Navigating the stages of coaching, mentoring and sponsorship as a leader.
Not all leaders can or are willing to do this. It takes a lot of time, effort, and commitment for leaders to work with individuals on a one-on-one basis, as well as to truly believe and understand what these individuals want and why, before they can commit time from their busy schedule to coach, mentor, and eventually, even offer sponsorship.
Regardless of whether you are seeking guidance or giving guidance, the level of influence at each stage is very different. It is fairly easy for individuals to and a coach because you can pay for one.
As for a mentor, you want someone who has vast knowledge and experience that are aligned with what you want to pursue.
But to find someone to sponsor you is a different scenario as it involves the person making a recommendation, taking responsibility for you, and putting their reputation on the line.
The following sharing was based on my personal experience of being coached, mentored, and sponsored during my 25-year journey.
I went through all three stages with one coach, one mentor, and one sponsor—and I was blessed to have a three-in-one as the very same person was all those roles to me, and I will hereby refer to him as my “CMS”. Imagine the time, effort, and commitment to one person offered by one amazing individual.
A coach walks with you to help you become a better version of what you want to be. They work together with you to define what you truly want and in turn, coach you on steps and actions to take from within your strength, knowledge, skill, and ability.
Nearly 30 years ago, when I was working as a secretary to my CMS, he asked me one day why I did not return to school as he was aware that I only had a Secondary three leaving certificate.
While he saw my potential at that time, I did not. I could only focus on doing a nine-to-five job and bringing home enough bread to raise my two young children as a single mother.
Not only did I not have the time to do anything else other than work and home, I definitely did not have any extra money to pay for my school fees other than my children’s.
At that time, I did not even dare to think about my future.
But my CMS saw it differently. He saw my potential, believed that I could be more, and decided to step forward to make a difference in initiating my career growth.
He started coaching me to take on work outside my normal secretarial tasks. I was first exposed to understanding financial statements. He coached me from doing simple finance compilation work to eventually knowing how to prepare, analyse, dissect, and even question these reports.
Before long, I dealt directly with all the financial controllers throughout Asia-Pacific and became their go-to person.
While I remained his secretary, my reference power grew. I was recognised as more than just someone who took notes, arranged travel and meetings, and did other secretarial duties.
His methodology gave me a high-level understanding of my learning, helped me do my own research, and find out how to get better at what I do. That was how he coached me through my early years. He did not have to hold my hands all the time but instead, he provided top-level coaching.
A mentor helps take you to the next level, not just coaching you to be a better version of yourself.
They watch and listen to your past and experience, understand what you aspire to become, and then provide advice based on their knowledge, experience, and career growth journey. They will mentor you to gain clarity on climbing that ladder towards a better and brighter career.
As I grew and became better at managing my work and gaining experience with new responsibilities, my CMS reminded me of our many conversations about returning to school to get some formal education to help me grow in my career.
He managed to get the company to send me to night school to obtain my Certification in Business Management, and that marked the beginning of my six-year-long learning journey from just wanting to take a certification course to getting a diploma, and eventually, a bachelor’s degree.
In those six years, I moved from being a secretary to taking on new roles in customer service and marketing for the company, as my studies were on business administration and marketing.
When I decided to do more external work, he mentored me not just on work matters but also on how to develop skills on how to deal with people of multinationals and multicultural environments.
I was invited to attend many regional and international meetings to gain experience on how he conducted businesses and dealt with people of different backgrounds. He mentored me by showing me how he did it and watched me learn and apply.
A sponsor is someone who uses their influence and power to directly help individuals get connected to new opportunities and special projects.
They are someone who believes in you and your work and is willing to back you.
It is not easy being a sponsor because you have to take personal responsibility for your recommendation of someone or something you have sponsored.
As you can see, my CMS not only coached and mentored me, he had sponsored me throughout the 10 years that I worked with him.
He gave me a secretarial job after a three-month temporary trial when I did not have any formal education. He watched my work performance and convinced the company to grant me an education sponsorship which was initially supposed to be a one-year deal but ultimately, turned out to be a six-year sponsorship. Finally, he gave me several new job opportunities from secretary to customer service and marketing to business development.
By the time my CMS decided to retire, he had coached, mentored, and sponsored me for 10 years to become the Business Development Director who managed major global key accounts and developed a reputable presence in the food service industry.
His selfless and true leadership effort has taken me from a nobody to a somebody.
My career continued to soar in my next four international management roles. And I did not have to apply for any of them because he had developed me so well that the market knows me. Each time, I was headhunted as my CMS made me into somebody.
For the next 15 years, as my career grew, I did exactly what my CMS taught me. I started my own CMS journey.
Today I can proudly say that I have coached, mentored, and sponsored a dozen individuals internationally. Below are a few examples:
- A technician who hardly spoke English is currently a Regional Sales Manager for a multinational company in China (Alan);
- A sales manager who was very capable but unnoticed is today the General Manager of my ex-India office (Debo);
- An administration executive with a big personality who was wrong for the job is today a well-known trainer and speaker in India (Priyanka); and
- A junior sales executive with a driven personality was coached, mentored, and sponsored with opportunities to build her brand presence from local to regional and, eventually, global industrial recognition (Brenda).
A CMS’s journey is infinite, and it involves a lot of heart, not just head.
Today, I continued to seek advice from my CMS, who is in his 80s living in America. Thank you Terry Crouch.
Similarly, I stay in close contact with the people I have coached, mentored, and sponsored. I am always available to support them in their continuous career growth and maybe, someday, they will become somebody’s CMS.
Fast forward 25 years, I am now semi-retired, and I help organisations understand what it takes to build great people, particularly leaders.
I continue to coach individuals to find their path to becoming a better version of themselves at work and home.
My final questions to you, the person reading this book who aspires to become a New Age Leader, are:
- Do you have a coach, mentor, or sponsor to help guide you on your career growth journey?
- If you are already a manager or leader, are you a coach, mentor, or sponsor to someone?
This article was first published in Today’s Manager, Issue 4, 2021.