By Barbara Nick, VIP Member of Women in the Boardroom and President of Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation & Michigan Gas Utilities | Women in the Boardroom


Sponsoring vs. Mentoring

By Barbara Nick, VIP Member of Women in the Boardroom and President of Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation & Michigan Gas Utilities

The important topic of mentoring vs. sponsoring was discussed at recent Women in the Boardroom events in both New York and Minneapolis.  During one VIP roundtable discussion, it was suggested that those who are mentors to other professional women transition to being sponsors, and that we might consider asking our mentors to become sponsors for ourselves. Furthermore, the insights shared by Beth Newburger at the September 2013 Connections Event in New York, as well as WIB’s CEO & Founder Shelia Ronning’s candid assertion that WIB members help other women, led me to change how I approach mentoring and make a renewed and more proactive personal commitment to actively sponsor women.

To me, making the shift from mentoring to sponsoring is a thoughtful process where the relationship becomes less about providing insight and more about advocating on behalf of someone to produce a defined result.  Whereas mentors improve personal and professional knowledge, skills and abilities through “insider” observations and valuable advice, sponsors take mentoring to the next level.  They use their influence to “open doors” for the mentee through opportunities and networks.

Moving from mentor to sponsor does not need to be a daunting discussion with your mentee. If you find your mentee to be particularly qualified and motivated, you could open up the conversation to sponsoring with:  “What are your career goals?  I can let you know if I become aware of opportunities if you like.”  Then follow-up by using your influence to advocate for your mentee and tell them about opportunities they can pursue.  If you are looking for a sponsor for yourself, ask your current mentor or respected colleague questions such as:  “I am pursuing corporate board service.  Can you let me know if you hear about opportunities good for me?”

Sheila Ronning is a great resource on how to approach the topic of mentoring vs. sponsoring.  She also leads by example by sponsoring VIP Members and provides them with networking opportunities, communicates board openings and makes valuable connections on their behalf.  Sheila nominated me for ‘Directors to Watch’, which was a great example of her willingness to advocate.  I have also experienced and benefited from active sponsorship on several occasions from other members of WIB.

While mentoring is good and is very needed, it is sponsoring that produced results for me.  For the other women out there who are interested in becoming stronger leaders and serving in the boardroom, I encourage you to take the leap from mentoring to sponsoring to see more results happen in your career as well.

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