Mentoring is a vital process that may last a person’s entire career possibly starting in college. Statistics show that people who are mentored do better in their career which is particularly important for women. The goal of having a mentor isn’t to get the next job it is more about being a good listener and giving advice. Sponsorship isn’t talked about as much as mentoring, but it is equally important. A sponsor is someone who will put you forward for new positions and be your advocate when you are pursuing new opportunities. Mentor relationships need to be managed carefully with mutual understanding and clear boundaries and can be in many forms, informal to formal.
It is also the mentee’s responsibility to invest in their personal development. A mentee cannot expect their mentor to do everything for them. One huge benefit of mentoring is that it helps people learn from their mistakes through honest feedback. Mentors can also help to identify strengths and skill gaps. Mentoring doesn’t need to be elaborate but the relationship needs to be comfortable and not demanding. One key to success to mentorship is that your mentor can guide you through the trials and tribulations found in any large organization.
You will rarely hear the word sponsor used. You need more than a mentor, you also need a sponsor. The two are not the same. So, what is the difference? A mentor is someone who has career and company experience that can give you career strategies and day-to-day advice. You hopefully can trust them to ask questions, share information, help you learn best practices. Sponsors, on the other hand, do what the word suggests, they sponsor their people. This means that the sponsor will likely put in a good word for that person when opportunities arise and they “sell” your abilities to others in the organization helping you to advance.
Sponsors advocate on your behalf helping to connect you to important players and assignments. Sponsorship is a two-way relationship between yourself and someone with an established leadership position. It is important to find a sponsor within the organization that you work for or with. A potential sponsor is someone who believes in your abilities and understands your career aspirations. You may need to ask someone to be your sponsor. Choose someone you know well and who would be willing to write you a recommendation. This requires them to have a clear understanding of who you are and your professional qualities. A sponsor can lean in a person’s behalf, sharing your excellent performance abilities and keeping you on the fast track. People are more to ask for a big opportunity, to seek a raise and to be satisfied with rate of advancement when under someone’s sponsorship.
While mentors are normally experienced with the company, they may not be visible. A sponsor is almost always highly visible and often influential in the company. The sponsor can help you advance because they can help you navigate the corporate environment. A mentor may know what challenges you or what you need to work on, a sponsor may not know you in that way. You normally don’t spend a lot of time with a sponsor and in selecting a sponsor. It is important that your sponsor feels comfortable with your achievements and accomplishments so there is a comfort level recommending you. Identify a person within your organization that is respected first and then influential. Look for ways to introduce yourself, get to know the potential sponsor informally and share your accomplishments, background and strategic goals within the company and for the future. Reach across generational, racial and gender boundaries to start developing partnerships with people that maybe different than you. Some ethnicities tend to stay within their own circles. When discussing career advancement, creating relationships outside of those safe circles is critical. Another way to identify and connect with a sponsor to gain some visibility is to volunteer on projects. If you perform well, you will eventually get the attention of that potential sponsor. Once you have built a relationship, you don’t have to tell the person that you consider them a sponsor. Respect, professionalism and demonstrated performance will naturally result in a good relationship even if initially there were targeted motives.