Mentors and Sponsors: Not an either or proposition by Roz Usheroff
According to a recent interview for Forbes magazine, Sylvia Ann Hewlett was clear in her advice that one should focus on finding a sponsor as opposed to a mentor.
The difference between the two according to Hewlett is that “mentors advise; sponsors act.”
Notwithstanding the fact that she does outline the important role of a mentor in business success, I am not of the opinion that we are talking about an either or proposition. In short, and as illustrated by the following Personal Reflection excerpt from my book The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand, discounting the need for a mentor in favor of the a singular focus on finding a sponsor is tantamount to thinking about stealing second base before you actually get the hit that lands you on first base. It is potentially putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
A Moment of Personal Reflection . . .
Not that long ago, a company with whom I consult in the Far East underwent a major change at the top when their CEO suddenly left the organization. Shortly afterward a new Chief Executive was appointed and his first step was to determine who from his current executive team would continue with the company and who would be let go. To assist him in making this decision he scheduled a series of meetings with each executive, at which time they would present their vision as to where the company should go. The new CEO would then make his decision based on what he heard and how it aligned with his own visions.
Knowing that their jobs were on the line, each of these executives gave the best presentations of their life. They talked about their length of time with the company, what they had accomplished in the past, and where they saw the company’s future.
However, despite giving it their all, the majority of the executives lost their jobs. The ones who kept their jobs had the benefit of knowing the lay of the land ̶ or what the new boss wanted to see before they went into the meeting. They had this information because they had coaches who told them upon what areas they needed to focus, including how to align their vision with that of the new CEO’s.
Their PR efforts in their meetings were effective because they had recognized long before the change at the top occurred that to be successful in promoting their value (i.e., their brand), they had to have a solid understanding of their organization’s inner workings. To get to this point, they networked with key people in their company, sought feedback as to their strengths and weaknesses, as well as were active participants in discussions. In other words, the platform upon which they would promote their brand was established and refined long before their meeting with the new CEO.
How prepared are you for the unexpected? Have you built a strong network of contacts within your organization, including individuals you would consider to be coaches and mentors? If you haven’t, then there is no time like the present, because you just never know when you will be called into the meeting of your career.
I believe that you need both mentors and sponsors. Whether you are looking to land a new position or play a greater role within your current organization, you need to actively seek to understand the challenges that your boss is facing and how you can help to address them. The best way to confirm and understand the challenges (and opportunities) within your organization is through a mentor.
After helping you to gain a better perspective on where you can have the greatest impact, a mentor will then provide invaluable guidance on how you can best showcase your expertise and ability to serve the company vision. Once you effectively demonstrate your value, finding a sponsor then becomes a much simpler task. After all, it is easier to champion someone who has already established their brand value through proper positioning.
By the way, there is no law in restricting yourself to just one mentor. The more you have, the greater your chances of understanding the lay of the land through different eyes. Last, you never know when mentors transform into your biggest sponsors!