Who you know means something. Who knows you means everything.
Who thinks and talks about you when you’re not around? That makes all the difference.
We need not navigate the rough waters of career advancement alone. For this we have mentorship, sponsorship and friendship.
• A mentor talks to you.
• A sponsor talks about you.
• A colleague or friend talks with you (no agenda necessary)
It is safe to say we can benefit from all three types of connections for purposeful growth and balance in our careers. And if fortunate, we’re put into positions to serve on both sides of these roles.
But it’s more than luck that makes it meaningful. It’s conscious and strategic identification, action and maintenance over time. In short, it takes work, and likely outside of your 8-5.
It’s a shared understanding of the value of time and energy spent, and a mutual respect to know when “the ship has sailed,” and the time comes to move on.
How do you attract or seek out the right match for you? Start with understanding the differences, identify who might be missing in your career life and then take simple and effective actions to begin the process.
Mentorship is what you make of it, and certainly has a range from the extremely informal, to established formal programs within organizations or interest groups.
These relationships can be organic or forced, and in both cases the idea is the same: call on your experience and influence to listen, advise and nurture another.
Within this realm comes another dimension - coaching - to which Sharlyn Lauby, Founder of HR Bartender, defines as such in her article Mentors or Coaches – Why You Need Both:
Mentors are typically subject matter experts in the topic they are mentoring. Their method involves teaching and development. They are passing along their knowledge and skills.
Coaches are focused on listening, questioning and processes. Their methods focus on action plans, goals and accountability. They are helping someone achieve a goal that’s been set.
Additionally, I tend to associate coaches with paid services and consultation, where mentorship as more pay-it-forward. There is value in both.
Action Steps: It might seem obvious but you should seek out mentors with more experience than you have, who also have a passion for sharing and advising. These individuals will have a pay-it-forward attitude and will hopefully stick with you to guide you through many stages on your career path.
I admit this concept is newer to me, though well accepted as a delineation from the traditional mentorship concept. As defined by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor in her article “The Right Way to Find a Career Sponsor”:
“Where a mentor might help you envision your next position, a sponsor will advocate for your promotion and lever open the door.”
Sponsors talk about you, at the right times and in the right audiences. But it’s not a one-way street. Hewlett goes on to explain that it’s not seeking friends, but allies, and in helping to elevate the career of those they sponsor, they help “further their career, organization or vision.”
It’s making sure the right people know you: the skills, experience and ambition you bring to the table. It’s an exercise in taking risks on the real you, and reminding them early and often of the value you offer.
Action Steps: Seek out sponsors in influential positions and who have strong business networks. These individuals know the value in making the right connections and believe, in time, that the cross-promotion will pay off for both audiences.
In the FastCompany article "Why Having Friends at Work is so Important," author Lydia Dishman shares that in general we spend most of our time at work, but unlike in the past, we choose productivity and efficiency over building friendships. Additional factors including job hopping, social media interaction and work/life blending also work against us.
What's the cost? The article cites several studies and resources with shared outcomes: stronger friendships can lead to happier and more productive lives, resulting in more success, income and overall satisfaction (even more so than the typical corporate strategies for engagement including mentorship!)
It might not seem easy or natural in today's work environment, but making personal connections with colleagues - nurtured over time - can have both short- and long-term gains, wherever your career takes you.
Action Steps: Boldly step outside your comfort zone, keep it light, and take a chance in making new friends at work. The article above offers some great tips on being vulnerable and making the friendship work for both of you.
How can we be mentors if we can’t be friends?
Michael Bolton knows a bit about this concept. Work friends or colleagues are just as important as other connections, for companionship through the daily grind, and a bit of levity when times get tough.
Any of these relationships need to be built on a level of trust and mutual connection that feels both friendly and professional. It crosses into mentorship and sponsorship territory when you agree to be more intentional.
Remember, a rising tide lifts all ships, so don’t forget your responsibility and accountability in the formula:
Make it official
Take a mentorship or sponsorship situation seriously and don’t assume anything is “implied.” Pop the question, say the words out loud, and make it a firm commitment, including stated intentions, goals and expectations for the long-term.
Make it meaningful
Think beyond traditional check point phone calls or coffee meetings, to meetings at inspiring venues or other choices off the beaten path. Take on a challenge or gaining a new skill together to learn more about yourself and each other. Connect with each other in your own unique worlds to support a cross-mentorship experience.
Make it last
If needed in your busy schedules, put recurring meeting appointments on your calendars so in the least you’ll pop up in each other’s phones and emails regularly.
Make it, gone?
Like any relationship, there may come a time to call it quits. The power is in knowing when its time and having the courage to have the talk, so both of you know the score. Yes, they will eventually get the hint when you don't return emails and continually cancel meet ups, but you could remain friends and allies even if time and interests stop aligning.
When Your Ship Comes In
In his popular TedxToronto talk "Everyday Leadership," Drew Dudley challenges us to redefine leadership from a title that we earn, to the numerous ways we can be an influence and inspiration to those around us (and recognize these experiences to give credit where it's due).
As helpful as others may be to you in your journey, the feeling of influencing and inspiring others can’t be measured.
At a recent leadership panel event, Dr. Margaret McKenzie, Head of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Cleveland Clinic, had this to say about paying it forward: ”I will never 'arrive' because arriving means that I have stopped. I am always becoming.” She went on to add, “You never know… the people you mentor today might be your boss someday.”
Just think: who you mentor, sponsor and support, could one day advocate on your behalf. Or better yet, have used the experience to push beyond their potential and rise to greater influence than anyone thought possible.
Like anything else, balance is the key to nurturing your career and connection needs, as well as in committing your time wisely to the advancement of others.
Choose your course wisely, and leave behind you a legacy of meaningful connections in the wake.
Attribution: Photo used under Creative Commons from _dChris
Christina Capadona-Schmitz (@ChristinaCS & @DownWithSpitUp) leads marketing communications for Oswald Companies, a risk management and financial services company in Cleveland, Ohio. She is on the clock 24/7 with other creative pursuits and community endeavors. Connect with her at www.ChristinaCSMedia.com.