You’re Never Too Young or Too Old to Get a Sponsor – Part 2

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The critical contrast between MENTORS and SPONSORS is that the latter can be actual drivers of your career decisions and future mobility – and they put themselves on the line for you. Your Mentor(s) may also do that, but once they do, they’ve actually become your SPONSOR. Here are some of the benefits you can expect from SPONSOR:

  1. Championing you for an internal promotion or similar career-advancing opportunity (such as a high-visibility conference) that you would not have heard of otherwise, or for which you are one of many candidates;
  2. Sharing with you pending industry or company news that s/he has access to before it becomes public, news that could directly affect you;
  3. Putting your name forward as an ideal candidate for a prime position at a firm where you don’t have connections – and/or calling in favors with hiring managers and other powerful people who owe them favors;
  4. Making a compelling case for your hire to a fellow senior-level executive, going so far as to convince the executive to create a position just for you.

Furthermore, the guarantor/insurer benefit SPONSORS provide is not only to you and for you, but to and for the individual to whom they are championing your strengths. Their SPONSORSHIP of you has to demonstrate benefits to all the parties involved, including themselves. A SPONSOR is literally staking her or his reputation on you.

In that vein here are several important things to consider regarding what SPONSORS expect from you:

  1. An accurate view of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and that you can lead with your strengths to minimize threats. Know and articulate your competitive advantages, as the SPONSOR needs a compelling reason to advocate for you. Likewise, be prepared that a SPONSOR will (and should) vet you thoroughly before they agree to serve as your SPONSOR.
  2. A clear mission and vision of your career path and the SPONSOR’S role. This means you have researched your SPONSOR thoroughly – personal, career, charitable contributions, etc. – and you know what his/her priorities are. That way, you can easily answer not only the why-them question but, more importantly, the what’s-in-it-for-them questions they will have, and their expectations of you.
  3. A clearly articulated “ask.” Mentor relationships usually have ebbs and flows, allow for brainstorms and quasi-therapy interactions. SPONSOR engagements tend to be more transactional and specific to the situation, company, job, executive or other opportunity.
  4. Respect for their time and efforts. While this is where the needs of Mentors and SPONSORS are very similar, Mentors often forgive their mentees’ manners and may even forget past lapses. In comparison, if you disappoint, disrespect or embarrass a SPONSOR, there are usually many more negative consequences.

woman headphoneOur final, positive note on Mentors and SPONSORS: The power of please, thank you and an explicit recognition of the gravity that Mentors as well as SPONSORS confer on your behalf cannot be over-emphasized. In the uber-connected, 24/7 social media ecosystem, proper business etiquette is more important than ever – whether you’re gainfully employed, seeking a transition, or trying to build and sustain your client base.

 

You’re Never Too Young or Too Old to Get a Sponsor – Part 1

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people meeting 5 20 13From clients as well as students, I field a lot of questions about the importance of having a career SPONSOR, specifically:

1) The role of SPONSORS vs. Mentors
2) How to find a SPONSOR
3) What to expect from a SPONSOR
4) What SPONSORS expect from you.

Those are all questions that serve the mentee or sponsored individual much more so than the Mentor or SPONSOR. Each role has very often different parameters, benefits and expectations.

mentorThis blog deals with the role of SPONSORS vs. Mentors; and how to find a SPONSOR. Part 2 will address what to expect from SPONSORS and what SPONSORS expect from you.

Mentors are usually informal advisors and counselors, perhaps your supervisors, teachers, colleagues or even – and most especially for mature professionals – former direct reports you trust. “Mentor” comes from the Greek guide who helped Odysseus on his legendary journey; therefore there’s both an implication and an inference of altruism. Don’t ignore or neglect to maintain good relationships with younger professionals you helped early in your career, as they may be in good positions to help you later…as Mentors or SPONSORS.

Typical roles of Mentors:

  • …provide guidance, opinion and perhaps difficult to obtain information and introductions that could be useful for your job or career.
  • …are good sounding boards that can help steer you as you refine your goals, consider your options and develop an action plan.
  • …can be short-term or long-term advisors, and they usually get satisfaction from the fact that their wisdom, experience and expertise are valued.

A SPONSOR, on the other hand, is someone in usually a more elevated position of power or influence, with crucial connections. The SPONSOR is a guarantor, patron and ambassador of your strengths, motivations, knowledge and aptitudes – an advocate for you to someone with whom they have a strong reciprocal relationship, often one of “quid pro quo.” SPONSORS open doors to places that other people don’t even know exist, and they have levers others may only suspect, wish for, or deny exist. In many cases, the SPONSOR acts as a protector and defender – hence, the most literal defining characteristic of an advocate.

Mentors and SPONSORS can be the same people, and I have served in both capacities. Mentors are slightly easier to cultivate and engage. The SPONSOR relationship is a different construct, and involves considerable more work and responsibility, depending on the environment and your goals.

Here are a few tips on how to find a SPONSOR, depending on your goals:

  1. Internal advancement: Volunteer to contribute to important task forces and committees whose leaders are executives of considerable power, influence and connections. Many SPONSORS pick the people they think will be stars in the organization, and champion them accordingly.
  2. External visibility, advancement, job hunting: Join at least three professional organizations where you can assume active committee roles that will increase your visibility and enhance your capacity to engage influential executives with the power and inclination to SPONSOR you – for your next job, promotion, etc. This includes becoming active as a volunteer or board member for a nonprofit that you respect and whose leadership you admire.
  3. Prospect Cultivation, Solicitation and Client Engagement. Serving on professional organizations’ committees is crucial for executives who work in consulting as SPONSORS can recommend them to clients. SPONSORS alert consultants to account movement so they can gain entrée to new business before other firms do. Consultants have to be extremely good at what they do, as referrals and other testimonials are prime SPONSOR currency.