The proliferation of posts listing reasons why we all need mentors is a testament of our awareness as a culture for the need to nurture developing talent and continually educate ourselves. While mentorship is beneficial it’s only a fraction of what we need to reach our professional peak.
Fourth century Greek philosopher, Diogenes, said, “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” As children the onus of educating our fertile minds rested squarely upon our parents’ shoulders. As adults, we are expected to enrich ourselves. Fortunately, for those among us who have goals, yet no plan to attain them, there are mentors and sponsors. They recognize our gifts and generate winds in our sails to spur us on to our purpose. Had we been left to our own devices, we’d still be drifting on the sea of life with faded maps and broken compasses.
In preparation for this post I informally polled several young professionals and university graduates. The resounding response was that although each could aptly define the role and benefits of a mentor, none whom I asked, could articulate the role or benefits of enlisting the resources of a sponsor.
Mentor vs. Sponsor
First let’s clearly define each role. Next, we’ll compare them to note the differences, overlapping similarities, and benefits you will reap from having both a mentor and a sponsor.
A mentor is someone in your field you admire because of their business acumen, negotiating prowess, and gravitas. They have achieved a level of success you aspire to, regardless their gender, age, ethnicity, or national origin. Mentors and sponsors are like diamonds, no two are identical. A seasoned colleague should not be overlooked. They can prove to be deep wells of knowledge, as long as they are not threatened by your ambition, and are flattered by your high-esteem of them. Choose with care. Your vast network of peers at other companies within your industry can also offer unique perspectives. The traditional and obvious choice for a mentor is a leader with a clear vision, an admirable track record of success, and a relentless drive for innovation.
A mentor will increase your confidence because they objectively see your potential and harness it to reach new professional heights. Their primary goal is to guide you to success by allowing you to learn from their triumphs and failures so you duplicate the former while avoiding the latter. A good mentor will give you a reality check. Remember, they’ve been in your shoes and faced similar challenges. They will ask you the hard questions which will force you to dig deep inside yourself to discover your true motives for your actions and adjust your course accordingly. Mentors are angel investors in our souls.
A sponsor is typically not in your field, but like a mentor they can see your potential. To them you are a diamond in the rough. A sponsor is a master networker, they have all the connections to take your career to the next level and beyond. They will network on your behalf to garner you face time with the influencers and power players that dominate their industries. A sponsor gains satisfaction from discovering your raw talent and showcasing you to the world. Sponsors are human capital catalysts.
Mentors and sponsors rarely come in one person. Therefore, after you’ve firmly established your relationship with both you should introduce them to each other. Together, your mentor and sponsor can become a formidable dynamic duo solely devoted to your success.
Think of it this way, a mentor sees your potential and chisels you into a ‘flawless cut’. A sponsor polishes you to perfection, then invites prospective bidders to invest in your limitless potential.
Don’t expect a mentor to hold your hand every step of the way or tell you exactly what to do. Do expect them to relate valuable insights based upon their unique experience. Both mentors and sponsors will open your eyes to possibilities you never knew existed, by expanding your perspective, and presenting you with priceless opportunities.
Some mentors and sponsors will prefer to touch base in a traditional setting, over lunch or coffee. However, others will not be so inclined due to their busy schedules. They may offer a conference call or Skype session. Be flexible, they are doing you a favor. Provide them reassurance by your actions that they will reap dividends sooner rather than later. Give them a reason to continually invest in your success. You will benefit regardless the format. Be prepared to do the hard work of investing in yourself as they have invested in you.
Contributing to The Relationship
Demonstrate your appreciation by taking neither your mentor nor sponsor for granted. Each session should end with you thanking them for the time and effort they’ve committed to aiding you to achieve your goals. A token of your gratitude can be as simple and profound as a (legible) heartfelt letter, a complimentary lunch, or a lavish spa gift card depending or your circumstances and their preference.
You must be worthy of a mentor or sponsor. If you’re not doing anything exceptional don’t expect someone to notice you because you don’t stand out, you’re fading out, or blending in at best. Seek opportunities to excel. You never know who is watching, waiting to take you under their wing and teach you to soar to new heights.
By Isabella Clivilez-Wu at forbes.com