We’ve heard about the importance of having mentors – and more recently sponsors – in our professional lives. In the past, when we think of “mentoring” we’ve generally thought of an older executive counseling a younger person, and the concept of “sponsorship” is fairly new.
There are many ways to get guidance and advice today, and with all the twists and turns in our careers it is more important then ever to take a strategic approach to developing your advisers.
So what are mentors and sponsors – and how are they different?
Mentor: a mentor is someone who gives advice and helps you with a potential professional development area; they can be at any level in the organization and usually have no personal stake or investment in any career path you choose.
Sponsor: a sponsor is an advocate your career advancement and is generally a senior leader inside – or outside – your organization; they have direct input and involvement when promotion discussions take place.
Let’s look at these keys to consider when recruiting mentors and sponsors.
- Skills-based: you recruit and learn from them to help you build a specific skill or competency – like strategic thinking, managing politics in the workplace etc.
- Connector: we all live in our own, often siloed work worlds. These mentors can get you connected to areas outside your company or department – to give you critical perspective and visibility
- Look 3-4 levels up: mentoring can fail for women because we tend to choose people we are comfortable with – often those at lower levels in the organization. Mentors at more senior levels can help you see and strategically
- Diversity: choose advisers who are not like you, with whom you may not be comfortable. You don’t have to like them – just respect them for who they are and what they can offer you
- More strategic than developmental: when seeking out a sponsor you need to me thinking more about what you can do for the organization; you need to leverage your work to position yourself for advancement
- Get visible: use opportunities to interact with senior management, let them get to know you and your value to the company. Volunteer for high-visibility projects, attend company events
- Look externally: a potential sponsor can be someone from outside the organization who has the respect of your senior management, like a key client or industry expert
- Sell yourself: you need to be excellent at your job, sell your value and be very clear about why this individual should go to bat for you
Bottom Line: you need others to help you advance your career. Mentors, Sponsors and other types of advisers can help you take that leap to your next step. Be thoughtful and strategic about how you approach them; think about the challenges you are facing in your career and how to begin developing the Relational Resources you need to succeed!