May 17


The Difference Between Mentorship and Sponsorship

By Mimi MacLean

May 17, 2022

Blog Post by Michelle Hayward, Founder and CEO of Bluedog Design

Why Mentorship is Crucial for Female Entrepreneurs

When I was a young woman growing into my career in the 1990’s, there was no roadmap. No how-to. Not a lot of thought was given, nor advice shared, on how to set up a career, manage it and update goals as my skills and instincts evolved. Unfortunately, I don’t see career management being shaped with greater intention today. Aspiring leaders need a new, better action plan for career-building.

I see much professional growth limited by misconceptions and outdated strategies. Business culture seems stuck in the belief that if we get straight-A’s in school, land a good job, follow the rules, and passively wait for someone to notice how great we are, we will garner the right attention and receive promotions. Investing in that theory, young professionals get stuck in the silos of their organizations. The pressure is intense to get noticed internally, but how can we ignore the outside world, where our futures lie?

To be known and to advance in the wider business world requires networking. And good networking requires developing mutually-satisfying exchanges of information, learnings and power.

Some of us look to mentors to fill our gaps and drive advancement. But benevolent advice alone is not enough. As guides, mentors can help us navigate early career roles, where our effectiveness and outcomes are easy to measure. But when we shift from navigating individual roles to managing our careers, our professional ecosystems need deeper dimension.

To develop paths forward beyond function, we need supporters and advocates to help us see, choose and expand our directions—not just through what they share but what they do. We need people who can and will hold us accountable, share our strengths with others, pull us into the right rooms at critical moments and demand that our voices be heard.

Finding a Mentor and Finding a Sponsor – What You Need To Know

How will we know when we have found such champions? When hearing new information about us, a mentor will provide encouragement. A sponsor will recognize who we could become and take action, connecting us to power and opportunity.

I recommend finding sponsors early. The tough part is getting started by self-advocating—finding a candidate and saying, “This is what I’m looking to accomplish. This is what I need. If I deliver, would you support my advancement?” The best sponsors can be intimidating to approach, as they’re successful and therefore busy (assume plenty of follow-up). But once engaged, the best advocates will follow and support entire career journeys. They proudly share in others’ growth and satisfaction.

The process begins by striking a new balance in our relationships: finding mentors to help improve proficiencies while building that diverse, multi-faceted network of sponsors who understand our capabilities, growth and potential—and will act on them. This connected, invested network of advocates will make big career leaps possible.

If I could go back and lend myself one insight, it would be this: Don’t wait to be recognized and advanced. Find a sponsor, step forward with intention, and ask for the level of support you truly need.

Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Hayward

Watch our IG Live interview with Michelle to learn more about her work and Bluedog Design, here.

Want more Badass CEO content? Our latest podcast episode is with Broadway veteran Valentina Maurette Berger, click here!

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