Last week I was on a panel with one of my early mentors, Robbie Hardy. It was a treat to be able to discuss her involvement in the beginning of my entrepreneurial career and to stand in testament to the results of all the hard work we both did during that time. (That's me, middle right, and Robbie, middle left)

Too many of us think mentors are only for people starting their careers. That's a missed opportunity. I've been blessed with a lot of sponsors--men and women who help me develop my skills and my business to this point and who continue to do so--throughout my professional life. My own experience prompted me to pitch (and write) this article for a while back: Sponsors for Career Development.

Find a sponsor or mentor. Be a sponsor or mentor. You'll benefit no matter which side of the equation you're on.

Quick Tips for Protegé/es

Where to find sponsor or mentor

  • Networking gatherings, meet-ups, conferences, LinkedIn--they're all great places to meet sponsors and mentor.
  • Don’t be tentative.
  • Listen more than you talk, then offer something in return that’s meaningful, not “let me know if there’s something I can do”
  • Please God have business cards. Yes, almost everyone throws them away, but they still want you to have one.
  • Do not connect blindly on LinkedIn. Even if the UI doesn’t let you send a note, send one immediately after you connect and say why you chose the person.

How to work with a mentor or sponsor

  • Choose wisely. You'll be spending a lot of time with this person and they'll have a hand in guiding your professional work.
  • Set expectations. Be clear about what you want help on, like running better meetings, dealing with conflict, business growth tactics, meeting key contacts, etc. This helps you find the right person and ensures you're on the same page.
  • Don’t hesitate to bail if it's not working out. Give it time, of course, but if the person turns out not to be right for you, it's OK to move on.
  • Follow their advice. Either you’ve got the wrong mentor or you’re not willing to learn.
  • Trust them. Yes, sometimes it’s scary, but do it anyway.
  • Ask for opportunities, not just advice or insights. You need a way to put their wisdom into action, too. That’s when you really upset the table.
  • Report results. Tell your sponsor or mentor when you've experienced success and failure. Regular communication keeps the relationship active and rewarding.