This has been a spin of a week and it’s only Wednesday!
I worked around the clock in Washington, D.C. Monday and Tuesday, and our persistent pilot got our topsy-turvy airplane full of people back to Houston last night despite the tumultuous storms and terrible headwinds on the ground.
Then, I turn around and fly to Tampa tomorrow morning to keynote an exciting event using my book called Staying in the Game.
As I was researching the latest out there on rewarding leadership, I read a fascinating article by the current (and first) woman Chairman and CEO of KPMG. She was offering her tips on how to position yourself for promotion but much of the insight resonates in the context of anyone leading – with or without a title.
I love this quote about the difference between sponsors and mentors, both of whom I have found critical in my own professional development: sponsors don’t just speak to you, they speak about you!
That is one of the best characterizations I’ve heard yet.
Mentors are people with whom I have formed personal relationships. They understand struggles I may be facing trying to weigh a professional move against the implications for me as a mother or wife or friend or volunteer. I need those people as I seek to make savvy decisions that take into account the whole me.
However, sponsors may have no idea about the competing demands in my life. They don’t need to because sponsors put themselves on the line for you in the place you work.
You must have internal advocates at your company (or if you are in a client retention/sales position, external advocates recommending you). If these men or women are putting their professional reputation on the line to recommend you for the job or opportunity, then they don’t need to be worried about whether your kids are sick or your marriage is struggling. It’s very hard to advocate for someone, put your reputation in the mix, if you have their internal obstacles top of mind.
Mentors, on the other hand, need to be more than savvy counsel. They need to be frank. Our lives are cyclical. And it may very well be that you are in a season where you cannot seize an amazing opportunity. You are going through a divorce. Your parent is dying. You or an immediate family member is going through a health crisis. A mentor knows more about your whole-life and can say, I agree, it’s amazing, but you should seriously contemplate a ‘no’ right now because you can’t manage that new commitment in this season.
It is critical for each of us to remember that the circumstances of the moment do not define our trajectory. Wise counsel can inject the insight we need. Turning down an opportunity can be just as smart a move for a leader as accepting one. I believe the sky is the limit, but when lightning is firing down from the sky it may not be the right day to seize the sky.
Make a list of people in your internal and external networks who may fall into the role of sponsor or mentor. Cultivate those. If you find your network is narrow, begin building it one person at a time. Look for ways to help others. Your support of others often leads to their finding ways to support you too.