Why Transitioning From Being A Mentor To A Sponsor Issues As Leaders

There is a subtle difference between mentoring and sponsorship that can make a huge difference in the lives and careers of the people you manage.

Being a mentor helps people find their way around. As a sponsor, you are putting your credibility at risk for someone you believe in, sometimes without their realizing it. It speaks for someone who may not be able to speak for themselves. A name emerges that might not otherwise make it to the top.

Leaders need to be both and recognize when to move from one role to another, usually from mentor to sponsor. Maybe not everyone is looking at you or needs you as a sponsor. However, in some cases you will see the option to do both.

It is important to understand each role. A mentor advises. A sponsor approves. A mentor can be at any level of the organization and at any point in their career. A sponsor is usually a senior executive with more leverage within an organization. Mentors help their protégés to develop a vision for their careers. Sponsors help them achieve these goals.

For executives who want to put their teams by their side, the jump from mentor to sponsor is key. Here are a few things to know.

1. Don’t project your vision onto someone else.

This is rule number one. Sometimes leaders try to get people on their own path. It’s the “That’s how I did it. Here’s what you should do.” Do not do that. They may not share your professional aspirations and goals. You must agree to this. If you want to sponsor someone you have to ask yourself if you are really listening to what they want to achieve and where they want to go. This is a place where your empathic listening skills can be especially useful. Ask yourself, does this person know their strengths, passions, and goals? Do you know their purpose? If the answers to any of these questions are yes, frame your sponsorship through these lenses. Your sponsorship is meant to get a person where they want to go – not where you want them to be.

2. Make yourself comfortable lending your credibility to others.

Sponsorship is all about bringing your stature, experience, title, and credibility to someone else in need of a platform. Here you stand up for your fellow human beings. This can include an important introduction, serve as a positive reference, or suggest someone for a vacancy. Sponsorship stands up for someone and doesn’t train that person. You’re risking your credibility to help them make that leap. Remember someone has helped you in the past.

3. Focus on helping people achieve their goals.

As a sponsor, my goal is to help the person achieve their goals, whatever they are. If you want to move into the C-Suite, I can help you with that. If you want to set a fulcrum within the organization, I can help you with that. As a sponsor, I can help everyone achieve something. I just have to know what it is.

If you’re not sure what someone’s goals are, ask them. Poke her if you have to. Help them think about it and talk about it if that is what it takes.

Understanding the goals is the first step in helping someone achieve them. But remember, focus on the goals of the person you’re sponsoring, not your goals for them.

The opinions expressed by Inc.com columnists here are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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