Success doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is the culmination of years of hard work, and many people need to get involved. For every woman sitting on a board or running a company, there are mentors, sponsors, friends, and colleagues who worked with her and supported her as she advanced in her career.
A mentor is more than just a teacher – he or she is someone that can be relied on and trusted to be there in both difficult times and times of great success. The value of having someone with whom you can share your concerns, try new ideas, or collaborate in developing skills is immense.
Even more than a mentor, a sponsor is someone who advocates on your behalf when you are not in the room – a leader in the company who can help you take advantage of new opportunities you might not otherwise miss. Let’s take a closer look at how to build this personal board of directors by finding the right mentor or sponsor to help you develop your career.
The Value of a Mentor
A mentor is someone who will always be there for you, cheerleading your efforts and supporting you as you attempt to grow your career. A mentor is someone you know from outside your current career – a friend, colleague, contact from within a professional network, or even a family member who has your back through everything.
A mentor is likely someone who has been in your shoes and come through the other side better for facing the challenges. He or she is a leader in your industry who you look up to and strive to be like. This person shares your core values and acts as a sounding board for new ideas, and who helps you deal with stressors and make the most of pending opportunities. He or she can help make sure you’re comfortable with the decisions you must make.
The Value of a Sponsor
A sponsor is someone else entirely. This is someone inside the company who will speak on your behalf when you are not in the room and who will support you when you are up for a promotion or have an opportunity to lead an important project. A sponsor respects and supports what you are doing and wants to see you succeed. More importantly, he or she is willing to lay out personal capital to support your rise in the company.
Whereas a mentor coaches and guides you toward establishing a mindset for success, a sponsor is someone who is on the ground with you helping you navigate what can be at-times thorny company politics. He or she can help you achieve the goals you’ve set.
How to Find a Mentor and/or Sponsor
For many busy professionals, it can be difficult to find a reliable mentor or sponsor, but consistent engagement in a professional network can make all the difference.
Professional networking is an important step for all women regardless of position because it exposes them to new ideas and people who can help them achieve their goals. Networking helps professionals identify and build a personal board of directors – people they can trust and rely on to guide them and support their efforts on the road to success.
- Seeking a Mentor – When looking for a strong mentor, engage with professionals who have been where you want to be and have something to offer. These are people who have struggled through the stages of career development and are eager to provide insights to those who are starting their ascent. Professional mentors and coaches are available, but so too are women in the network who are eager to share what they have learned.
- Seeking a Sponsor – A sponsor should be someone in your organization – a boss, executive, or even a colleague who has influence they can wield on your behalf. Whether she is an executive with the ability to speak on your behalf or a manager who has the ear of key decision-makers, your sponsor should be someone you have a strong professional relationship with who is able to recognize your contributions and would be willing to speak for you when the time comes.
Through your networking efforts, you can connect with and build relationships with people in the office who will sponsor your efforts to rise higher. You may also find people who can provide legal advice, financial advice, career development advice, and more. This board of insightful minds who can guide you to greater success is invaluable for anyone eager to move ahead in her career. Take the time to find these people and build relationships with them, and always be ready to do the same for others. As you grow in your own career, you soon become someone with the resources to provide similar support to others, continuing the circle.
The International Association of Women is a network of like-minded professional women that provides support, motivation, and inspiration for you to reach your goals. To learn how IAW can help you achieve more, check out our member benefits on our website.