Do you have a mentor? How about a sponsor? Are you clear on who they are and how they can help you? Mentors and sponsors are some of the most critical and influential members of a solid network.

A good definition of mentor is a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. A sponsor, however, is defined as someone that assumes responsibility for another person. As you can see, these people play very different roles. Mentors help you figure out problems, evaluate opportunities, and serve as a source of support and encouragement. Sponsors are individuals who are in a position of influence and power, and serve as your advocate – bringing you opportunities. Women tend to seek out mentors, while men seek out sponsors. This may be one reason why men seem to get more opportunities for advancement.

Both are important parts of your network, and both will only be successful if you put time and effort into building the relationships. If you are very lucky, you will have someone in your life who is both a mentor and a sponsor.

Let’s focus on building successful relationships with mentors. Anyone with more experience than you can be your mentor. Ideally, you should have multiple mentors that bring a different perspective or expertise, so that no matter what your issue, you have someone with relevant experience to turn to.

Understanding a Mentor’s Role:

  • To share their experience, insight, perspective & expertise
  • To help you avoid problems & evaluate opportunities
  • To help you develop skills & tools
  • To provide constructive criticism – don’t take it personally!
  • To introduce you to their network

Mentors Are NOT:

  • Employment agencies
  • Therapists
  • Friends
  • Your mom

Tips for Ensuring a Successful Relationship:

  • Prepare for your meetings ahead of time – be clear on what you need help with
  • Listen to advice with an open mind; then make your own decision
  • Respect one another’s boundaries
  • Discover if they can also serve as a sponsor – are they willing to advocate for you with other influencers?
  • Maintain the relationship proactively for the long-term

In many cases it is helpful to have an outsider bring a fresh, unbiased perspective, but it’s also helpful to sometimes have someone who understands the unique challenges of your profession, industry or company. So, seek out diversity in your mentors.

Leveraging relationships with mentors and sponsors can truly help you stay focused on your career goals and get the opportunities you deserve.

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