Over-Mentored, Under-Sponsored: What Young Professionals Really Need to Get Ahead


For me, the session at the ASAE Annual that has stuck out as a favorite so far is the one I attended on Sunday. The speakers - Tamela Blalock, Michelle Mills, Donte Shannon, and Irving Washington, absolutely knocked it out of the park while discussing the challenges of getting to the C-Suite as younger people - not to mention as women and people of color, respectively. 

But the part of the talk that really clicked was the point that Tamela made early in the talk. She mentioned that one of the challenges of her young career was being over-mentored and under-sponsored. To me, this epitomized why some young people get ahead and others just get lectured.

First, there's a difference between mentorship and sponsorship. In the age of leaning in, mentorship abounds. Most young people have an older, wiser person at work to guide them professionally. What many, if not most, young people lack is someone who will go to bat for them to help them advance their careers. Tamela underlined the importance of finding at least one person in your professional life who is willing to help you get your resume to the top of the interview pile, someone who will have your back when your promotion goes in front of the Board or company leadership. This support has to be earned and maintained; it's certainly not just going to happen.

Those who came before us have a huge opportunity to help the younger generations move into leadership positions when it's been earned. At these times, mentorship only goes so far - we need someone to push us, and push our institutions, towards giving us the opportunity to show our stuff. 

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Wes Sovis