Finding the right person—in the right role—can be a boon to your career

When it comes to our careers, many of us have a destination in mind, but we aren’t sure how to navigate our way there. Being intentional about our choices is crucial no matter what career stage we’re in, and there are experts who can help—mentors, coaches, advocates, allies and sponsors. But how are they different? And how do we know which we need?

Kellie Jenkins

Two members of the Daniels community help us break it down. Kellie Jenkins is an adjunct faculty member in the Daniels College of Business Executive Education program, co-founder of Her Brilliance and a leadership coach. Andrea Westcott Passman (MBA 2008), COO of Caerus Oil and Gas, benefitted from mentorship early in her career. Today, she pays it forward by mentoring students from the University of Denver and Colorado School of Mines.

Mentor, coach, advocate, ally or sponsor?

First, spend time doing a self-assessment. What do you see as your career path? Where are you now and where do you want to go? Then, you can determine what you’re lacking and find the best kind of career expert to help you fill in the gaps. You don’t necessarily need one of each type of career expert in your network; the same person (e.g., your direct manager) could offer mentoring, coaching and sponsorship, or be an advocate and ally. What makes the difference is asking for what you need.

  • Mentors offer advice, often from their experiences walking the path before you.
  • Coaches engage in a thought-provoking, creative process that inspires people to maximize their personal or professional potential.
  • Advocates put their social capital on the line to help others.
  • Allies change the system to benefit others.
  • Sponsors, like advocates, use their influence to help advance your career.
Andrea Westcott Passman headshot

Andrea Westcott Passman

Passman learned the value of mentorship while working in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I was the only woman offshore, and I was very young,” she said. “I met my first mentor out there. His name was Russell; he was a company man from Galveston, Texas. He was a straight shooter who could see there were some challenges for me. Russell said, ‘I’m going to help you be successful because I like you.’ He was the first person to teach me about boundaries. He called it, ‘Where’s your line in the sand?’ I think that’s the best advice that got me to a COO seat, to survive and thrive in an industry that can be challenging.”

Finding the right balance

Despite her good experience, Passman believes women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored.

“People are willing to do mentoring because there’s nothing on the line as a part of that. But sponsors utilize their credibility. And we all need sponsorship. To get that, we have to be very clear with our request, telling people what we want and what we need from them. And if they’re willing to do it, they will,” Passman said.

Jenkins recalls when coaching was considered something just for underachievers or those in the C-suite.

“Coaching historically was seen as something that was remedial, aimed for somebody who was performing poorly,” she said. “A coach was brought in as a last-ditch effort to shape up or ship out. And, initially, coaching was an investment made only at the executive leadership ranks. Over time, that perception changed, and the idea that coaches can support high performers to take their performance to the next level has taken hold. Coaching is now available to anyone throughout their career. It’s valuable just as much when you’re starting your career as it is when you’re working through the challenges of the C-suite.”

Jenkins explains that while an ally might be someone you have a one-on-one relationship with, their focus is improving the whole system.

“It’s somebody from the privileged dominant group, often white men, who act on behalf of minority groups. He may amplify a woman’s voice in a meeting, call out biased language or require a diverse slate of candidates for open positions. So, he’s acting at a higher level on behalf of the broader system,” Jenkins said.

Building a personal ‘board of directors’

Passman utilizes a couple of concepts to set the course for her career. One is what she calls “Andrea Incorporated,” and the other is creating a board of directors for herself.

“Steve White from Comcast asked, ‘Who is Andrea Incorporated, and what are you doing to invest in your own brand and solidify your growth?’ It makes you think about what you are presenting to people, how you are investing in yourself and the decisions you’re making to drive the best possible outcome for the dream life you want,” Passman said. “I’m a big believer in the personal board of advisors. This is a collection of all those people: allies, mentors, sponsors, advocates, peers and coaches. We can all leverage each other to fill in those gaps. You have to be intentional about who you want on your board. It depends on what’s going on in your life, and it ebbs and flows over time.”

Resources to build your network

Recognizing the importance of career management, the Daniels College for Business offers career services for students and alumni. Students can explore career options, prepare for interviews, advance their professional development and build successful business networks with the help of Daniels Career Services. Additionally, Daniels Career services offers alumni free, lifetime benefits, including networking and professional development opportunities.

Jenkins is president of the International Coaching Federation’s Colorado chapter. ICF is where aspiring coaches can learn about training and credentials and those seeking coaches can find one. Additionally, the Executive Education department partners with Quantuvos to provide quality coaching to professionals.

“Don’t take the first coach that comes across your desk. Take the time to interview two or three coaches and really find one that fits well, because you’re going to get the most out of coaching if you can be open, vulnerable and transparent with your coach,” Jenkins said. Without that foundation of trust and rapport, the coaching is not going to be as effective.”

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