Mentors and sponsors are crucial to career success and achievement. But what are they really? And exactly why do you need one? Most importantly–how do you get one?
A mentor/mentee relationship is one that can be beneficial in a variety of ways. Mentors act as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, and can be a catalyst for great ideas. According to Oprah, “Mentors are important and I don’t think anyone makes it in this world without some form of mentorship.”
I don’t know about you, but if Oprah needs a mentor, I need one too. While there are many benefits of mentoring, I will highlight a few here:
Advice: the biggest benefit to having a mentor is the advice they give. This can be advice on personal matters and work matters. My mentor has given me advice that has impacted my career in significant and positive ways.
Perspective: mentors can help their mentees look at problems and situations from a different perspective, a more seasoned perspective. A mentor can also give objective advice to mentees that can be difficult to see while in the midst of a work or personal situation.
Improving Skills: mentors care about their mentee’s professional success and can help you identify skills that you need to work on and can help you improve upon those skills.
Methods and Strategies: a good mentor can really help their mentee prepare their mentee for situations in work (and in life) that may be difficult, or something a mentee has not encountered yet. A great mentor can really help empower their mentee t0 take next steps by teaching them new methods to reach their end goal.
Networking: great mentors can put their mentee’s in contact and connection with their networks. This alone is a HUGE benefit to having a mentor.
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A 2012 study showed that 63 percent of women have never had a formal mentor because they don’t feel comfortable asking for mentorship! We as women are missing the boat on mentors because we don’t want to ask, but we have to ask for mentors in order to advance our careers.
According to Dr. Lucia Gilbert of Santa Clara University, women benefit from being mentored by other women. I have seen this play out in my personal life. My mentor is a woman, and that has increased my comfort level with her. I tell her things about both my work and personal life. I feel incredibly comfortable talking with her about these things and don’t feel intimidated by her. According to Dr. Gilbert, when women are mentored by men, they feel intimidated because they see men as authority figures.
When determining who should be your mentor, you should find someone who has the skills that you are lacking and want to develop.
For me, I also found a mentor who had the kind of life I wanted to have. I found someone who I respected and looked up to. It is also important that you feel comfortable with the person you are asking.
Additionally, it may be good to have a mentor that is in your company or field. They will have the knowledge and skills to help you advance in your career field. But most importantly, you have to ask!
Sponsorship is a bit different from mentors. Mentors act as a sounding board, and frequently give advice to the mentee, but a sponsor advocates on behalf of the employee and is more invested in their success.
According to the NY Times, it’s not as easy to find a sponsor. Sponsorship requires for the employee to outstanding, so that the sponsor benefits as well.
Because this is a harder relationship to begin and develop, it requires a track record of success. Once you have proven yourself as a valuable employee, it may be time to begin to look for a sponsor. In the book “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg talks about her relationships with sponsors. Her sponsors helped her get to where she is today–the COO of Facebook–and her sponsors were men. That really stuck with me. Men acting as sponsors for women will help us take our careers to the next level.
According to LinkedIn, 67 percent of women surveyed said they have never been a mentor because no one has ever asked. It is crucial that we take ownership of our careers and engage women, and men, as mentors and sponsors to take our careers to the next level.
Is there someone in your life who would like to be your sponsor or mentor? Why not take the first step and ask them?