The difference is that a manager simply helps you get through the work day, one at a time. A mentor helps you develop your skills, improve as a professional and angle for the next rung on the corporate ladder. While many organizations are proficient in the basic tasks that come along with managing people, they struggle with the finer points of mentorship that can help empower future leaders.
This is an area where companies everywhere should strive to keep improving. You might have the best staff in the world right now, but if you don’t keep developing talent, you’re sure to be in trouble later. The time is always right for workplace teaching and learning.
Searching for mentors – and sponsors, too
While plenty of organizations today have at least a rudimentary understanding of how important mentorship can be, many still struggle in practice with providing mentors, at least for certain subsets of the workforce. For example, there’s been an unfortunate shortage of mentors available for women in recent years, according to Human Resource Executive Online.
The news source noted, drawing upon data from the “Changing Face of U.S. Jobs” report from CareerBuilder, that even though women make up a growing share of the U.S. workforce, men are gaining a share of employment in 72 percent of all occupations. Julie Nugent, an expert in American corporate practices, told HRE Online that men often have advantage because they have not only mentors, but “sponsors” on their side as well.
“A mentor talks with you,” Nugent explained. “A sponsor talks about you. The men had mentors at the CEO or executive level, whereas the women tended to have mentors at the lower levels of the organizational chart.”
There are still many employees at the lower levels searching for someone who can sponsor them – show them the ropes, help them develop and also advocate with them among the higher ranks of their organizations.
Building key workplace relationships
Fostering effective mentor and sponsor relationships is often simply a matter of building strong interpersonal bonds in the workplace. New York-based workplace solutions expert Barbara Wankoff told HRE Online that there needs to be a great deal of trust between an employee and his or her sponsor, since fighting for someone’s career is a major leap of faith.
“Sponsorship requires someone to put their professional credibility on the line on someone else’s behalf,” Wankoff said. “Sponsors have to believe in the person’s capability and potential. They have to know them and their performance.”
Everyone – men, women, old, young, you name it – can benefit from having someone in the workplace to help them grow and give them professional opportunities. Building a culture of mentorship and sponsorship is one factor that can help identify future leadership candidates.