Having a mentor is great, but I think when you get to mid-career it is important to start looking for sponsor.
As we progress in our careers, we often focus on building a network of mentors who can provide guidance and advice. While having mentors is certainly important, having a sponsor mid-career can be even more valuable.
A mentor is someone who provides guidance, advice, and support as you navigate your career. Mentors are typically more experienced than their mentees, and they can offer insights and perspectives that the mentee may not have considered. Mentors can help their mentees set goals, develop new skills, and build their networks.
A sponsor is someone who actively advocates for you, and who is willing to use their influence and networks to help you advance in your career. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor has a direct stake in your success, and is committed to helping you achieve your goals.
Both will provide guidance and advice. But only a sponsor will actively advocate for your career success within your current organization.
One real-life example of the power of sponsorship is Sheryl Sandberg, past COO of Facebook. In her book “Lean In,” Sandberg talks about the importance of having sponsors in the workplace. She credits Lawrence H. Summers, as a key sponsor in her career. When Sandberg was considering leaving Google to join Facebook, Summers encouraged her to take the leap, and even offered to introduce her to Mark Zuckerberg.
A sponsor can help you navigate the politics of the workplace, provide access to opportunities, and advocate for you when you’re not in the room. While having mentors is important, having a sponsor can be the key to unlocking your full potential. So, if you’re mid-career and looking to take your career to the next level, focus on building relationships with potential sponsors.
How to find and attract a sponsor
Identify potential sponsors: Once you have a strong network, identify potential sponsors who have the power and influence to help you achieve your goals. Look for people who have achieved what you hope to achieve, or who have a track record of sponsoring and promoting others.
Build relationships: Once you’ve identified potential sponsors, focus on building strong relationships with them. Offer to help with their projects, ask for advice, and seek opportunities to collaborate.
Be visible: In order for a sponsor to advocate for you, they need to know who you are and what you’re capable of. Be visible within your organization and industry by taking on high-profile projects, speaking at events, and sharing your expertise.
Be proactive: Don’t wait for a sponsor to find you – be proactive in seeking out opportunities and advocating for yourself. Make your career goals known, and seek feedback and guidance from your potential sponsor
Now remember, in order to attract a sponsor, it’s important to have a clear personal brand that sets you apart from others in your field. Focus on developing a unique value proposition and building a strong online presence.
While hard work and perseverance are important, luck also plays a role in finding a sponsor. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can increase your chances of getting lucky by putting yourself out there.
The sponsor must get something out of it, you must be someone who already has a track record to make it easier to be recommended for opportunities. I find it easier for me to want to sponsor someone when they are already doing a good job, I know when I recommend them for anything it will also make me look good, and the person is worthy of my professional legacy.
While sponsorship can be incredibly beneficial, there are also risks involved. There is a tendency for inappropriate behaviors to be inferred especially where it’s a male sponsor and a female beneficiary or vice versa.
It is important to find the right sponsor who shares your values and vision, and please ensure that you are not being too dependent on a single sponsor.