If you Google “mentor at work,” more than 100,000,000 responses come up, highlighting an interesting theme: as a whole, we seem to believe that mentors are extremely important for workplace success, engagement, and productivity. Over the last few months, I have been writing about my experience integrating collective care, or squad-care, into my work; just last month, I wrote about who the ideal members of a squad might be, and what benefits they may bring, both professionally and personally.
If you are at a point professionally where you feel you have solid relationships with colleagues in your field, friends, and co-workers, perhaps it is time to also consider looking beyond just a mentor: to a sponsor.
Research tells us that while men and women both may benefit tremendously from mentors, men are more likely to be sponsored by individuals who hold more power and are more advanced at an organization. In fact, some argue that equal opportunity to meaningful sponsorship may help address gender-based achievement gaps in many industries.
A sponsor is someone who can advocate for you when it comes to promotions, better projects, and even pay increases. They will help connect you to elevated opportunities in your field, provide honest feedback, and help you find chances to fill any gaps in your experience or skillset. While a mentor is essential in providing encouragement, advice, and support, a sponsor uses their power, leadership, and/or privilege to act and advocate for an individual’s development and advancement. A professional may serve as a sponsor for a variety of reasons; perhaps they had support themselves and would like to help the next generation of leaders in the field, or they are hoping to develop future talent for their own team or organization.
Here are some factors to consider when developing a relationship with a sponsor:
- Ask for input, advice, guidance, and feedback. Reach out to individuals you admire in your industry and share your hopes for the future. Ask them for concrete recommendations on next steps, trainings, and other methods to build your experience. To maintain a relationship, follow up on their advice in a timely manner and keep them informed of how your goals may be adapting over time.
- Share concrete examples of professional successes. This may feel a little awkward at first, but consider sharing with a sponsor about your recent successes and projects that have gone particularly well. Let them know of your expertise and areas of engagement. When projects or opportunities arise, you will want them to think of you, and it will be easier for them to do so if they know where your passions reside.
- Seek out individuals who are more advanced in your industry and whose leadership you admire. Do not be afraid to request a meeting with an individual who holds a leadership role in your industry; a sponsor ideally will be someone who has the power to recommend you for opportunities and advocate on your behalf. There is great benefit to having strong connections with colleagues at similar professional stages, but a sponsor should be someone who has already walked down your path and is now able to look back and extend a hand in your direction.
When thinking about your squad, do not forget how powerful a sponsor can be.
- Be receptive to honest feedback and conversation. A mentor may share with you that you are missing components in terms of experience or skills—be receptive to their feedback. While a second opinion may be a recommended next step, it is always helpful to know where we might need to put the most attention to maximize our successes.
From helping you plan for future opportunities to advocating on your behalf for visibility and engagement, a sponsor can be essential when it comes to collective care in the workplace.