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Y’all its graduating season and I have a word for those folks moving on to the next chapter of their lives. Especially, my Wake Forest folks. However, it is not just those graduating that need to know this. All of us need to know this.

If I had one word of advice to all of us, today it would be this: Know the difference between transactional relationships and transformational relationships.

Often, we think of eliminating our transactional relationships and making all our relationships transformational. But that is not the way to go. Select your transformational relationships carefully.

In a transactional relationship, it is quid pro quo. You do this for me, I do that for you. It is awesome to have clearly defined transactional relationships. The yard man who comes to do my yard? Purely transactional. You will have transactional relationships in life. It is part of our lives. In these relationships, we see people as commodities and think of what they can offer us. This relationship represents an exchange of resources.

Transformational relationships are those that change us. And we change them. There is give and take. There is sharing. There is mutual respect. There is building something together. For me, there is always a Divine element in my transformational relationships. Your whole person shows up here. This relationship presents and exchange of self. Love and holding space for each other helps truth develop between the two of you.

As you think of your career, think of the following roles of people and become aware of transactional and transformational relationships in them.

Do you know the difference between an advisor, mentor or sponsor?

From now on, I want you to use your language carefully and always try and distinguish between these three roles.

Advisor: A person who can facilitate introductions to those that can help move your career forward.  This person knows the industry and upper level management at your workplace, denomination or other companies. This person knows who can help your career and can (when politely asked) introduce you to people in your industry who can help advance your upward movement. You want a lot of these types of folks in your life. One of my advisors is my sister. She knows people and although she is not in my industry, her work brings her into contact with many people and she always has wonderful suggestions.  This can be both transactional and transformational. Of course, my relationship with my sister is transformational. But when we talk business, it is business. I have a few other people in my life who are advisors and I am on a quest to make my relationships with them transformational. But these relationships always start out transactional.

Mentor: This is someone you can tell “the good, the bad, the ugly” about yourself. Be VERY selective when picking this mentor.  They should truly care about your professional and personal growth.  This is a person you admire, respect, and who has a higher position than you and can offer strategic and intelligent advice on moves to make as you rise in your corporate structure.  Your mentor does not need to be in your organization, but needs a clear picture of your plan and your ambition.  The clearer you are with your mentor on where exactly you want to take your career, the more fine-tuned their advice will be. Greg Ellison is one of my mentors. I work with him in Fearless Dialogues but I do not have a more ardent supporter in my coaching vocation. He introduces me to people. He tells me the truth about myself. He tells me the pitfalls in my plan and constantly challenges me. But I trust that at the end of the day, he wants the best for me. This must be a transformational relationship. My sister is not my mentor in my coaching because she is not in that industry. In other areas of my life, she is definitely a mentor.

Sponsor: This person is different than a mentor. This person must be in your organization and must hold a position of great power and influence.  For those of you on a pastoral track, this may be a bishop in your denomination. A sponsor is someone you only tell the “good, the good, and the good” to.  The reason is, that most of the decisions about the advancement of your career will happen when you are not in the room.  The sponsor is in the room during these discussions and “must carry your paper.” You only tell them the good and why you are the best person for the job.  Your sponsor is the one that will need to fight for you when other candidates’ sponsors are fighting for them.  The reason you must only know the good about you because there must be no wavering during their fight for your promotion. In my line of work, a sponsor for instance, is a former employee of mine who works in HR at an institution of higher learning and constantly tells people about me and fights for me to work with her institution. She makes introductions and advocates for me. This is a transactional relationship. Keep it transactional or at least be aware of when you are flowing into transaction or transformational dimensions with this person. Needless to say, my sister is not a sponsor as I am not trying to hitch my wagon to her train, if you catch my drift! (Marney Reid’s lanaguage is used in this post.)

This Summer, do the following:

  1. Identify a couple of people in each of those roles and begin to cultivate those relationships. Don’t think that opportunities are going to fall on your lap. NO! NO! NO! Work at it.
  2. Upgrade your Linkedin profile. Dust it off and make it real sparkly! (I need to take my own advice here.)
  3. Join your Alumni Association and get active. Find advisors there and begin to nurture and cultivate those relationships.
  4. Think about who you can advise, mentor and sponsor and begin to practice these roles to others so that you know what each one feels like.
  5. Learn to make the ask. Ask for advice. Be vulnerable. Believe it or not, people love to help you!

Give yourself a big hug! You are worth having wonderful relationships and working a plan for your career!
I hope that helps you as you navigate your next steps workwise. Let me know your thoughts.

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I am committed to the success of all peoples. I actively work towards the equitable thriving of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, physical ability, sex, gender or national status. I offer a sliding scale for single parents, active-duty military, veterans, military spouses, the long-term unemployed, refugees and the formerly incarcerated.

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