One of the great truisms of life as a young student, employee, or both is that you need mentors. After all, if Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, and King Arthur all had mentors, why shouldn’t you? The idea of a mentor stretches back further than our world of companies and corporations. We get the word “mentor” from Mentor, the old man Odysseus asks to watch over his son Telemachus while he was off at Troy, and who helps the duo in Homer’s Odyssey. The idea of and desire for a wise old guardian figure to help us and watch over us is woven deep into the fabric of our society and our understanding of life.
That being said, there are different types of mentors, and in an age where getting ahead in business can be quite challenging for young workers, in particular, it’s time to seek out mentors who are sponsors.
What’s the Difference?
The difference between a mentor and sponsor is while the former advises, watches over you, and provides all manner of emotional and personal support, they don’t always help you professionally. Obi-Wan and Dumbledore may be great mentors for developing Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter’s skills, self-worth, and understanding of themselves and their place in the world, they aren’t getting them corporate contacts or job opportunities, are they?
We’re sadly not Jedi or wizards, and so corporate contacts via sponsors are absolutely necessary.
The Importance of Upward Mobility
Why is this so important?
Without those connections, you can be left stagnant. Even if you do a great job, no one may notice, and even if you do, it’s no guarantee that they’ll want to help you. After all, you’re already helping them where you are – why should they change things to try to help you? Sponsors are mentors who care about you personally, who want you to succeed, and who are thus more likely to help you make that jump.
That can be especially important for women and minorities, who are far too often overlooked and ignored on the basis of their own merits. Having extra support in their corner can be vital to making sure that their contributions and talents don’t get overlooked and that they thus get the chance at upward mobility they deserve.
Mentors are always vital and welcome, but in twenty-first-century corporate culture, having a mentor who is also your sponsor is key to your hero’s journey up the corporate ladder.