Sponsors and Mentors

Section Objectives: Students will be able to compare and contrast the roles of sponsors and mentors in managing their profes - sional careers. Students will be able to describe situations in which sponsors and mentors can be useful in shaping a person's career. Sponsors and Mentors Everyone eventually needs help in life. In the workforce, there are two important types of relationships that can help you thrive in your workplace and potentially advance your career. Sponsors and mentors assist and develop relationships with a goal of improving your performance and finding new opportunities for development and advancement. Mentors and sponsors are very different roles in the workplace. Mentors A mentor provides advice and guidance. A mentor is usually someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to about challenges you are facing. In the workforce, mentors are usually people who have worked at the company longer than you have and who are in a similar field, although that is not always necessary. Mentorsareabletotellyouaboutthedynamicsoftheworkplace,givesuggestions on the best way to interact with specific employees, and help you understand and avoid political landmines that you may come across. Workplaces are human systems, and human systems always have politics and interpersonal stresses. It is simply the nature of a human group. A mentor will work with you to help you understand how others in the organization communicate, why certain things happen, and what you need to avoid. Mentors may be highly-ranked and visible within the organization, or they may be someone in a similar position willing to help. Sponsors Sponsors are usually highly visible within the organization. They are respected by others and are able to influence decisions about project assignments and promotions. They have good relationships with senior management and may be on the senior management team. A sponsor is someone who advocates for you. A sponsor could recommend you for a big project. A sponsor could support your requests for promotions and make phone calls on your behalf to support you and your career advancement. Many professional groups establish mentoring relationships with children, which can help prepare them for working well with others as adults.
A sponsor uses his or her professional reputation to help you advance in your career. Once you establish a positive relationship with a sponsor, it is very important for you to meet the expectations of your sponsor and those she contacts on your behalf. If you fail to do so, especially without giving it your best effort, you are likely to lose the sponsor's support and have difficulty finding a new sponsor. An easy way to differentiate between mentors and sponsors is to remember that mentors prepare you to move up the corporate ladder, and sponsors with their connections help make it happen. Finding Mentors and Sponsors Typically, finding mentors is easier than finding sponsors. This is because mentors provide support and advice, whereas sponsors risk their reputations when they support your career advancement. You can ask anyone to be a mentor. The basic requirement is the person is able to guide you through the challenges of the workplace and prepare you to advance in your career. Unfortunately, finding a sponsor takes more effort. Sometimes a sponsor relationship can develop from a mentoring relationship. This is more likely to happen when the mentor relationship benefits both the mentor and the mentee. If you are able to offer good ideas that help the mentor, the relationship may turn into sponsorship. Make yourself visible to people whose leadership styles are attractive to you. These are probably people you would like to learn from and imitate in the workplace. When obtaining a sponsor relationship, it is important to be authentic and avoid playing politics. Take advantage of opportunities to work with potential sponsors so they can see how you operate. It is far more effective for a potential sponsor to see you in action, rather than that person hearing about you from a third party. Be proactive about suggesting improvements that will benefit the workplace. Observe how things work, ask questions, and then learn how to make suggestions that others accept and act on. Sometimes getting a sponsor is as simple as asking for the relationship. If you decide to take this approach, think carefully about whom you approach, think how that person may help you, and whether you can benefit the sponsor. When to Call on Sponsors and Mentors Sponsors and mentors are doing you a favor when they agree to work with you. That is important when asking for their time, advice, and support. A great time to call on a mentor is when you are unsure of a situation at work. You may be facing communication challenges, a need to develop additional skills, or help understanding the politics and relationships in the organization. Mentors are invaluable in giving you insight for all these scenarios. A mentor may also help you understand what is needed to position yourself for a promotion. They can suggest helpful trainings to attend, projects you should try to work on, and the jobs you may be interested in in the future. A mentor can actually
become a confidant. They can be someone you trust so much, you are willing to ask any question without fear of repercussions. When lucky enough to obtain a sponsor, this can be a very valuable relationship. Quality sponsors will often take action without you asking for it. For example, a sponsor may recommend you to lead a large project. A sponsor is an advocate. This means when she advocates for a promotion or a new leadership role for you, she risks her political capital and reputation. It is important to manage sponsor relationships very carefully and deliver on what is promised from your end. Summary Mentors and sponsors are important in everyone's careers. Mentors prepare individuals tomoveupwithinanorganization,andsponsorsmakeithappen.Mentoringrelationships are helpful in understanding the dynamics and potential pitfalls of a workplace, as well as identifying where you need to develop yourself to be ready to move up in the organization. Sponsors, on the other hand, advocate for you and use their influence and political capital to help you advance in your career. Concept Reinforcement 1. Describe the role of a sponsor. 2. Describe the role of a mentor. 3. Give an example of when it is appropriate to approach a sponsor for help. When the time is right, it is appropriate to approach your sponsor to ask for a referral for a professional position.
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