the game for advancing your agenda or objectives. Mentors can reveal the implicit biases that make it harder for women and other lawyers of less social identity privilege to advance their careers. They can tell you who in your organization or system has the real decision-making power, and what you will need to do before those people will exert their decision-making power on your behalf. Mentors also can offer insight and advice about how to leverage your strengths for maximum benefit. Specifically, mentors can tell you what you need to do more or less of to build your own power bases. Power bases, which are a person’s individual sources of energy available to use in any strategy to attain goals, can arise from:

•controlling resources, the most important of which in a law firm is a significant book of business;

•increasing your network power base of relationships;

•improving your standing as an expert in your field;

•formal authority; and

•improving your referent power or likeability.

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