Is mentoring necessary for career advancement?

May 11, 2015, 7:05 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important to have a mentor? is written by Teresa Briggs, vice chairman and west region managing partner at Deloitte.

Mentorship is an important way to help retain talent and provide key direction for career growth. While each individual may define mentorship differently, we can all probably agree that a good mentor provides professional guidance and helps steer your career. One of the best things mentors can offer is the experience of having “been there.”And while mentorships can provide a variety of benefits, it was actually a sponsorship that helped steer my career. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor will go beyond simply serving as a resource and will become a true champion. Sponsors will seek to open doors–sometimes before you even think you’re ready–and go out of their way to extend their network to you.

So how are sponsorships formed? Different from many mentorships, I’ve found that part of the beauty of a sponsor-sponsee relationship is the chemistry between the two people. I believe that you cannot systemize or make formal assignments to create sponsorships; rather these types of relationships happen naturally and mutually. As a sponsor, I assist the people that I work closely with and genuinely like. My ideal sponsee is someone that’s a high performer, open minded, and willing to extend him or herself to take risks. I especially prefer sponsoring those who are willing to try new things, as I may want to push them to explore potential opportunities or challenges.

A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review and Deloitte in 2010 found that women are less likely than men to be sponsored or act as sponsors. This is partially due to the fact that there are not as many women leaders to serve as sponsors, and some men may feel less comfortable sponsoring women. One of the most valuable things we can do as leaders is to step up to be a sponsor and encourage others to do the same.

Finding the right sponsor has been vital to my career development. From the top down, Deloitte’s leadership has embraced sponsorship. I feel very fortunate that I had a strong sponsor who opened up many avenues for me. With his support, I was comfortable taking risks and as a result, my career has gone far beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined. Sponsorship may not be something that is always formalized, but like so many other elements of our work, companies and individuals can create a professional culture that embraces these relationships. As great as it was to benefit from the guidance of my sponsor, it’s been even more gratifying to serve in the same capacity and see my team members excel.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important to have a mentor?

Do all employees benefit from having a mentor? by Dawn Zier, president and CEO of Nutrisystem.

4 things your boss won’t tell you (but a mentor will) by Penny Herscher CEO of FirstRain.

What qualities make a good (and bad) mentor? by Karen Tegan Padir, president of application development at Progress Software.

Why mentoring is unlike any other professional relationship by Jenni Luke, CEO of Step Up.

Why you don’t need a mentor to be successful by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

What qualities should you look for in a mentor? by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

4 things to consider before choosing a mentor by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

The most important quality a mentor should have by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Why women are more likely to be mentors by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

3 reasons every employee needs a mentor by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Why this AOL executive chooses her mentors — wisely by Allie Kline, CMO of AOL, Inc.

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