Why You Need A Sponsor In Addition To A Mentor At Work

career insights May 23, 2022

Most people are great at finding mentors but pay less attention to finding sponsors.

A mentor is someone you can reach out to for help on various topics. It could be for strategic advice related to your career or something super tactical related to a work project. To get different perspectives and discuss issues freely, you might prefer to seek mentors outside of your organization or company.

On the other hand, a sponsor typically holds a position of power in your company or organization and can directly help you improve your situation. Sponsors can advocate for you to get a coveted promotion or even help you secure resources or means to deliver on a critical project.

While rarely formalized, the successful sponsor-sponsee relationships are symbiotic - the sponsor is furthering their own goals by helping you achieve yours.

I have found sponsors in senior leaders in the company who have helped me grow in my career. For example, a senior leader advocated for me to take on a challenging project. This project was a top priority for our company and was necessary to ship for the leader to unblock a crucial product launch. Helping ship this project gave me both visibility and credibility.

As the company grows bigger and harder to navigate, having leaders in the company who are actively looking out for your career can be very helpful for your growth.

Here are the fewest things that you can do to cultivate effective sponsor relationships:

Do good work - this one is a no-brainer! It is easier for you to collect sponsors along the way if you have a strong track record and reputation for solving problems.

Understand the goals of leaders who could be sponsors - it is essential to be aware of the critical ongoing projects and understand the KRs that the leaders are responsible for. Try to take on projects that align with those goals.

Make your own goals known - voice what you want, whether a promotion or a stretch opportunity. Help your sponsors help you.

Lastly, if you are in a position to help others, look out for the folks who show up strongly in your organization and sponsor them!