I've written a lot about mentors over the years. How to think about mentorship, how to build your own frankenmentor, and how to be a mentor. What I've realized as I've moved further along in my career is that mentors are important as you are starting up but sponsors are critical if you aspire to be an organizational leader. A mentor is someone who gives you good advice, a sponsor is someone who is willing to use their own credibility to help you move to the next level. Those are very different things. There have been different times in my life where I had those sponsors and their advocating on my behalf has led to a variety of great outcomes including a 30% increase in salary, moving to a leadership position in a nonprofit and eventually becoming the executive director of a foundation. Women and people of color are much less likely to have those sort of sponsors advocating for them, so you need to start thinking now about how to build those relationships.
1) Look at your professional network, do you have senior leaders in your field that you are close to? You are the average of your five closest colleagues, so make sure someone further along than you is in your network.
2) Start doing informational interviews with top leaders. Ask good questions and grow that relationship.
3) Be clear where you want to go. People can't help you move ahead if you don't tell them where you want to go.
4) Return the favor. Be your sponsors biggest cheerleader and remember to thank them as your career accelerates.