Learn the key differentiating factors between a sponsor and a mentor, as well as what a sponsor does to support your career. Discover how sponsors can prepare you for interviews, meetings, and positions that are currently outside your grasp.
- If you were to ask the top five CEOs what got them to the top of their organizations, what do you think they'd say? Without a doubt, it's about relationships. In fact, it's all about relationships, and one of the most important relationships you will need to develop is with your sponsors. But before we talk about sponsors, it's vital to understand the difference between a sponsor and a mentor. While both are very important relationships, there are key differences between these two types of individuals.
A mentor may or may not come from within your organization. He or she will share with you their experiences based on the past. They can tell you, "Here's what I did "when I was in your shoes." A mentor can also be a subject matter expert who can share with you real-time lessons on how to succeed in a function or role. A sponsor comes from within your organization and is always forward-looking and challenging you to rise to the occasion.
He or she gives you specific advice about how to maneuver the political landscape of your organization and will also wear your brand T-shirt. By that, I mean sponsors will take it upon themselves to promote your brand by sticking their necks out on your behalf when promotions, open spots on projects or committees, and other opportunities become available. While a mentor also gives advice, he or she does not advocate for you within your organization.
This is the key difference between a mentor and a sponsor. The sponsor also prepares you for interviews and meetings that are beyond your grasp and will coach you how to position yourself, based on the business dynamics. When I worked for a major Fortune 500 company, I had a boss who I didn't know had been watching my performance. Unbeknownst to me, he was doing his due diligence behind the scenes, and when an opportunity came up for me to become sales director over a team, he put my name forward.
When I got the call to go for the interview, I was a little bit shocked because I didn't have a one-on-one relationship with the sponsor. What I eventually found out is that even though others had interviewed for the job, he was the one who put his reputation on the line and said the job was for me and only for me. When I got the job, it was my responsibility to do everything possible to make the bet that he had made on me pay off.
Likewise, there may be someone who has their eye on you. Think about the people in your organization you have spoken well of you. Could they be a sponsor? Take the time to thank them with a handwritten note or an email that shows your appreciation. The point is to stay in contact and nurture the relationship. Sponsors and mentors are invaluable. Be sure to leverage the knowledge and experience of each in order to become the high performer that you know you can be.
- Defining your career goals
- Leveraging your sponsor's influence
- Engaging with your sponsor as an advocate
- Finding projects outside your job requirements
- Making your strengths visible to your organization
- Navigating political roadblocks
- Avoiding career potholes