Mentors, Sponsors and How They Can Change Your Career Trajectory

Tamika Edwards, director of inclusion, diversity and equity at Southwest Power Pool (SPP), uses electricity to demonstrate the differences between mentorship and sponsorship during her session at the 2022 Arkansas Business Women’s Leadership Summit in Jonesboro.

Mentorship, Edwards says, is more about influencing and advising others to tap into the power they hold within. Sponsorship goes a step further and is when someone with authority provides opportunities for others and can advocate on their behalf, even if that person is not present in the room or decision-making process. 

“The best way to think about this is by looking at electrical power,” she says. “At SPP, we are the air traffic control of energy. We are federally regulated and direct the grid in about 17 states.”

Before drawing comparisons between the two, Edwards gives a brief overview of how electricity travels: 

The power plants generate energy → the transformer steps up voltage for transmission → the transmission lines carry electricity long distances → the neighborhood transformer steps down voltage → distribution lines carry electricity to houses → transformers on poles step down the electricity before it enters houses. 

“Think of yourselves as natural resources,” she says. “Your lived experiences, your background, your raw talent. Everything you are. This is the initial piece before you get converted to electrical power.” 

Mentorship notices this potential in an individual and helps cultivate it with advice and support.

“While you’re generating up, there is this recognition that you have this power source that can shut down a generator if it is overloaded or not properly moving across the line,” she says. “Think of those times when you were anxious and a mentor helped you slow down, gave you advice and helped you get back on the line to being the best you can be.”  

Through the generation phase, there is a steady stream of electricity. In mentorship, this is the phase where you rely on your mentor and your mentor advises you regularly. 

She uses the transmission phase to explain sponsorship, calling sponsors “opportunity coordinators.” 

“This is where we come in at SPP,” she says. “Power must go somewhere, and it will take the path of least resistance. Mentors make sure you don’t go gun-shy and tear up everything. Your sponsor recognizes that you are controlled and can point out where the opportunities are.” 

Sponsors see the bigger picture and that everything must be balanced. They are the ones in the room who can suggest you as the person best suited for the role being discussed. 

The distribution phase is when you get the chance to demonstrate your power. 

“This is where you harness that power and use your talent. It’s where you make an impact on someone else’s life,” Edwards says. “You have been mentored, you have been sponsored and now it’s your opportunity to shine.”

Edwards closes the session by challenging the audience to think about what they can do with their own power. She ends with a quote from Pete Carroll: “Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” 


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