Sponsorship versus Mentorship: The Tipping Point

Posted In: Mentors / Networking
Posted On: 7/25/2017

We hear a lot about the importance of mentorship in a successful career.  Most of us strive to find that trusted advisor who can show us the ins and outs of navigating the business world. It’s usually someone who has “been there and done that” and by sharing their journey, we learn some lessons to help us find our path and hopefully, make a few less mistakes along the way.

So, what could possibly be better than a mentor for career acceleration?

A sponsor.

If you are new to this concept, let me explain what it is and why it will be a game-changer for your career.

A sponsor is someone in your organization who does what you can’t do yourself:  she (or he)  is your cheerleader with senior management.  She makes sure you have the chance to show off your stuff in the right forums and she makes sure your good work is top of mind with the decision-makers.  Think about how uncomfortable it is to brag about your own work.  It makes you look self-centered, egotistical, career-hungry.  But just have someone else talk about your accomplishments and you get instant credibility.

Think of a sponsor as that company insider who has a vested interest in your career success.  The best sponsors are not afraid to promote subordinates, because they know this one secret to a high-flying career:

Surround yourself with people who are MORE talented than you are!

I know in my own career that the couple of times that I was a corporate rock star, I got that status because my bosses believed in me and weren’t afraid to tell others.  In each case, the sponsor was a guy who understood that I couldn’t build credibility on my own.  By offering me the opportunity to shine and by reinforcing my accomplishments behind the scenes, my reputation grew and my opportunities increased.

How do you land a sponsor in your company?

Sponsorship comes when you become a valuable asset who will raise the level of the whole team AND will also positively impact your sponsor’s career.  Unlike mentorship, which is free advice and guidance, sponsorship is more of a commitment.  Your sponsor is putting their name and reputation behind your work and as such, they need to have confidence that you will deliver.

The best way to get a sponsor is to do an excellent job! A job that makes that potential sponsor look good themselves.  As a first step, focus on what you can do to make your boss’ job easier or more impactful.  Don’t feel like you need to find the highest level muckity-muck to vouch for you.  Your immediate boss is going to see your work first hand and will be the best witness for what you can do. 

Next, make sure you are meeting with your boss on a regular basis, so she can see your progress.  This is not self-promoting, it’s recapping your accomplishments to make sure you are aligned with your boss.

Finally, use your mentor as a sounding board for your plan.  We mentors love to help you formulate your plans!

Disclaimer:  note that some bosses are jerks (check out my Things That Suck section) and might be jealous of your good work.  But don’t let that get in the way of your fabulousness!