01/29/2013 02:29 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Mentoring Is Good, Sponsorship Is Better

January is National Mentoring Month, which allows us to reflect on the importance mentors can have on your career. As an accounting professional who came up through the ranks without formalized mentoring relationships, I believe that every professional needs to ask for help and guidance along the way in their career. But more than taking advantage of mentoring, I strongly believe we should be focusing more attention on sponsorship.

Sponsorship differs from mentoring in significant ways; to put it simply, a mentor can show you how to navigate a career path; a sponsor can open the door once you reach it. Sponsors are influencers, leaders and decision makers. As a sponsor, you are in a position to promote and enhance the career trajectory of others due to the level of authority and leadership you hold. And while one can benefit greatly from knowing when to seek out advice or counsel from more experienced professionals, the greatest opportunities for advancement come from access to effective and engaged sponsors.

When I was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I was in a position to influence who to promote, who would work on a particular project or represent me on internal committees. I quickly realized the responsibility and opportunities that came with being in a position of influence and leadership. In that room of decision makers, everyone has the same goal: to bring the right talent in to get things done but there is always going to be more qualified people than positions available. When it comes time to advance in your career, it is not just talent or how hard you work that will set you apart, it will be having a sponsor willing and able to advocate on your behalf.

To my fellow Latino leaders in senior management and executive roles, I would ask you to consider being someone's sponsor. Becoming a sponsor requires that you position yourself as accountable for the success of others. Most of us already do this in our everyday professional lives as managers. You are simply stepping forward and letting everyone else know you are a sponsor and identifying the person(s) you have chosen to sponsor. It really is that simple. If you already sponsor someone, assess how effective a sponsor you are. How many lives have you impacted? How many people have you promoted? Are you creating opportunities for those you sponsor to advance and grow in their careers?

At the end of the day, being successful is not just about being great at your job -- you also need to make yourself known to influencers. Know the political climate of your company and your industry. Seek out more seasoned professionals in positions of authority. Most importantly, when you find them, recognize this as an opportunity for more than just a mentor. Ask this person to be your sponsor. In return, as your level of influence and authority increases, remember the benefit you gained from your sponsors and become one to others. This is how we can expand Latino leadership in the workforce and better our community for future generations of Latino leaders.