Your Mentor May Not Be Helping Your Career

January 16, 2013 — 3 Comments

iStock 000009239974XSmall 300x199 Your Mentor May Not Be Helping Your CareerMentors are an essential component of any development strategy. In “Won’t You Be My Mentor,” we discussed how to find a mentor. In “Don’t Get a Mentor,” we explored the importance of developing a cadre of mentors. And, in “Nemesis Mentors, I challenged you to find a mentor who makes you crazy.

Great mentors prepare you for the next level by challenging, teaching, sharing stories, and offering perceptions. However, many people assume that their mentor is also their sponsor. This is not necessarily the case.

Mentors prepare. Sponsors promote.

Your mentor can help prepare you for the next level. Your sponsor puts their name on your career and advocates for you.

A sponsor may…

  • suggest your name for new opportunities
  • defend your decisions
  • speak up the loudest during succession planning discussions
  • invest their own political capital in your success

I first realized the serious two-way responsibility of having a sponsor several years ago. A senior leader was being asked about me as a candidate for a potential job. She called me,

“Here’s the deal. I told them you were a rock star. The thing is you have to nail this job. My name is now on this as much as yours. Don’t screw it up.”

I take my sponsor relationships very seriously, whether I am being sponsored or sponsoring someone else.

Research shared in the HBR article, The Relationship You Need To Get Right, reinforces the importance of handling both sides of a sponsoring relationship with care.

“We conducted three national surveys of nearly 4,000 professionals in large corporations, held focus groups with more than 60 vice presidents and senior vice presidents, and interviewed nearly 20 Fortune 500 executives. The best sponsors, we found, go beyond mentoring. They offer not just guidance but also advocacy, not just vision but also the tactical means of realizing it. They place bets on outstanding junior colleagues and call in favors for them. The most successful protégés, for their part, recognize that sponsorship must be earned with performance and loyalty—not just once but continually.”

Herminia Kirby shares more about the difference in her HBR interview Women are Over Mentored But Under Sponsored.

“When we use the term sponsoring, we focus in on that one specific function of mentoring, which may or may not be a part of a relationship. And sponsoring really is a very targeted thing. It has to do with fighting to get somebody a promotion, mentioning their name in an appointments meeting, and making sure that the person that you’re sponsoring gets the next assignment, and gets visible and developmental assignments.”

How to Find a Sponsor

Having several solid mentoring relationships will help you on your road to finding a sponsor.  While mentors at every level of the business are valuable, it helps to have one or two people at a senior level looking out for your best interest.  You can help attract sponsors by…

  • Building a strong track-record of results
  • Working to deepen your mentoring relationships based on mutual support
  • Seeking out special assignments and volunteer for more
  • Seeking out opportunities to present at the senior levels
  • Mentoring and sponsoring others
  • Having an updated elevator speech

If you think your mentor may have turned into a sponsor, ask. It’s important to know where you stand. Either way, the feedback will be valuable.

What advice do you have for finding a sponsor?

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3 responses to Your Mentor May Not Be Helping Your Career

  1. When I was in the corporate world, I sought out people I wanted to be associated with, and put on my curious hat. My coach’s hat. All I did was ask them questions.

    At a company meeting in Scottsdale, over 20 years ago, during the President’s closing remarks, he mentioned he was going running in the morning. If anyone wanted to join him, “be in the lobby at 6a.” I was the only one who showed up.

    During that run, I asked him all types of questions. The one thing he said, that stood with me even until this day was “You’ve got to figure out who you want to be when you grow up.” Heh! I have a future blog post. ;-p

    p.s. Karin, I’m looking at your picture trying to figure out what rock star you look like. Last week, a woman said I looked like Joe Dimaggio.

  2. Steve, Your story of the running brought back memories. I made the same offer at one of my summits. I had 300 people gathered for a meeting, and invited anyone who wanted to run with me to meet me in the lobby at 5:30 am. One guy (plus a dude from the hotel) showed up. We had an amazing conversation. I believe running can trump golf in terms of connection.

    So you’ve had me thinking all day about the celebrity question. Maybe other readers have an opinion ;-)

    Thanks as always for joining in the fun.

    Namaste.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Managing Up When You're Down: The Power of POISE - April 4, 2013

    [...] I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor). [...]

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