As we look at the state of the training industry, we need to remember that the best training is transfer of knowledge that can be applied immediately and sticks. With this in mind, I would like you to think of those trainers and teachers who have had the greatest impact on your life. Most likely, it was not simply someone in front of a class or on a screen but was someone who guided you into applying yourself to new endeavors. Those who affected us the most were those who took an interest in us: mentors and sponsors.
IDENTIFYING MENTORS AND SPONSORS
Finding mentors and sponsors is not an easy task. Many leaders select people to mentor who remind them of themselves when they were younger. This has the effect of limiting the number of women and other underrepresented groups being paired with mentors and sponsors. As a result of this inequity, many organizations are creating mentoring and sponsorship programs for underrepresented groups. Sheryl Sandberg recognized early in her career that she needed someone to lean in with her. In her case, it was Laurence Summers whose support led to her position as Chief of Staff at the U.S. Treasury and then on to Facebook.
INTERSECTION OF T&D WITH MENTORS AND SPONSORS
The lessons from this can be applied to the best practices in leading companies. Training professionals have the great opportunity to play a critical role in making introductions between stellar performers in programs and potential mentors.
While millions of dollars are spent on courses on leadership, and thousands of corporate managers have benefited from programs sponsored by Linkage and Center for Creative Leadership, for example, those who have become leaders not only learned the message but have found mentors and sponsors who made all the difference in their careers.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MENTORS AND SPONSORS
There are important distinctions between a mentorship and sponsorship. Mentors generally provide guidance and advice on an ad hoc basis. It tends to be more reactive than proactive. Sponsors, on the other hand, become advocates for their protégés. They not only provide guidance, but they connect their protégés to important people and assignments.
In effect, sponsors put their reputation on the line in support of their protégés. In response, protégés are expected to live up to and exceed the requirements of any new responsibilities or position. In many ways, the relationship is a mutually beneficial and long-term one.
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Fifty years ago this August, I led my first training program (although I did not know it was called that). I was a youth leader at a retreat for high school leaders from across New Jersey who were brought together for a week to discuss race relations, ethnicity, religious differences, stereotyping, prejudice, etc. This simply was called “Human Relations.” By coincidence, the day I was asked to lead a group in a discussion on “How Am I Different” was the same day as the March on Washington.
When I returned to my high school, I wanted to continue to teach what I had learned, but there was no official mentor or support to help me take what I had learned into my own community. However, my English teacher, Miss Caldwell, rose to that position for me. She was an extraordinary teacher who dedicated her life to her students. Miss Caldwell called me up after class and told me that rather than read “My Antonia” along with the rest of the class, I would read “Another Country” by James Baldwin. This was not on the curriculum. Through her guidance and support, I began to organize meetings of high school students from my community to address issues of prejudice and racism in our community—subjects the adults largely refused to acknowledge.
I have Miss Caldwell to thank for 50 years of doing what I love to do as a university professor and corporate trainer, continuing to promote the virtues of mentorship.
Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics. com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.