/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/3612150738_1b0776d828_z_549678.jpgMentor, sponsor, coach, oh my! These 3 words mean different things to different people.

Let me start by sharing my personal definition of these concepts:

• A mentor is someone you meet with regularly to provide guidance and advice on your career path or other topics.
• A coach is someone you meet with to provide direction and guidance on a specific task or goal usually related to your job.
• A sponsor is someone willing to put themselves on the line for you and act as your advocate behind the scenes to propel your career.

I was recently asked to speak on a webcast at my company on this topic and it got me thinking about all of the people who have influenced my career over the years and the great advice that has come my way.

I’d like to share my top 5 tips on this topic:

1. Everyone can be a mentor – regardless of age and number of years of experience.

Everyone has something to share, everyone has something to learn. We shouldn’t let our age or years of experience limit us from sharing our knowledge. If you think you can only learn from folks who are higher up on the ladder than you, you are really missing out.
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned are from my peers and those “junior” to me in the org chart. I have one or two folks who act as a personal sounding board for me and help guide me and my career.

2. Sponsorship can’t be forced.

Sponsorship has to come from an existing relationship. No one that I know would put themselves on the line if they don’t know you. You need to make yourself known and nurture those relationships so you are in a position to be sponsored.

3. Mentoring is like a blind date.

Sometimes when you are set up on a mentor and mentee relationship it doesn’t work out. That is okay. You can’t force these relationships.

4. Break the “rules.”

You can read up on guidelines and rules when it comes to these relationships but nothing is ever set in stone. Do what makes sense for you and your mentor, mentee, sponsor, coach and be flexible.

5. Have an idea of where you want to go.

It was a big eye opener to me when I sat down with a mentee and they told me they had no idea what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go. It is almost impossible to help someone when this is the case. People want to help.

Force yourself to map out potential options – there are a handful of directions you can go in a company and if you know what they are, you are always in a position to have an intelligent conversation and map out the gaps in your experience to get there and identify the influencers who can help you along the way.

Bottom line – these relationships can define your career. Treat them respectfully.

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