As a new wig and a State Counsel, I was forced to go to work very early in the morning because the same driver that dropped the children in the house, would drop me off at work. I lived with my elder cousin who is also in the Legal profession. Every day, I would arrive before 8.00 a.m. every day. It was too early even for the cleaners so, I would find a spot under a tree near the entrance but within its view. The Attorney General was also an early bird so would find me seated under the tree most mornings. He would beacon me to enter once he arrived. It was gradual but he would invite me to appear with him in cases he was personally prosecuting. From just appearing with him, he started involving me in the preparation of Court processes for the cases. It was a privilege for a new wig to be taken under the wings of a whole Attorney General. I never knew him before I started working at the Ministry, but he taught me. Why? The reason was simple. He found a serious staff who shared something in common with him. Resumption at the office on time. I got a mentor who chose me. My Colleagues would tease me with the nickname “Autan AG” (Attorney General’s last born) anytime it was time for me to appear with him. The same mentor became my sponsor as he would nominate me to attend trainings, committees and assign tasks that would enable me to learn in practical terms.
Leadership is a process of social influence towards achieving a common goal. Leadership is not necessarily about holding a certain high office but about the degree of influence whether as low, middle or top ranking in a group. Whether in the public or private sector, a leader must be able to articulate the vision, into which the followers buy into and work towards actualization of same. Many leaders are groomed/mentored by people who have been there and done all that. Some leaders attain positions because others believed in them and actively opened doors for them.
Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to grooming leaders and at different stages in one’s career. It is evident that those with the best mentors and sponsors have had increased chances of growth and success. But first, it is important to understand the meaning and differences between mentorship and sponsorship.
A mentor is an experienced person who can give professional or personal advice, depending on the nature of the relationship. In this case however, the focus is on the professional type. There are different ways of finding mentors. Some may be line managers who one comes across in the course of one’s career, others may be external persons one interacts with on behalf of one’s organization or even lecturers during the course of study. For mentors that one works towards courting, these may be people whose work one may have been following and admiring for a while. It is important to understand that one can indeed woo mentors but it takes skill and strategy. For example, having an elevator speech that will immediately attract the attention of the potential mentor.
A mentor can grow into a sponsor, but it is not in all cases. A sponsor is that person that will mention your name in a room full of opportunities! Do you have one? Who is your sponsor? Who will make a case for you to get that brief? Or that job or even that promotion? Mentors will help one network while sponsors will actively include one in their network by making strategic introductions to contacts that help advance one’s career. Either way, make sure your values align with those mentors and sponsors.
As leaders, there are inherent values that have never gone out of fashion and never will. One must uphold these values to be able to navigate in every chosen career. Honesty and integrity never go out of fashion. Commitment, professionalism, humility, purpose, agility, vision, strategy, network.
Be intentional, carve a niche for yourself, how do you want to be remembered? When you find the answer, be deliberate about where you invest your time energy and resources so you are remembered for that. Learn from mistakes, that is what distinguishes a novice from a veteran. Be prepared but do not rush, take time to immerse yourself in learning. Leverage on technology to market yourself, sell your products and skills. Be agile, flexible and adaptable. Carry your moral compass everywhere you go.
Maryam Shehu Mohammed, PhD