Do you know the difference? Don’t worry, most people don’t. They’re both super important and have the same aim—to support you in achieving your goals. So we’ve designed a guide to help you identify and define your mentors and sponsors.
What’s the difference?
A mentor can provide guidance, support and space for you to think. They can give an outside perspective and honest feedback.
Sponsors are potentially some of the most valuable people in your professional network because they are prepared to put their own reputation on the line by putting you forward for an opportunity. You won’t always know who they are because you don’t ask someone to be your sponsor, but they will advocate for you behind the scenes. Sometimes, they see the potential in you before you see it in yourself!
- Support the needs of mentees
- Personally invest in the success of the individual
- Champion and promote their mentees through increased visibility
- Advocate for and expose mentees to opportunities
As workplace issues expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett says
“Mentoring is a gift. A sponsor, on the other hand, is more transactional … a senior person is not going to go out of their way unless you have proven your worth.”
There are many ways to get a mentor. Most companies have programs you can access or there are various external mentor programs you can sign up to. The most successful relationships are ones that you potentially know or have a friendship with first. It’s difficult to ask someone to be your mentor if they don’t know you, because a mentorship needs to be about connection, chemistry, and trust.
Here are our tips:
To find a mentor
- Be clear on why you want a mentor. This is critical from the outset because your mentor will be giving up a lot of their precious time to help and work with you. Be specific and don’t be afraid to only have one or two things on your list, and the more specific the better. Remember, some of the best relationships are those where the mentor learns something too.
- Find someone you respect and research them. Spend time researching and looking at who you respect and admire. Don’t be afraid to choose someone with a different perspective. Think about people who will challenge your thinking. Who do you already know? Make sure whoever you identify is similar in some ways to yourself from a values and brand perspective. And do not choose someone who has flaws you don’t respect. You will just end up getting frustrated and it will be a waste of time.
- Check them out on LinkedIn—what is their brand like? How active are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do you align with their values?
- Take the lead … ask!
Before you ask them to be your mentor, we suggest asking for an informal coffee first to get to know them a little better. Like an interview, you’ll know in the first few minutes if you align. Think about some questions to help get the conversation started. If it’s going well, then don’t be afraid to formally ask them to be your mentor. You want to leave the first meeting feeling inspired and better about yourself. That is key. Mentors should inspire you.
To attract sponsors
An article from The Broad Experience blog, ‘Sponsorship vs Mentorship, And The Way Women See Work Relationships’, points out women often get overlooked by sponsors because they don’t use their work relationships in the way some men do. Remember, you don’t ask for sponsors, so here are some tips to attract them:
- Performance: You must consistently perform in your organisation. Sponsors won’t advocate for you unless you’re seen as a high performer.
- Network: Take advantage of opportunities and put yourself out there. Go to events, invited sessions and spend time managing your brand on LinkedIn.
- Promote your achievements: Not in the chest beating sense, but don’t be afraid to talk about your achievements or what you are proud of. People need to know what you are up to.
- Build trust: Sponsors want employees that they can trust to build up loyalty with colleagues.
- Be clear on what you want: Know where you want to go and make sure this is outlined in your development plan. Make sure your manager is clear on your aspirations and future goals.
- Turn mentors into sponsors: If you have some great mentors, think about the opportunity for them to become sponsors. Of course, you don’t ask them but over time, this is an opportunity through proving yourself and performing.
Having an effective sponsor and mentor can change your career. But having a great one can change your life.
Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In
- Great resources: Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor
- Listen to our Do you know the difference between mentors and sponsors podcast