When it comes to managing your own career, upon whom do you need to call for help?

orporate life has changed – no longer is your career looked after by your employer. There may a range of talent programs and training opportunities, but it is essential that every aspirant leader in business take ownership of their own careers.

This does not need to be done alone; there are many experienced and trained people that will support you if you know where to look. But there is also much confusion when it comes to the type of help that should be sought and what can be expected.

The words ‘sponsor’, ‘mentor’ and ‘coach’ are often used interchangeably, but they do not describe the same types of relationships in career support. All share a similar basic goal for an individual, around learning and career development within an organisation or industry, leading to peak performance and the realisation of full potential. The definition, focus, role, approach and tools of each, however, are different.

 

Sponsor

To progress within an organisation, it is important to have sponsors. These are senior and middle management leaders within the business that recognise your energy, skills and potential, and who are willing to consciously support your advancement through the political machinations.

Usually the relationship is informal, based on mutual respect, although in some organisations these roles may be semi-formalised in internal talent identification programs, with sponsors assigned to emerging talent. These programs are focused on succession planning and growth within the organisation.

With these types of relationships, it is important for the individual to still take responsibility to manage their own careers by identifying and engaging with key sponsors that they believe will assist in their careers. These relationships may be short or over the longer term, but are usually restricted to the period of employment within the organisation. The relationships with senior business leaders are focused on both an individual being recognised and driving growth within the organisation.

Sponsors are usually from similar business sectors or industries in which the company operates, but may be from different disciplines. For example, a chief financial officer (CFO) may be a sponsor to an emerging markets manager. But sponsors will be the more senior parties who understand the organisation well and what it takes to navigate through the company politics.

There are, however, challenges. Not all senior executives are interested or prepared to go out on a limb for emerging talent. In addition, these relationships may be challenged by the growth trajectory of the younger leaders.

 

Coach

Coaching arrangements are usually business or commercial arrangements in which the coach is paid to undertake the specific role. There is usually a key focus and objective in the coaching assignment related to career development goals. These may relate to improved leadership performance within a business, to impart specific skills or to change behaviours that may be restricting success.

Coaching arrangements are usually formal and structured, with a specific mandate related to an area of personal development, providing instruction and feedback, setting targets, action plans and goals. Coaches usually have a specialist business or industry focus and their activity is paid for by the individual or the sponsoring company.

The individual, with or without the company’s support, appoints the coach who then takes on the initiative in directing and driving the learnings. It is, however, essential that the individual is a willing and eager participant in order to obtain the optimal outcome.

Coaches do not need to come from the same sector or industry, but need to have specialist skills in the area of development that has been identified. The program between the parties is set to focus on meeting specific issues and challenges. These arrangements are usually short term with set durations based on a commercial relationship, but may be longer term as needed.

 

Mentor

All ambitious individuals, who are eager to learn and gain wisdom within their field of endeavour, can benefit from having a mentor. This is particularly true for those who are new to an organisation or industry and are feeling a little unfamiliar.

To benefit, the individual needs to be self-aware and appreciate the need to learn to support and guide their personal growth and career aspirations. The focus of the mentoring relationship is more career-orientated than job-orientated.

For this relationship to work, there should be mutual respect and trust, in which the mentee takes the initiative by setting the agenda and requesting to meet as required. The mentee is in charge of the growing and learning process. The arrangement is on a voluntary basis with the relationship focused on the best interests of the mentee without commercial benefit. The mentor is a generally a senior, wiser and caring friend or business acquaintance who is inspired by the potential and energy of the individual. Although not critical, it is usually beneficial if the mentor has some experience or good understanding from a similar industry or business sector.

The initiative in identifying the mentor, lies with the individual and the relationship, once established, is usually long term and ongoing. The format is generally all about role modelling, and is heavy on listening, making connections, providing guidance and suggestions in less formal arrangements with meetings occurring as and when.

Not being job specific, the discussions are usually about a broader vision and longer term, focused on personal career development. Mentors, not being part of the mentee’s employer group, are focused on career choices and will be supportive in conversations about alternative job opportunities in the market.

The ideal mentors are senior successful individuals who have been involved in one of the facets of the facilities management or corporate real estate professions, with a desire ‘to give back’ because the profession has been good to them during their career. Mentors need to be committed to the relationship and be prepared to share their life and career experiences as they impart their wisdom.

Mentors unselfishly wish to see the profession flourish and go from ‘strength to strength’. During the initial period, mentors will focus on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the individual as well as their career and life aspirations. If the relationship is right, they will continue to be available to support the mentee as agreed. Most important, the mentor needs to take a pride in their mentee’s achievements. In many cases the mentee may outgrow the mentor, as their career progresses.

 

So which is the best option?

For those driven to succeed, the answer is simple – all three… and more. Today, in business, more than ever before, there is a need to skilfully manage ‘upwards’ to progress your career. Identifying those sponsors within your employer organisation that are prepared to support your progression upwards is key to your success within that business.

Similarly, if there is a feeling that certain technical or leadership skills are lacking or need development, appointing the relevant coach in a commercial arrangement is critical. Any delay will potentially delay career growth, which means that if the company is not prepared to invest in your future, this may need to be self-funded.

But the more enduring relationship with a mentor based on mutual respect and trust, is key to a continued career journey and growth across organisations and industries. This guidance is often the key foundation of success for aspirant business leaders.

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