Why You Need a Sponsor–Not Just a Mentor

Mentors vs Sponsors“Popular business press loves to say you need a mentor, but they don’t tell you what a good mentor is supposed to do for you or tell the difference between mentors and sponsorship,” Carla Harris said during a presentation for Wake Forest University Business School.  “You can survive a very long time in your career without a mentor, but you will not survive without a sponsor.”

In a recent article for BizJournals.com, Carla shares why having a sponsor is so important.  Here’s an excerpt:

“A sponsor is NOT the person you tell the good, the bad and the ugly to,” Harris said. “They’re the person you tell the good, the good and the good to.”

Harris explained that a sponsor is the person who carries your resume into the room when it comes time for a possible promotion. He or she is the person who will go out on a limb and vouch for you passionately, behind closed doors.

“They are spending valuable political and social capital on you, and you have to articulate why you are worthy of that capital,” Harris said. “Retreat from looking for a sponsor until you can say why.”

Harris said when she was up for the promotion to managing director, she realized she needed someone who would vouch for her at the table.  “I started thinking about it: ‘He is gonna fight for him; she is gonna fight for him,’ I couldn’t say without a shadow of a doubt who was going to fight for me. Every year someone is not going to get the promotion.”

Once Harris realized she needed to secure a sponsor, she went to someone who she knew had a seat at the decision-making table and made her case.

“I said, ‘It’s very important for me to be promoted this year.’ If he had told me no, he was going to have to tell me why. I said, ‘But you and I know that someone has to be behind the closed door pounding their fist for me.'”

He appreciated her candor and agreed to be her sponsor.

Click here to read the entire article.

Do you have a mentor AND a sponsor? We would love to hear about your experience.