A Mentor is Good, but a Sponsor is Better

Kathleen Bovard

Kathy oversees the career coaching team at Carey's Harbor East and Washington, D.C. locations. Kathy is a licensed counselor with more than 20 years of experience in higher education in student affairs, counseling/advising, teaching, and program development/management. She is a proven facilitator, trainer, and educator, having presented at national, regional, and local conferences, designed and delivered hundreds of workshops and seminars, and taught over 40 graduate-level courses in the last twelve years at both the Johns Hopkins University and McDaniel College.

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Many of you know that having a professional relationship with a mentor is one of the most important things you can do to advance your career. Research suggests that mentoring has a positive significant impact on one’s overall career success and advancement into leadership positions. But is mentoring enough?

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor,” found that professionals with sponsors were 23% more likely to move ahead in their careers than those with only a mentor.

So what is a sponsor and how can you find one? A sponsor is more than a mentor; it’s someone who is willing to be your champion in an organization. In addition to offering wisdom and advice, a sponsor promotes you and shares your story with others. A sponsor is willing to take a risk and endorse you for a promotion, a new assignment, or a plum project. A sponsor doesn’t have to be your supervisor; it may be someone else who recognizes your strengths and how you add value in the workplace.

How best to find a sponsor? Look for individuals who are influencers in the field. Build relationships with them with the intention of bringing them into your network. Look for opportunities to showcase your skills and make sure that potential sponsors are aware of your accomplishments. Join professional associations and volunteer to serve on committees, or take on a leadership role in the organization. Serve on boards of local and regional non-profit organizations. Be visible in your organization and in your profession. The first step to finding a sponsor is getting noticed.

Your sponsor may not work with you in your organization. If this is the case, make sure you schedule time to meet regularly with your sponsor to share your successes. Like networking, always consider what you can offer to your sponsor in return for their support. For example, share an article about new practices in your field, or invite your sponsor to a speaker series or professional development event. Your sponsor may be your professional guide and advocate, but it’s up to you to keep the relationship strong.

Be sure to share your career goals with your sponsor and don’t be afraid to suggest how your sponsor can help you accomplish your goals. Sponsors are not mind readers; communicate openly with them about what you hope to gain from the relationship.

Finally, be gracious and let your sponsor know how much you appreciate their efforts – as often as you can. And as you advance in your career, “pay it forward” by offering to mentor and sponsor others. In the words of Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets, “be not a teacher, but an awakener.”

The CDO staff actively reads a wide range of professional development material, and we look forward to sharing the bits of wisdom we find with you, our dedicated readers, through The Good Reads blog series.

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