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Mentors, Sponsors & Coaches: Why these people need to be in your Career Corner

by Erica Enriquez on August 19, 2014

English poet John Donne¬†once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself”, and while this is usually¬†attributed to the general idea that nobody goes through life alone, it’s easy to see how this can be used in the professional sense. As in, no WOMAN is an island, and everyone¬†should look for a Mentor, Sponsor and Coach to pull them up and through the ranks in their career.

But what exactly is a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, and why¬†do these people need to be in your Career Corner?¬†If you think of it as¬†a sporting analogy, it’s like having a¬†team behind the athlete, training them and pushing them to¬†go beyond their personal best. Without the team, the athlete is training alone. Therefore, without a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, you’ll be gliding through your career¬†without any exciting momentum to carry you through.

What’s a Mentor?

…a mentor is¬†a person who helps¬†¬†you¬†define¬†your dreams.

At a Career and Networking event in Sydney recently called, The Power of Mentoring, the keynote speaker, Career Strategist Megan Dalla-Camina explained that a mentor is¬†a person who helps¬†¬†you¬†define¬†your dreams. ¬†They don’t necessarily have to be your seniors in your direct line of work, but they are people who you see as a good role model for you. ¬†They guide, support and assist you in your growth and learning. However, Andy Rachelff, Executive Chairman at Wealthfront Inc.,¬†says that a mentor is someone who can teach you something great in the field you want to build your career in.

A relationship with a mentor is generally long-term, and, just like any relationship, requires regular catch-ups and a genuine connection. If you choose the right mentor, they may even be your ally through any job transition or position throughout the rest of your working life.

Why you need a Mentor

Many women unfortunately don’t seek a mentor, but it’s important that we look for one. Why? Because while we believe¬†we either don’t have time or don’t need one (i.e. we think, “There is nobody in the world who understands my industry/position/responsibilities”), a mentor shows us things about our working life that we might not see. ¬†In an article by Forbes Magazine called How a Mentor can help your Career, they say a mentorship is, “like holding up a mirror to your operating style and clearly seeing your reflection”.

Mentors are like your spirit guide – they’ll be honest with you when¬†they know¬†you’re doing something wrong, and they won’t mince words in trying to get you to see the light. ¬†They will offer constructive criticism, whether you like it or not. ¬†Your mentor is your motivator, and everyone at any level needs a motivator, a cheerleader offering positive yet constructive reinforcement.

What’s a Sponsor?

An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above you

While your mentor is your dream-definer, your sponsor is, according to Megan Dalla-Camina, your dream-enabler. He or she pulls you through to leadership roles and shouts your praises to those with clout for further promotion.  An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above you, and holds a bit of clout themselves in your industry or company.  You may not want to be exactly like them in terms of their position, but your sponsor is definitely someone you want on your side.

In an article by Business Insider called ¬†Why you need a Sponsor – Not a Mentor – to Fast-Track your Career, sponsors¬†“have a voice at the table and are willing to be your champion¬†…¬†While mentors listen, sponsors act ‚ÄĒ by telling you what you need to know, clearing obstacles from your path, and making your success their business”.

Why you need a Sponsor

If a Sponsor is willing to sing your praises, then it’s very obvious why you need a sponsor. A sponsor is great for career advancement, and they have the connections and clout to promote you to the right people. ¬†They develop career opportunities for you, in ways a mentor might not. ¬†A mentor may¬†turn into a sponsor, but without a sponsor, it may take longer to get to the next level in your career. ¬†However, you need to show a sponsor that you are worth the trouble of promoting. ¬†Remember, he or she is putting¬†their¬†name on the line right along with you, and it would be just as detrimental to them to support someone who wasn’t up to the task.

Another reason a sponsor is a good idea, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, is that sponsors promote “greater female representation at senior levels of organisations by increasing the¬†numbers of women moving through the management pipeline, and helping them stay on their career tracks”

What’s a Coach?

…their advice helps you¬†make decisions that directly relate to your career path.

Like a good personal trainer or sporting coach, a Career Coach tells you what to do to get to exactly where you want to be. Their advice, much like a mentor, is invaluable in regards to how you navigate your way through the professional landscape.  Unlike a mentor, though, their advice helps you make decisions that directly relate to your career path.

An article in The New York Times called Ready for the Big Leagues? Ask a Career Coach, says that, particularly¬†for midlevel professionals, a Career Coach¬†can help¬†you see what you need to work on to get to an executive level in your career. “Coaches also focus on interpersonal skills, helping people communicate and network more effectively”.

Imagine a personal trainer helping you prepare for a marathon.  They start with a plan of action and tell you how many kilometres to run, how to build up your stamina etc.  A Career Coach is much the same.  He or she is the performance-based person that keeps you on track with your professional goals and keeps you results-oriented. They are able to keep you focussed and disciplined.

Why you need a Coach

In an article from Transition to Civilian called Why Use a Career Coach, a Career Coach is particularly useful for anyone who wants to stay a step ahead of the pack, or are transitioning from one phase of their career to another, sometimes even if you’re switching career paths. ¬†They can be beneficial if you:

  • Need to confirm your long-term and short-term goals
  • Need assistance¬†in your job search
  • Want to learn how to promote yourself and your area of expertise

So remember, no man, no woman, no manager and no junior is an island. It’s up to everyone,¬†at any stage¬†in your career, to¬†encourage support and guidance throughout a career.

Featured photo credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) via photopin cc

Erica Enriquez
I'm a Sydney-based writer and digital marketer, and can often be found pounding away on a keyboard, writing about everything from travel, lifestyle, wellbeing and anything in between. When I'm not writing, I'm STILL writing, developing copy and content for websites and marketing collateral. I"m passionate about film, literature and culture (high brow and low brow), as well as pro-social causes supporting cultural engagement (counting travelling as one of them). In my spare time, I love nothing more than to curl up with a good book, go for a nice dinner with friends or spend time with my partner.
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