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

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.