What Do You Need? With ColomComm CEO Lauren Wesley Wilson: Understanding the People We All Need to Succeed

Greetings! I’m Lauren Wesley Wilson, CEO of ColorComm, and I’m excited to welcome you to the What Do You Need weekly column. Every week in April, I’ve been featuring my favorite parts of my debut book, What Do You Need? This week’s topic is an excerpt from Chapter 3: The People We All Need.

The People We All Need

There’s a lot of talk in the professional world about making sure you have a mentor or a sponsor, or about gathering your personal board of advisors. Each of these roles is different, and yet I find that ColorComm members—in fact, so many professionals I meet—are unclear on what differentiates one from another. So let me present you with this relationship glossary, the terms you need to know—and the people you need to embrace—as you activate your network: Mentor, Sponsor, Businesship, Godmother/Godfather and Personal Board of Advisors.


Of all the formalized professional relationships, mentor is the one that everyone is familiar with. And yet from the way I hear young employees throwing this word around, I get the sense that they don’t always understand what this person actually does. So, please. Pay attention.

A mentor is someone with whom you have an established relationship and who can help you in your career and provide guidance as you are climbing your career ladder. It’s a relationship that is based on your career trajectory—they will give advice about your next steps: which job to apply for, which job to take, when it’s time to move on, when it’s appropriate to touch base with your boss, while helping you navigate your professional journey. When you have a problem, you can go to your mentor and that person can help you come up with a solution. A mentor is someone who has already done whatever it is that you are trying to do. They’ve been through it, so they can help you see things through the lens of experience.

The truth is, you never need to put a label on your mentorship. If you have a person in your network who is more senior than you, someone who is happy to answer your questions and guide you through work dilemmas, then you have a mentor. Ultimately a mentorship is just an ongoing conversation with someone who is older (if not necessarily in age, definitely in experience) and wiser.

As a mentee, or a potential mentee, it’s your job to drive the relationship forward, to be proactive and to reach out from time to time.


A sponsor is someone who is not necessarily part of your day-to-day mentorship and guidance, but is still able to provide opportunities or to speak highly of your work. They are happy to associate their name with yours because they know your output is good, so they vouch for you when opportunities come up or speak of you when you’re not in the room. A sponsor might share your name for a speaking engagement. They might suggest you for the lead on a new client account or even for a potential promotion. They aren’t helping you navigate the workplace or get to the place where they’d be willing to recommend you, but once you’re fully baked and ready to do big things, they’ll put your name forward and help you find those things.

The main difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that while a mentor is helping you “come up” in the industry. A sponsor says, “I know your experience, I’ve seen you produce wins, now let’s get you the right opportunities.”

Sponsors invest in your work, and they provide opportunity—in exchange for the shine of associating their brand with your good work. When you’ve found people in your professional network who you think could serve as sponsors, again, don’t ask outright if they are willing to accept the role. This relationship doesn’t have to be codified. You might say, “I’d be thrilled if you’d keep me in mind if any opportunities come up.” A superior in your network might not know you are looking for opportunities until you spell it out. So this, yes, you can ask. But don’t just say, “Will you be my sponsor?” Please, for the love of God, no.


Here’s the thing about a businesship: It is not a friendship. You might run in the same circles or have connections in common, but this person isn’t showing up at the hospital if you hurt yourself. She’s not coming to your rescue and listening to you cry after a breakup. A businesship isn’t even the same as a work/office friendship, which is often predicated on venting or complaining about your boss or your workload or a new project.

Work friends don’t always have opportunities that they can include you on. Businesships, on the other hand, are fairly transactional. That might sound harsh, but it’s important to be clear about the reality of the relationship or you can get burned. Yes, you enjoy each other’s company, and you might have fun together at work functions, but that’s where the waters can get muddy. It can look like a friendship and feel like a friendship, but in reality, it’s not, and you can’t have the same expectations of this person as you would your true ride-or-dies.


A professional godmother (or godfather) is someone who can point you in a direction that can save you 10 years. They can get you into rooms that you would otherwise never have access to. Professional godmothers are connected and respected, and they have power. These are the heavy hitters who are well known and can open doors for you with a wave of their proverbial wand. Of all the relationships I’ve mentioned thus far, this one is the toughest to come by. They are rare and take years to build, and if you have one, hold tight.

Professional godparents are not people you call on with regularity. You don’t reach out every time you need advice. That is a mentor. The godparent is a back-pocket relationship; you only call on them when you could really use their help, but when you do, they actually pick up the phone. If you meet someone you think could be a godmother one day, play it cool. Do not ask them for anything out of the gate. Do nothing but show interest in them when you first connect. Eventually, if you play your cards right, this person will get a sense of your goals and, one day, out of nothing but an interest in giving you access, they’ll invite you into a room that would otherwise be closed off to you.

Personal Board of Advisors

A personal board of advisors is a group of five to 10 people who you can call on regularly for guidance. These are people who you trust to have your best interests at heart. That does not mean they are cheerleaders. They won’t just say, “Yeah, you’re doing great!” if you aren’t.

These are people who will challenge you when you need it and offer opportunity when you have earned it. The most important thing about your personal board of advisors is that the members are a diverse group—they don’t all have to be in your industry and, in fact, you’re better off if they’re not.

Your personal board of advisors should have different interests and different levels of experience. They might be people you’ve met during your personal time: at mom groups or church functions, or through sororities or fraternities. Maybe one has experience on a corporate board; maybe another works in finance and can help you understand how to grow and keep wealth. These are people who can help you navigate the corporate journey, because you can’t do this life alone. We cannot operate in a bubble and think we will succeed.

As you are doing all this work, don’t forget that none of this is permanent. Your professional relationships will evolve and may not last forever. You may maintain the relationship, but, for example, what was once a mentorship could become a friendship. You might catch up professionally to where your mentor is, in pay or access or opportunity, and feel like you’ve outgrown the relationship in its current form. Maybe you had a sponsor or a godmother, and you used to be in the same room because they put you there, and now it’s happening organically.

Congratulations! You’ve caught up! I’m not going to lie to you, this can be awkward. Of course, the hope is that whoever was guiding you is thrilled that the little caterpillar they helped to nurture has now become a butterfly. The point of mentoring someone, after all, is to help that person get ahead. But these moments can also serve as a wake-up call to a mentor that things have shifted and changed, and that is not always a welcome change. People like to feel needed, so if you don’t need your mentor/sponsor/etc. anymore, it can feel like a punch to the gut for that person. They might feel jealous or surprised or simply unprepared and that can put a strain on your relationship. But this is part of your growth, and growth always comes with its own set of challenges.

Updated: April 30, 2024 — 9:02 pm