Contributed by Kendra Reddy, Leadership Coach and Talent Consultant, Blueprint Strategies
Like you, I am thoroughly invested in my career and growth as a leader. To help me along this journey, I rely on the insights, advice, feedback, and guidance of others whom I respect and admire. For a long time, I hadn’t given much thought to categorizing or formalizing the role of each of these amazing individuals – I simply put them all on my list of Go To People – until recently, when a client asked me about the difference between a coach, mentor, and supporter. Here is the information and advice I gave her:
A coach is someone who is skilled at asking powerful questions designed to facilitate your self-discovery and unlock your own insights. They are there to help you find your own answers, and you usually do more talking than they do. A mentor provides more explicit advice (usually based on their own experiences) and is there to answer your questions and offer recommendations. When they speak, you listen. A supporter is someone who believes in your abilities, and actively advocates for you throughout the organization or industry. Often, they speak on your behalf.
Sponsors believe in you, champion your growth and development, help remove roadblocks and provide you with visibility at tables and in circles you may not have direct access to. They look for opportunities to share your achievements with those who, otherwise, may not be aware of the great work you’re doing. In a nutshell, they endorse your brand. With women making up more than 46% of the workforce, and 4 in 10 companies worldwide still having no women in senior positions… a glass ceiling is clearly still in place. Adding a sponsor to your personal Board of Trusted Alliances and Advisors is a smart strategy.
Where to Find Your Sponsor
In many ways, finding a great coach is easier than finding a great mentor or sponsor – usually because a coach will come right out and tell you that they are a coach. Mentors and role models come in a variety of packages and can be formal or informal. They are usually the people who spring to mind when you are confronted with a challenge or issue and you think, “what would so-and-so do?” Spotting a sponsor may be a bit more of a grey area since they are skilled doppelgangers. Sponsors can come in the form of a boss, mentor, coach, role model, peer, client – or any combination of the above.
Sometimes, the sponsor will naturally find you. Perhaps it’s a boss or mentor who has faith in you and believes that sponsorship is a natural component of developing you as a leader. Sometimes it’s a peer or colleague who is confident in their abilities as well as yours, and believes in sharing the spotlight. Sometimes, it’s all three (lucky you!). Other times, you have to seek out the sponsor.
When identifying a sponsor, look for these key traits:
- Authenticity. They like you and want you to be successful.
- Generosity of spirit. They are willing to look for organic and planned opportunities to speak about or recommend you.
- Likability. They have good interpersonal skills and the ability to build strong relationships with people at all levels
- Credibility. They have extensive knowledge of the industry, company culture, and the people working there
How to Ask Someone to Sponsor You
Once you’ve found a potential sponsor, you must approach them in the right way. It is critical to be tactful, sincere, diplomatic, and a little bit humble. No one wants to support the person who is recruiting people to showboat for them, but everyone wants to help the person who is genuinely, credibly, and proactively managing their career and wants to build symbiotic relationships.
Know exactly what it is that you are looking for from the relationship and what you can contribute to it. For example, you may say that you:
- Are looking for someone to help you navigate the organization better and help you get exposure to new areas/stakeholders
- Are open to hearing their advice and suggestions (this helps keep the relationship from being purely transactional)
- Are happy to provide support to them in whatever ways you can (access to resources, introductions and endorsement to your department or peer group, etc.)
Once you’ve established a relationship a mentor or sponsor, be sure to revisit your designed alliance on a quarterly basis to check in, ensure the integrity of the relationship is maintained, find other ways to help each other, and most importantly… look for others you can support.