Guest blog by Anjana Nathwani, Business Psychologist
Research from the Centre for Talent Innovations shows that 85% of women and 81% of black and ethnic minority professionals need navigational help.
As you start your career, there is a good chance you can progress just by being good at your job and performing well in job interviews. However, as you move up the ladder and the number of jobs at the top shrink, it’s important to have someone supporting and advocating for you, pointing you in the right direction to build your career.
Those people are generally mentors and sponsors and finding one that supports and advocates for you can make all the difference to moving your career forward.
What is the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?
Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s quote sums this up perfectly: “In short, mentors advise; sponsors act.”
A mentor will help you to define your goals and career aspirations, giving advice for you to put into action.
Whereas a sponsor will support and advise you as well as advocating for you in key meetings and conversations. Sponsors have the potential to create career opportunities and open doors for you.
If you’re not sure which you need, it’s usually best to opt for a mentor first as this relationship will help you to be clear about your goals and where you’d like to take your career. Once you have clarity on this, you can the look for a sponsor.
How can I find the right mentor?
As your mentor will advise you, it’s important that they have the qualities and expertise you aspire to have. So take some time to think which qualities you most admire in leaders and would most like to develop in yourself before you consider potential mentors.
A mentor should senior to you and have lots of experience so that they are well placed to advise you and support you to achieve your goals and move forward with your career.
Remember that mentors can be internal to your organisation or external.
How can I find the right Sponsor?
Before looking for as sponsor, it’s worth thinking about what you are looking to get from the relationship. This will help you to be strategic in your search and to cast a wide net for potential sponsors.
It’s also helpful to think about your strengths and the value you bring to the organisation so that you can communicate this to your sponsor, who will help to promote you across the organisation.
A sponsor should be senior to you, so that they bring authority and influence. Through their network of contacts they may be able to get you involved in projects or assignments that extend your skillset or offer the opportunity to broaden your network and demonstrate your worth.
Most mentors and sponsors will be pleased to be asked
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor or sponsor, be brave and ask. In my experience, most mentors and sponsors will be pleased to be asked.
The hard work is down to you
No matter how good the advice or support provided by your mentor or sponsor, the hard work of putting into action their suggestions, reflecting on their feedback and developing yourself is down to you.
To get the most from your mentor or sponsor you should be prepared to be proactive and try the things they suggest. The advice they offer comes from their experience of seeing what works in practise.
You will most likely have to step outside your comfort zone to achieve your goals and to move your career forward. If you are willing to do this, you’ll get so much more from the relationship and get where you want to be in your career more quickly.
You may find these resources helpful:
Anjana has worked with over 100 clients ranging from reputable corporate clients, higher education, government, NGOs and small businesses. Her specialisms include leadership & executive development, inclusion and diversity, international business, women’s leadership development, cross cultural intelligence and cross cultural management.
She works with board rooms, executive teams, senior and middle management leaders, students and people going through or recovering from chronic illnesses (in particular cancer). Her toolkit of interventions includes cultural audits, boardroom vision and strategy workshops on creating a human organisation, self managed learning, coaching, mentoring, psychometrics and one to one feedback.