I had a wonderful time this week at an executive women’s networking breakfast sponsored by the great folks at Accenture and Starbucks. It is always a pleasure to be surrounded by other smart and lively people (of course the coffee certainly helped).
The main topic at the event was resilience. How executives define resilience, examples from their careers and why it is important. This led to a conversation on the difference between mentors and sponsors. Everyone needs both for a great career, yet most people don’t pause to consider the differences between them for their career, nor do they understand how these people can help them be resilient. So what is the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?
Mentor: A wise and trusted counselor or teacher; someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague. (exchange of knowledge and wisdom)
Sponsor: An individual or group that provides support for an individual or organization, similar to a benefactor; Someone who provides access to opportunities to benefit another. (exchange of access to opportunity)
In the age of social media, mentors and sponsors are more available than ever. You can ping your network for instant recommendations to provide wisdom or guidance (mentor) which may be a personal contact, book, blog, etc. Instantaneously you have access to the wisdom of the world, crowd sourced and verified via social media. How cool is that?!?
Similarly, you have access to opportunities that were much more difficult to come by only a few years ago. Online, you can find and connect with people who will act as a sponsor for you and open doors or make
introductions. You can “meet” the most amazing people in the world via digital venues such as social media, blogs, webcasts and more. Later you may have the opportunity to meet in person and form a long term connection, even returning the favor to others over time.
But you can’t take advantage of this wonderful world dynamic of social media sponsors and mentors if you don’t engage and continue to participate on a regular basis. Your possible sponsors are either online today, or are looking to be. Take this recent article in AdAge about research done by IBM on the changing needs of CMOs and their struggle to adapt to the changing digital landscape. If you read through it you’ll see a few things. One, that if you are skilled in social media you have the opportunity to mentor-up in your company or another organization. Two, in return for mentoring-up in this topic it is totally fair game to ask for sponsorship from the executive. Most executives are happy to return a favor when it has broader benefit of some type. So why not ask?