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No mentors, no endorsements

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11 October 2021   |   3:38 am
Many things separate successful people from their peers. What did they do differently? There was this popular Tv series “Suits”. It was about the law and a particular law firm.


Many things separate successful people from their peers. What did they do differently? There was this popular Tv series “Suits”. It was about the law and a particular law firm. The law firm would take on a fresh pool of associates to work from time to time. Along the line, some of them would grow to become junior partners, a few of them would become senior partners. While one or two would become name partner—the highest position second to the overall boss. Apart from the knowledge of their profession, what differentiated the associates that became senior partners from others? They had mentors who sponsored them.

Most people know who a mentor is and what they do, at least the part of being a guide and advisor. However, besides being a guide to a less experienced person, a mentor can also be a sponsor. A sponsor is a senior individual who supports and highlights a junior colleague for promotion and opportunities. They work in your organisation or field; they believe in you and are ready to advocate for you. A sponsor is always in your corner and has your best interest at heart. Heather Foust-Cummings, Catalyst’s senior director of research, puts it this way “a mentor will talk with you, but a sponsor will talk about you.” Though your mentor might be different from your sponsor, great mentors are also sponsoring in most cases.

They do not stop giving the mentee a new perspective on life and situations; they also offer opportunities for their advancement. Some people have their sponsors separate from their mentors. They get advice from one person, and they have someone else pushing their cause. This approach is not wrong. But in more cases than not, you would find that a mentor is also a sponsor and vice versa. In 2006, a study of 1000 employees by Gartner revealed the following information. There was a salary grade change for the 25percent of employees enrolled in a mentoring program, compared to the five per cent who did not register. Also, according to the study, mentees are promoted five times more than those not in a mentoring program. In addition, the retention rate for mentees was higher by 22percent and 20 percent for mentors than their colleagues who did not enroll for a mentoring program. So, it is no surprise that 71 percent of Fortune-500 companies have mentoring programs. All these statistics prove that you need a mentor to sponsor you to get ahead in your career, life, and business.

It is good to be skilled in life, but your skills alone might not cut it for you. Without careful introspection, the famous quote, ‘It is not what you know, but who you know’ might sound unfair or even corrupt but come to think of it – Isn’t life all about relationships? We tend to recommend people we know and trust. That is what sponsors do. It is tempting and ego-inflating to romanticise the self-made idea. Is anybody self-made? (I devoted a whole chapter to answering this question in my book titled – Practical Steps to Finding a Mentor). Get close to some of the most successful people in the world, and you will find that they had mentors and/or sponsors at one point or the other. They get in the good graces of their senior colleagues or bosses. And when the conversation comes up on who to promote, their names are put forward.

All of this highlights a singular point—you need a sponsor. When there is a roundtable meeting to decide what will affect you, you need someone pushing and rooting for you. Having a mentor well positioned to sponsor you is having the best of both worlds. You have someone you can always rely on for advice and counsel, and they can also make sure you get to the top. Why would anyone want to be a lone wolf when this kind of advantage exists? Sponsorship by a mentor is such a sweet deal. Smart people who want to get ahead in life know that they cannot achieve their goals alone. Hence, they attach themselves to someone who has towed their path and succeeded. Mentors are instrumental to your success in your career, business, family and so on. Even the idea of a godfather stems from mentorship but with a different intention. Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs as his mentor. Steve Jobs probably set Mark up for meetings that led him to become the giant he is now. Mark once wrote about his mentor, “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you can build can change the world. I will miss you.”

Most skilled and ‘qualified’ people do not go as far as they expected because they have no sponsor rooting for them. A sponsor nominates you when there is an opportunity or opening at your organisation. A sponsor is aware of your strengths, and when they find a position that suits you, or that would benefit you, they mention your name as the one they prefer. In addition to nominating, sponsors also advocate. In your absence or presence, your sponsor would defend your cause. In this case, it will be good for you to have more than one sponsor to have the strength in numbers. Lastly, a sponsor decides. Sponsors usually have a say on the running of events and activities that concerns you. They are decision-makers, and it would be in your favour if you had them in your corner. As you skill up, remember to ‘level up’ with the support mentors who live at the top you are aiming for.
To be continued tomorrow
Osiri is a mentorship awareness ambassador.

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