How to Turn a Mentor into a Sponsor

11/16/2017 05:41 pm ET

I’ve written about mentoring before as it’s a subject I feel very passionate about and I know how important mentoring is to build the type of career you want. I have immense gratitude for people who have supported me (and continue to support me) by sharing their wisdom and allowing me to learn from their experience. A positive, productive and long-term relationship with at least one if not a few mentors is something that I wish for everyone working today.

Sadly, according to a LinkedIn survey, one of five women say they’ve never had a mentor at work even though 82% of women agree that having one is important. The lack of mentoring opportunities may explain why women are under-represented in senior management positions. A study by management consulting firm McKinsey pointed out that women are in 53% of entry-level management jobs but that number drops to 37% for mid-managers and 26% for vice-president positions.

Really want to get ahead? Find a sponsor.

As important as mentors are, if you really want to get ahead and advance your career, you need a sponsor. And like mentors, women are under-represented when it comes to sponsors. Women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor.

“Mentors talk with you. Sponsors talk about you.” Heather Foust Cummings, Catalyst Research Center for Equity in Business Leadership

What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? A mentor is someone who offers a friendly and supportive ear, offering wisdom, time and advice to help you navigate career challenges and choices. Think of a mentor as someone who can help push you along in your career by building your confidence or self-esteem.

While mentoring is a good thing, being "sponsored" by someone in the company is more effective in helping you achieve higher positions, pay and promotions. More actively engaged and involved in your career progression, a sponsor will champion you to advance your career. With their senior position, influence and success in a company, a sponsor can pull you along to climb the corporate ladder.

“No matter how fiercely you lean in, you still need someone with power to lean in with you.” Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author, economist and lecturer

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President and CEO of the think tank Center for Talent Innovation and author of the book Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-track your Career has written extensively about the importance of sponsors.

Hewlett studied 12,000 men and women in white collar jobs across Britain and the United States and found that sponsorship surpassed mentorship when it comes to career progression, especially for women struggling to climb higher than middle management.

Sponsoring involves a much more targeted strategy than mentoring where the sponsor advocates for their protege and actively coaches them to excel and advance in their career. This might mean mentioning your contributions on a key project with senior management or actively helping you to get a promotion or secure a high-profile assignment.

“Sponsorship can come to you in different ways. You never know who is watching, so be ‘sponsor-ready’ at all times.” Millette Granville, Diversity and Inclusion executive

More and more companies are offering formal matching programs where they connect employees with a sponsor. If your company doesn’t have a formal program, here’s some ideas to find your own champion.

Be clear about your sponsor’s support

Before you begin seeking out a sponsor, have a clear view of what you’re hoping to achieve from the partnership. And be clear about what unique strengths and skills you bring to the table. Know your ambitions and goals. The better you are at defining why you want to emulate a certain person or what you hope to learn from them, the more likely you will find the right people to support you.

Stand up and out

To get the attention and support of potential sponsors, you need to stand up and speak out. Increase your presence in your company, organization or industry by attending networking events, joining committees or chairing a charity drive. If someone you admire is speaking at an event, attend and introduce yourself. Suggest you go for a coffee or lunch. Create a list of the people you admire within your organization or industry and find opportunities to reach out to them. Leverage social media platforms to expand your network beyond your workplace.

Be prepared to excel

With a sponsor’s support, there’s more expectation and higher stakes than mentoring. Sponsors have high hopes that the person they sponsor will excel at accepting new challenges. If they go out on a limb to sponsor you, they want to be assured that you won’t disappoint. Don’t be afraid to stretch beyond your comfort zone and take risks.

Build a diverse network

The reality is that no one person has all the answers. As you go through your career, you’ll be faced with different challenges and opportunities. It’s important to build a network of people from different backgrounds and industries who can offer diverse perspectives.

People come in and out of our lives at different ages and stages, teaching us unique and different lessons along the way. The same is true for mentors and sponsors. The important thing is to make sure that you invest energy in finding and nurturing those relationships throughout the many stages of your career. Embrace the many people you meet and have an open mind to what they can teach you.

Do you need a mentor or sponsor? Do you have an amazing mentor? Tweet me @NatashaNKPR or comment below.

Xo Natasha

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