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Why you need several mentors

Last week, I had a conversation with a young woman starting a retail business. She's hiring employees, managing a budget and paying bills. I'm worried about her.

I asked her who was mentoring her. She didn't really have mentors. Today, I think it's crucial whether you try to climb your way to the top or start your own business to have a few people guiding you, multiple mentors.

I remember years ago, I interviewed a women who headed a major Hispanic media company. She told me she has many mentors and each helped her in different ways. She didn't wait for them to seek her out. She sought out people who impressed her, told them why she was impressed by them, and asked for their guidance. Whenever she asked, they said yes.

Boo Zamak, owner of Just Ask Boo, an entrepreneur and founder of a successful online community newspaper, has said she gets guidance from an advisory board, about a half dozen poeple who have expertise in different specialties.

The Glass Hammer recently had a piece on sponsors. If you haven't heard, sponsors are the new mentors. They're even better than mentors. Men seem to know how to find them more than women do. But both need them.

Glasshammer says: (Mentors are great) but "to get to the top, you need more – you need someone advocate for you, cash in their chips for you, and, frankly, wear a t- shirt with your name on it in the meetings you are not in: a sponsor."

So, how exactly does one find a sponsor, or better, multiple sponsors?

You have to find someone who sees you in action, impress them, and get them to believe in you enough to stick their neck out for you.

Glasshammer says: it all starts with networking, or rather building your strategic network (not just collecting a bunch of cards or catching up with a friend at an event). For example, as entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, a board member of TiVo and Yellow Media Inc., explained, “The best way to get to know other people is in the context of accomplishing something, like a volunteer project.”

If you work for a company, it's not enough to just do your job well. You need to get some connectivity to the right people, show them you are great at what you do, and encourage them to sponsor you. Indeed, 82% of men believe that relationships, along with delivering great work, drives promotions.

During a panel discussion  Marie Quintero Johnson, VP, M&A Insights at Coca Cola said "the sponsor must feel secure that the person they take under their wing will understand the risks the sponsor takes for them. “You can never break that trust,” she said.“Look for people who want to pay it back and look for companies that have a scorecard for their managers around developing talent.”

Readers, what have been your experiences with mentors? Do you think it's too bold to flat-out ask someone to sponsor or mentor you? Do you think you need more than one to be highly successful? Have you found people willing to make the time and take the risk to be mentor or sponsor?