The power of great mentors, sponsors and sounding boards

People often confuse mentors and coaches, then add into the mix sponsors and sounding boards.

The power of great mentors, sponsors and sounding boards

By Avril Henry

People often confuse mentors and coaches, then add into the mix sponsors and sounding boards. The result is a cocktail for confusion and misunderstood expectations.

I have been in the privileged position of having had both coaches and mentors, and being able to mentor and coach others in return. More recently, I have connected with a handful of sponsors.

The key difference between coaching and mentoring is that coaching is about performance improvement, or is remedial in relation to behavioural change, and relates to skills. Mentoring, however, relates largely to identifying and developing the potential of the whole person from the mentor’s own experiences and wisdom.

Sponsors are people who take an active interest in your career and your future. Sounding boards are people who will allow you to vent, run ideas past them and give you their opinion if you ask for it. My two greatest sounding boards are my executive assistant and my life partner – I would be lost without them! Each of these parties play a significant role in the development of one’s career and as a human being.

The best mentors are those who challenge you, encourage you, nurture you, support you and teach you. They can be trusted advisers and be your friends too. My long-term mentors over the last 25 years have been Wendy McCarthy and Ann Sherry. When I changed my career from banking and finance to human resources and organisational change, they were my role models. They supported me and taught me many things in my new role which had a very steep learning curve.

Ann also supported me through some very challenging personal issues when I worked for her at Westpac. I knew Ann always had my best interests at heart, and she always had my back – and still does. Both these women are recognised as having an excellent record for, and interest in, developing people especially women. They have strong interpersonal skills, self-confidence, active listening skills, strong networks of influence and are highly competent and respected in their fields of expertise. One of the great joys of my life is that these two amazing women over time have become two of my most trusted advisors and friends.

While mentoring and leadership development programs are important to the development of skills, what is more effective in raising someone’s profile, and getting into senior leadership positions and on boards, is sponsorship. Sponsorship is about becoming an advocate for someone and their career, introducing them to their networks to build their profile, putting their names forward for jobs and board positions, with no benefit to them as sponsor.

I have been fortunate to have Ann Sherry again as a sponsor, Angus Campbell, Brendan Nelson and more recently, Chris Puplick. These are people I admire, respect and am truly humbled by their belief in me, my skills and experience. I know that they understand my values and how I can contribute to organisations, and therefore would only recommend me for positions, projects and boards where I could make the greatest contribution, while being a good cultural fit.

One of my favourite quotes by Maya Angelou is: “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

My mentors, sponsors and sounding boards have always made me feel good about myself, my work and my contribution. They have added enormous value to my life and my self-respect – and so should yours! If they don’t, change them!

Avril Henry is a consultant, executive coach, keynote speaker, author and Managing Director of Avril Henry & Associates, a leadership and management consulting business.

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