Activate your Career: Seek Sponsorship Not Just Mentorship
A mentor can be an invaluable asset to success. Whether its an employer or former boss, a co-worker, a family friend or someone in your field that you have come to respect, finding someone who can take you under their wing means you have someone ready to listen and provide the advice based on their own experiences so that you can have more information on how to navigate your next move.
But, have you ever considered a sponsor? A sponsor is someone who can not only advise you on your career but *actively* help advance it. Sponsorship is much more active than passive. It’s an activating relationship rather than an observational one. And unlike a mentor, a sponsor has the direct ability and desire to give you opportunities, not just advice on how to maximize them when they come along. Sponsors have power in an organization and can use their social capital, credibility, network and even their own investments to advocate for you.
Of course, finding a sponsor isn’t an overnight task.
So, how do you seek out a sponsor? Here are some things to consider:
Connect. You need to power charge your network. This means tapping into your personal circles and also branching out to create new communities. One of the best things you can do is join a network or association of influential people. Look at the members of most prominent organizations in your field, and when you join the organization– get involved. Joining and making a difference on a non-profit board is a great place to start! Volunteering to run events or speaking engagements will often expose you to nerve center and VIPs of that group.
Don’t Put Limits On Yourself. As women, we tend to seek out other women as our mentors and sponsors but it’s important to stay open to all possibilities. My sponsor is a man who has held many incredible CEO-level positions at global companies. His experience and network has been exponentially powerful for me.
Do your homework. A sponsor differs from a mentor most in that they have something you want. They are gatekeepers, not just an ear to listen. So you’ll want to read up on potential sponsors, make a profile of who they know, what they know and how their network and organization can help you specifically get ahead.
Speak Up. You won’t know if you don’t ask, so you must be your own best advocate. Seek out individuals either in your own network (yes, those “who you know”) or someone who you want to work with, and just ask. If you don’t have an established relationship, you can ask them to mentor you–with the goal of transitioning into a more active role once you’ve proven your worth.
Contribute. The most successful sponsorships come when you can give value to the sponsor, not just take from them. They will be more likely to promote you when you can contribute to their success as well. If you see a place where your talents can be contributed (for free), you can show your worth, open up the lines of communication and strengthen that relationship. Give, and you shall receive.