I am wondering how many people know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?
I am sure everyone has heard of mentors, but have you heard of a sponsor (and this isn’t someone who is trying to raise money for a deserving charity!)?
My description of a mentor is someone who teaches or gives help to a less experienced individual. Often we refer to our Dissertation Advisors as our mentors, therefore, indicating that they are our wise advisor steering you towards your doctorate with practiced ease.
But what about after you finish your graduate education? Are the people we work for our mentors?
I hope that everyone has experienced great mentoring and has made that special bond with someone whom they can always turn to for advice. However, there are occasions where your boss doesn’t provide you helpful advice (whether it is scientific or professional), and therefore isn’t acting as a mentor.
I should point out that you can have many mentors in your life, on very different subjects – science, professionalism, work-life balance. Just find people that you admire, and learn from them while building a solid relationship.
So what is a sponsor? They are someone who assumes responsibility for another person during an apprenticeship, or vouches for the suitability of someone. This can be quite different from a mentor. A mentor can advise you well, but not provide the career-changing opportunities and introductions necessary for your career progression.
So while you will need mentors, if you are to succeed and move along in your career, you will also need a sponsor. While you may hope that if you work hard, your performance will be noticed and the rewards will follow, that isn’t necessarily the case. Often you need someone to advocate on your behalf and tell everyone what a wonderful job you are doing. Also, to suggest you for larger tasks and promotions therefore vouching that you are capable of the new challenges.
Importantly, your sponsor also needs to protect you. Should you stumble, or political forces conspire to do you harm, you need to trust that your sponsor has your back. In my experience, my sponsors have also been the most wonderful mentors, however mentors are not always sponsors as they may be looking after their own interests first.
So what are the key things to show potential sponsors so that they will promote and endorse you?
1) Gravitas. Think of Gravitas as having the “It” factor. You are confident, you have credibility and you can persuade others to create buy-in when necessary. How many leaders do you know who don’t embody that description? If you want to lead, it is an absolute requirement.
2) Communication Skills. How do you persuade others that you have the “It” factor? Because you communicate it to them both verbally, by having excellent speaking skills, and non-verbally, by having presence in the room.
3) Appearance. You could have wonderful abilities for the first and second points but what if you don’t look the part? In most professional settings, you will need to dress appropriately. I always err on the side of caution and over dress. But wearing a suit won’t matter if you have spilled food or drinks on it and you look scruffy. Look the part, and it will help you achieve a better image.
Once you have demonstrated your worth to a sponsor you also need to acknowledge that this is a very important relationship to maintain. Do not take it for granted as otherwise, when you need it most your sponsor may have vanished into thin air.
Also, appreciate that they have then associated themselves with you, so you should act appropriately and represent their trust and belief in you, in the best way possible at all times. Whilst we hope that we can get ourselves ahead, it is often easier with an experienced hand showing the way and opening the door. I suggest everyone looks for suitable mentors, but also sponsors when it is appropriate.