In the workforce, doing great work isn’t enough to accelerate your career. Mentors and sponsors ensure your great work is recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated by those in power. My mentor has been a tremendously valuable source of guidance throughout my career, and our partnership helped me earn my most recent (and significant) promotion.
Let’s take a moment to define terms:
Mentors provide guidance, coaching, and perspective on your career and professional ambitions. I think of my best mentors as a second set of eyes on my life decisions, and love this article on the four things the best mentors do. Mentors may be within or outside of your organization.
Sponsors may do some of the things mentors do, but they exert effort on your behalf. They actively seek, develop, and create professional opportunities for you. I believe you must have at least one sponsor within your own organization.
A report by executive search firm Egon Zehnder indicated that only 54% of women have sponsors or mentors supporting their career. Frustratingly, women have fewer sponsors than men. In my experience, I find we are less assertive about developing senior relationships because we often feel uncomfortable asking for help. If you don’t yet have a mentor, here are six tips on how to get one.
My primary mentor is an amazing, inspiring businesswoman with over a decade of additional professional experience. Let’s call her Amani. Her guidance has been valuable throughout my career and she played a massive role in helping me secure a big promotion.
Eighteen months ago, I felt stuck in a professional rut. Amani and I had a conversation where I shared this feeling with her, and she asked me several pointed questions to help me diagnose the source of my angst. I find that the best mentors, like Amani, often listen more than they speak.
One of the questions she asked me was: “If you weren’t stuck, what would be happening differently at work and in your career?” This simple, thoughtful question required me to gather my thoughts. I shared some of the frustrations that would be eliminated, the projects I’d stop spending time on, how I’d change my staff, and the new things I’d take on. “Well,” Amani chuckled, “let’s build your plan to do just that.”
Over the next several weeks, I evaluated and retired lower-value projects; I assessed my staff, and adjusted workload and responsibilities. With Amani’s guidance echoing in my head, I built a small working team to re-evaluate internal processes that had grown cumbersome and inefficient, and began working towards new goals that inspired me.
In the eighteen months that followed, Amani served as a “second set of eyes,” as I ran any new project and commitment by her. Her objective perspective helped me evaluate which opportunities truly matched the revised vision of my career.
Before a particularly difficult meeting, with several executives that never agreed on anything, she was my audience as I practiced the meeting, executive concerns, and questions I would need to address.
Amani helped me clarify my focus and served as a meaningful source of inspiration, particularly when some of my proposals went down in flames. She reminded me, “Your next role isn’t going to come because you were right every time, it’s going to be awarded to you because you’re a great executive and thoughtful leader. Keep proving that, and the opportunity will come.”
Importantly, Amani helped me communicate the case for my promotion in the six months leading up to the review cycle. She and I would discuss which leaders had confirmed their support and strategize on which critical promotion decision-makers needed to shift from neutral to supportive.
My great work and strong leadership earned me a promotion eighteen months after I articulated my feeling of being professionally “stuck” with Amani. Her guidance, support, and objective advice are things I’m forever grateful for. You might be curious how I pay her back? She always asks one thing: that I return the favor by mentoring other women. I’m happy to oblige.
I’d love to hear how you’ve benefited from the partnership of a mentor...or, how you’re supporting other women by serving as their mentor. By intentionally spending the time to support those around us, we’re elevating all women, which is a beautiful thing.
xoxo, Ms. Financier
This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.