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Insights from the Network of Executive Women (NEW), Atlanta

This week, Clarkston sponsored the Network of Executive Women, Atlanta Chapter’s Spring Event featuring a panel discussion on “Mentors, Advocates and Sponsors: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You!” The panel consisted of four impressive female leaders from the Brown-Forman Corporation, RaceTrac, The Kroger Co. and The Home Depot, who gave advice on how to better create and leverage these important relationships.

The first step to manage and leverage these relationships is to distinguish between them:

Mentors – Internal or external coaches who provide guidance on a wide spectrum of topics. Mentors often become advocates and/or sponsors.
Advocates – Influencers inside organizations who proactively support our careers. Advocates may not be the decision makers for our career paths, but advocate for us to those who are.
Sponsors – Ultimate influencers who have direct control of our career/promotion paths. These individuals are willing to put their personal reputations and careers on the line to provide us with opportunities.

The panelists provided sage advice and insights on identifying and managing these relationships. Here are some key takeaways:

Identify Advocates and Sponsors: Generally speaking, women are great at recruiting mentors. However, we need to be more proactive in building advocate and sponsorship relationships to progress our careers. We need to include building these relationships in our development plans and make them a priority.

Be Great on Your Own: The first key to engaging sponsors and advocates is to do a great job, hit your numbers and drive your career forward as much as you can on your own. In essence, be someone others want to advocate.

Put Yourself Out There: To create advocates and sponsors, start by targeting a specific person. Next, do everything to help her succeed – volunteer for extra projects, stay late, go the extra mile. When possible, ditch the email and social media, and pick up the phone or go to lunch with the person. This social and relational capital acts as a foundation.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask: Women often wait to be asked. Don’t assume that people are going to reach out and lend a hand. Ask for the promotion, ask for an opportunity, ask for feedback and ask for someone to be an advocate.

Break Down Your Silo: Women need advocates from all parts of the organization, so  think outside functional area and level. With all eggs in one basket, unlucky turnover could easily land you back at square one.

Pay it Forward: People in our careers have mentored us and put their careers on the line to give us a chance. We need to remember to do it for someone else as well.

For additional reading on this topic, consider The Relationship You Need to Get Right,  Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women and Breaking your Own Rules.