Strategically Seeking Support: The Importance of a Sponsor & Mentor
by Samantha Simmons
Bill Withers said it right — we all need somebody to lean on. We each have a support system outside of work. Dad, Mom, a partner, sibling, neighbor, friend — there are so many relationships we lean on for different aspects of life. It is highly unlikely and unrealistic to think that one person might be able to provide all we need.
Fortunately for us, our organizational structure at redpepper gives each person a direct report that can manage us and provide guidance and structured feedback loops. Unfortunately, though — it just isn’t enough.
We’ve recently been testing a concept that solves this exact issue. The challenge — proactively seek out a Sponsor and Mentor outside of those that manage us directly in an effort to grow, learn, and gain an outside perspective.
We feel it is our responsibility to find others who can help us with our growth, and allow ourselves to be available and present to others (even if we don’t manage them directly). We call them our “Square Squad”. (We’ll get to that later!)
You may be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between a Sponsor and a Mentor?” Mentors give you perspective, while Sponsors give you opportunities.
A Mentor talks with you, while a Sponsor talks about you.
To give a little more insight, we’ve outlined the Sponsor and Mentor job descriptions below:
What A Sponsor Looks Like
Someone who vouches for a person; who uses strong influence to champion your work and potential.
Believes in your potential and is willing to bet on you
Lifts you up to others within your company
Has your back and protects you when necessary
Expects a great deal from you in performance and loyalty
What a Mentor Looks Like:
A trusted guide who informally or formally helps you navigate your growth path, giving accountability and demanding responsibility.
Provides emotional support, feedback, and advice
Builds your confidence and provides a sounding board
Focuses on your personal and professional growth
Expects very little in return
Both roles offer advice, make introductions, give feedback, and provide guidance.
Now that you know how Sponsors and Mentors can enhance your life, the next step is to start identifying people that can help fill the gaps in your network.
Seeking Out Your Squad
Brené Brown suggests everyone has a ‘Square Squad’ and to surround yourself with only those whose opinions matter to you most and will challenge you professionally and personally. “This is not the suck-up squad,” she writes.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself while identifying who may be the right fit to be your Sponsor or Mentor — and the newest addition to your Squad:
What am I craving? Is it a sponsor to raise me up or feedback from a mentor — both?
What do I need to succeed? Is it brutal honesty? More 1:1 time?
Are there people I’ve admired but haven’t had the chance to work with? Think outside of your circle of friends.
What role am I willing to play for others? Take the support your sponsor and mentor and pay it forward if you have the capacity.
“This is not the suckup squad.”
Use this list to find the right people in your life that can fill these (very large) shoes. She suggests one final step critical to the process — write these names on a 1×1 inch square of paper and keep it in your wallet or pocket at all times. Doing so will ensure you can be reminded of who is in your corner and there to help whenever you really need it.