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Enter the World of Mentors and Sponsors

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“Relationships just evolve… it’s amazing how the person that wants to do a terrific job, they just jump out at you.” —Warren Buffett

Get a mentor, find a mentor, keep a mentor. Who’s your mentor? Meet my mentor. A question I field often is how do I get someone to care about me, my career, or be willing to mentor me or sponsor me? It’s on the minds of our community; we know you cannot get ahead without the help and guidance of others. And we want to know how to get the attention of people who can help us. It comes up often in Office Hours. I’m partially biased to Sheryl Sandberg’s answer and not just because she used my lean in story as an example, but because it worked. I reached out to a powerful woman I admired and asked how I could help her with her work (even if it was in my free time). She put me to work and gave me a chance to prove to her that I was worth her time and political capital. I did what what Mr. Buffett suggested: I went above and beyond and showed my worth. The key word here is show, not tell. Actions are louder than words.

The Unspoken Relationship

“She called me her mentee. I was like, wow, I didn’t even know she knew I saw her as my mentor. We had never had the ‘talk’. I never went up and just asked her to be my mentor. It just evolved.”

I love this quote from a Levo League member, because it’s so true. I don’t know anyone who has just sent an email and asked someone to be their mentor or, vice versa, had a powerful person show up and say, “I’m going to be your mentor.” The relationship between a mentor or sponsor and mentee is a natural evolution. It takes time and effort on both parts. Mentorship is the development of a relationship and a relationship does not happen overnight.

The Prince Charming Syndrome

Getting someone to care about you and your career is not as simple as 1, 2, 3. Tiffany Dufu and Leslie Zaikis said something to me about mentorship not long ago that stuck with me: the idea of the Mentoring Prince Charming syndrome. It’s the notion we may have that your one and only mentor quixotically appears and they solve everything in your career for you, that we see it as a passive activity.

Finding one mentor isn’t the solution or one-stop shop to getting you to the places you want to go in your career. It is not a box you check. If only it were that simple.

One mentor Isn’t All You Need

Creating a mentorship relationship isn’t simple; you need more than one, and you also need to be looking at creating sponsorship relationships, too. If you think developing a mentorship relationship is tough, even tougher is creating a sponsorship relationship. Hermanna Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, explains sponsorship as “a very targeted thing. It has to do with fighting to get somebody a promotion, mentioning their name in an appointment [or] meeting, and making sure that the person that you’re sponsoring gets the next assignment, and gets visible and developmental assignments.”

A sponsor is someone who goes to bat for you, who uses their political capital to get you in the running for the best opportunities. They believe in your abilities and give you feedback when you don’t live up to their expectations. A sponsor literally puts their reputation on the line for you.

Catalyst has this to say about sponsorship:

“At its core, sponsorship is about trust. To be willing to sponsor someone, the sponsor must trust that the protégé will do a good job and make the most of the opportunities opened up to him or her. Likewise, a protégé must trust that sponsors have his or her best interests and career goals in mind when suggesting particular opportunities.”

How to Find Mentors and Sponsors

How You Get People to Care About Your Career

So, how do you cultivate a sponsor or a mentor? Here are five ways that will help you to do it:

Do excellent work.

You already do this, I’m sure! But it needs to be said: Always work your hardest and to the best of your ability. Never underestimate the value of good work.

Let people know about your excellent work.

What good is hard work if no one knows you’re doing it? Make sure people know how well you’re performing. Keep them updated on the work you are doing.

Ask for the opportunities that you want.

No one is just going to give them to you. Show everyone how badly you want to own it.

Let those above you know about your career and development goals.

Telling someone about your hopes and dreams can be daunting, but in order to reach them you need to be vocal about what it is you want to accomplish so that he or she can help you get there.

Deliver when you are given the opportunity.

The best way to get more opportunities is to deliver on the opportunities in front of you. You’ll see afterward that more opportunities will be in your future. And make sure to keep the person who helped secure that opportunity know that you took it and killed it!

BONUS ADVICE: When you go to someone for advice or help, make sure that you update them and thank them. Let them know how you took the advice and used it. I always want to help people who used the advice I gave them and showed me how it worked for them.

How did you find the mentors or sponsors in your life? Tell us in the comments!

Ask a Levo mentor a question!


Mentorship Career Development Career Advice
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Join the conversation:

I had never thought of the idea that you need mentors in many different areas of your career, not just the one, end-all mentor!

I love the idea of mentorship happening naturally and evolving. If you try to force it, it's not going to be as successful as a real connection. Secondly, this article made me realize I need to learn how to ask for opportunities more effectively and seek ones out that fit my interests. Also, I completely agree that you need to work hard and do good work before you seek mentorship.

Erin-Kaye Flor
Erin-Kaye Flor

Great piece, Amanda! The distinctions between a mentor and sponsor are definitely key--and definitely great insight on why we need both.

Mentors are so important and empowering. The motivation, advice, and inspiration they can provide is extremely valuable and I love how this article highlights on the best ways to utilize mentorships. Also, this article definitely helped me realize the difference between mentorship and sponsorship - something I had not previously thought about!

Elana Gross
Elana Gross

I read Invitation Only by the Gilt Founders for Local Levo Book Club and one of the things that really resonated with me was the idea of having your own personal Board of Advisors. Each person on your board can bring a new skill or piece of advice to the table which will help you to cultivate different areas of professional development!


Really happy that the Mentor feature of the site is up and running. Going to make full use of it. :)

Fantastic advice, and I wholeheartedly agree with having more than one mentor and sponsor. I am fortunate to be in this position, and it is so empowering!

I really loved the Prince Charming Syndrome part. I feel like we focus so much on getting a mentor that we forget that it's only one step in the puzzle. We need to make sure that if we have a mentor (formal or not) that it's beneficial to both parties and that we make sure we cultivate and grow the relationship. This article also made me realize that if you have a sponsor, then you should make sure to not only do well in your career for yourself but for them as well. It will help both of you in the long run.

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