Mentors and Champions and Sponsors, Oh My!

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FountainBlue’s March 16 When She Speaks in SF event was on the topic of Mentors and Champions and Sponsors, Oh My!

We were fortunate to have an experienced and passionate set of panelists, representing a wide range of companies, roles, backgrounds and perspectives. They shared much in common:

  • A seasoned leader noticed each of them early in their career, and helped them see themselves as bigger and better than they thought they could be, to reach higher than they thought possible, and to act despite the fear.
  • Each panelist took that chance and explored various dimensions of jobs and roles, learning with each opportunity.
  • Each panelist is invested in giving back to the next generation of leaders, so that others who follow can benefit from their experience and wisdom, just like they benefited from the person who mentored them early on.

The panelists talked at length on the benefits of champions and advocates, who root for you and recommend you, especially when there are specific opportunities ahead. They spoke also of mentors who are grooming the next generation, and the business value of supporting mentees. They spoke of the value of coaches, generally experienced, external supporters who help people understand how they and their projects and actions might fit into the larger picture for the team and organization. They spoke of sponsors, who are best known for having the influence to open doors, to create opportunities and nominate people to these roles.

When the question of gender was brought up, the panelists acknowledged that gender does matter. Men and women are biologically different especially under extreme circumstances including pregnancy. But they centered back to the core focus around leadership and innovation and urged us to see the greater picture beyond gender, so that together we could build a meritocracy.

They each told stories about the role all these supporters played in their own professional careers, and how they each planned to do the same for others around them.

The panelists had the following collective advice for mentees.

On preparing yourself for having a mentor:

  • Be open and prepared to embrace new ideas, new concepts, different roles, different companies, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. 
  • Be curious about your blind spots. You don’t know what you don’t know about yourself, unless you ask others what you need to know in order to learn and grow.
  • Be a sponge – a curious and active listener.

On selecting a mentor:

  • Work with someone you can trust.
  • Be clear on what you’re looking for in a mentor. Work backwards – decide how you’d specifically like to grow, and identify who could help you do what in order to grow.
  • Consider looking for people who are not like you.
  • Look for someone inspirational who may be willing to groom you, support you.

On ensuring a successful mentorship experience:

  • Be willing to work hard, in order to honor the energy and time the mentor has invested in you.
  • Have a specific goal in mind. Measure and report on progress towards that goal.
  • Create that network of people who can support you as you grow and change.
  • Make the best of every opportunity, and learn at every juncture.
  • Ask for direct, clear and transparent feedback and learn and grow from the input.
  • Ensure that each conversation is valuable to all involved.

The panelists had the following collective thoughts about becoming a mentor.

  • It’s a rewarding way to give back.
  • It’s a great business value for the team, project and organization.
  • If the technology is working, and the marketing/sales is humming, then it’s all about the people. Invest in those people. Mentor, coach, advise and support them throughout the cycle – from recruitment to development to retention to development.
  • Team is everything. Sometimes one and one makes 11, and sometimes one * one is still one. 
  • With mentoring, you can help make sure that ‘the right people are on the bus, in the right seat’.
  • Ensure that each conversation is valuable to all involved.

Our bottom line is that the best leaders had an army of supporters – mentors, coaches, advocates, sponsors, champions – and that leadership and innovation will perpetuate around a virtuous loop of positive and supportive experiences.


Please join us in thanking our panelists for FountainBlue’s March 16 When She Speaks in SF event, entitled Mentors and Champions and Sponsors, Oh My! and our hosts at Mapbox.

  • Facilitator Linda Holroyd, CEO, FountainBlue
  • Panelist Sylvie De Wever, GM Latin America & Head of Marketing Emerging Markets, eBay
  • Panelist Maranda Ann (VandenBroek) Dziekonski, COO, rentL
  • Panelist Nancy Gilbert, Director, Program Management, Lam Research Corporation 
  • Panelist Gopal Kumarappan, VP Software Engineering, AppDynamics
  • Panelist Zaina Orbai, Vice President, Global Head of People, Mapbox 
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