The Pros And Cons Of Different Kinds Of Mentors

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Dr. Anne Perschel via Ellevate Network
Dr. Anne Perschel via Ellevate Network
May 19, 2024 at 5:56AM UTC

Mentoring is ranked among the top five most-valued approaches to career development, but finding the right mentor isn’t easy.

Your mentor's knowledge and industry experience are probably key factors. But finding a mentor, who cares about you and will focus on your best interests, is equally, if not more, important.

The Internal Mentor Advantage

An internal mentor can help you learn how to navigate the local corporate waters, and may be best when you're:

  • New to a company
  • Exploring a move to a different in-house function
  • Seeking to advance your career within the organization
  • Recently promoted, or
  • Considering whether a management track is right for you

If a respected leader in your company offers to be your mentor, say yes. Why? She sees your potential and wants to help you grow. She may become a sponsor, which means you have an assistant VP of marketing for your career, a door opener, a spokesperson and more. Priceless.

Internal Mentor - The Downside

On the other hand, mentoring is not as valuable when you hold back and make yourself less vulnerable due to concerns about how a mentor from inside the company might perceive you. After all, she's a powerful figure who can affect your future. Less value also accrues if your mentor can’t set aside his, or the organization’s, best interests, in favor of helping you see a different future outside the company, if that's what serves you best.

Problems also crop up when someone becomes a mentor because it's the politically or culturally correct thing to do. The best mentors choose to pay it forward as an act of generosity. Here's what one woman, who works with a pay-it-forward mentor at 3Plus International, says about her previous relationships with internal mentors.

“The person who agreed to be my mentor wasn’t really available and committed.”

“She mostly told stories about herself.”

"I felt that I couldn’t really trust the relationship. She couldn’t be objective."

The External Mentor Advantage

According to mentor and coach Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Clayton Christensen’s investment firm and author of Dare, Dream, Do:

"The more portable we are as professionals, the more difficult it is to have an in-house mentor. And the more we think of ourselves as free agents, like a sports pro, the more the idea of an agent, manager, coach, becomes the norm, rather than a stigma."

Women who are matched with external mentors say they value a “different perspective” from someone who has no vested interest in the organization. Mentees who aren't worried about political risks ask their most important questions, are more transparent, and reveal their vulnerabilities.Therein lies the greatest value of working with an external mentor.

What Type of Mentor is Best for You?

Your absolute best bet is to have both an internal and an external mentor. But If you haven't been tapped by someone inside the company who believes in you, seek out an external mentor. In today's world of portfolio careers, external support systems and networks matter...a lot!

Keep up your relationships inside your company, and make sure you have internal advisers who care. They are your on-the-spot mentors. Meanwhile you have a more in-depth relationship with an external mentor who has your best interests in mind.


This article was originally published on Ellevate Network by Dr. Anne Perschel who is a leadership psychologist/coach at Germane Consulting and former VP of Mentoring at 3Plus International.


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