Both Sponsors and Mentors can assist with your career and personal development, but what is the difference?

A Mentor is an individual that can help point you in the right direction and are a little more task orientated.  They are an expert in their field and well respected by their peers.  They will advise, share their knowledge and skills.  They are good listeners, are objective and can look at issues from a variety of perspectives.  They challenge your way of thinking and encourage you to think outside the box.

A Sponsor, on the other hand, is someone willing to go out on a limb for you, advocate for you and introduce you into their networks.  They will back you and recommend you for projects. They might suggest you as a substitution for themselves on a panel, committee or working party or as a speaker where the initial opportunity was for themselves.  They provide an endorsement, may nominate you for awards or give credit within their networks.  It may also involve inclusion in one of their projects or allowing you to shadow them to provide a learning experience.  Through these means, they can provide career-enhancing opportunities.  A Sponsor is beneficial for someone who is not naturally a good networker or doesn’t have the confidence for self-promotion or putting their hand up. 

If an individual continually gets overlooked for opportunities to be challenged or grow their development, it can have a career breaking spiral effect.  Sponsorship can turn this around.

Career Opportunity Spiral

Sponsorship (as opposed to Mentorship) 1

Source: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/506ad3dae4b00f5f2f4c9f0a/t/5bf36b618985834e028f5ebc/1542679426732/Sponsorship+Guide_Final.pdf

An individual may have a single Sponsor for their entire career or multiple Sponsors.  These individuals could come from within or outside the business. They could be more senior, however effective sponsorship can also be achieved through Peer-to-Peer relationships.

Sponsorship can help navigate bias in the workplace. There are generally two categories;  ‘The Chosen’,  who are well sponsored and supported throughout their career and are good at self-promotion. Then you have the  ‘The Excluded’,  who’s sponsorship is lacking or inconsistent. Unfortunately, these individuals are usually (but not always) women and minority groups.  Women also have unconscious gender biases concerning their capabilities and such biases can be self-limiting.  They may not consider themselves capable of taking up career opportunities.  Men tend to socialise with and support each which can unintentionally exclude women from important networks and connections. A Sponsor can provide confidence and help pave the way by advocating for them to others.

How do you find a Sponsor?

A Sponsor should be someone that you know or that you have developed a relationship with.  They need to be able to understand your capabilities.  You need the right ‘chemistry’, and often it’s a two-way street. It’s not just about the Sponsor helping you, but how you can help you Sponsor.  This could be through introductions of your networks or providing them exposure to the real-life adversity challenges you experience, allowing them to become more knowledgeable in this area.

A Sponsor will come out of the trusted relationships you have developed and therefore continued Networking is essential across all different areas and industries.  It’s not a case of formally asking ‘Will you be my Sponsor’ but sitting with someone and exploring avenues. Telling them what your goals are and asking them questions about where they might be able to make some introductions for you. This relationship then grows, and soon they will be recommending you for things. 

Make yourself ‘Sponsorship Worthy’.

  • Make yourself ‘seen’
    • Attend networking events
    • Become a subject matter expert
    • Write articles and post them on LinkedIn
  • Reach out to individuals that are specialists in your field and ask to catch up with them for a coffee

Make yourself known to your potential Sponsor, then build on the relationship. Use them as a sounding board, ask for help with something – not many people will refuse, and if they can’t help you, they will know someone who can.

Individuals, men and women alike, also need to be aware of how they might be able to help people in their networks and become their Sponsor.  Reach your hand out now and then, provide a connection to a network or offer any help that you can give. 

Male or Female?

There are no real benefits between having either a male or female Sponsor; the focus should be on the skill set they have, area of the industry they work in or potential connections they can make for you.

Initial Steps…

Take a look at individuals in your current network and catch up with them or give them a call. Express to people that you are looking for a Sponsor, who could they recommend that might be a good contact.  Be clear about what you are trying to achieve. For example; you’d like to get connected with someone who does xyz or who knows a little more about abc area and watch it organically grow from there. 

Don’t forget to give back where you can and keep it a two-way street.

Written by Karen Hudman, Senior Consultant, Executive Search.

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