Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on happiness and human performance. Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for WRAL TechWire.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I caught up at lunch yesterday with long time client and friend, Lenwood Long, president and CEO of African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs, who was featured in the Triangle Business Journal’s recent cover story, Rallying for Green Funds. He closed our lively conversation by using a sports analogy of the “setter” as relates to business. The setter is a key player responsible for setting the ball for their teammates to score a point. A good leader does the same thing, communicating clearly and providing the right coaching, for their associates, in turn, to win.

Setter, the Teacher

Last week, I played in my first piano masterclass.  I had the opportunity to be observed by Spencer Myer, a Steinway artist on faculty at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. I experienced first hand the delight of being set up to win.  After watching me play just a few measures of the first movement of Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Spencer was able to pinpoint a few changes that made my playing smoother and my wrists more free to facilitate the fast runs. That 10 minutes of instruction proved more valuable than my hours of solitary practice.

Spencer Myer, above, coaches Grace Ueng. (Photos courtesy of Grace Ueng)

My performance psychology teacher, Noa Kageyama, was experimenting with “10-minute masterclass,” an exercise in focus. We honed in on just a few measures where we needed help, and Noa provided us with an expert, who could help reveal our blind spots in order to play a world differently.

Lunch, a bright shirt & chasing the bears

At Arthur Brooks Leadership & Happiness Symposium, I happened to sit down for lunch with a fellow named Ric Keller. I commented on what a vibrant color his shirt was, to which he responded that he chose it just for his TED talk.  That led to hearing about the theme of his TED, the power of self-deprecating humor. After I went home, I listened and found it so useful, that I suggested a coaching client find a way to add this type of humor to a major address she is giving this week in her new leadership role overseeing thousands of people.

Ric Keller (Photo courtesy of Grace Ueng)

I then read Ric’s excellent book, Chase the Bears, which made me realize even more how interconnected we all are.  He and I were already connected in that Arthur Brooks had impacted both of our thinking, and we were both invited to his leadership symposium.  At lunch, he shared that his wife is also an alumna of HBS. Then in reading his book, I found out how the brilliant Dorie Clark has been helpful to both of us, and how we both espouse the power of visualization.

Ric often comments in his book how we are all interconnected, a fact that my happiness teacher, Tal Ben-Shahar, also states in class. I could go on and on with all the connections that Ric and I have, but instead I highlight one of his tenets which is understanding the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.

Me & Marc, my sponsor, and Mr. Wonderful

I have always instinctively called Marc Belton, formerly EVP, Global Strategy, Growth and New Business Development at General Mills, who recruited me to join General Mills out of Harvard Business School, my sponsor.  Now I know why.

Ric explains that mentors provide advice and feedback and are extraordinarily important. He thinks of sponsorship as mentorship on steroids.  Sponsors use their influence and power to advocate on your behalf to make partner, get a promotion, or raise your pay. Or endorse you for public office over other candidates, nominate you to visible committees or projects, write your business school recommendation letters, or stand by you in a heated debate with others.

I left General Mills to move to the west coast with my then spouse. When he was being transferred back to the Twin Cities a couple of years later, I reached out to Marc to see if I could return.  That was an unusual move within the strict brand management career hierarchy, but Marc was one who fought for his people, even when it meant going against the grain (pun intended!).

And then after he did all that, I ended up getting a last minute call from a recruiter and joined an educational software company that had just gone public to start their consumer channel instead.  Marc didn’t hold that against me, rather he cheered me on, and has remained a friend and ally for over three decades.

At that software company, we were able to grow that consumer channel quickly and attract Kevin O’Leary (now Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank) to acquire the business two years later.

Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank fame with Grace Ueng. (Photo courtesy of Grace Ueng)

Who are you serving as a sponsor for today? 

P.S. For those who would like to hear more about my take the happiness advantage as well as Clay Christensen’s book, How will you measure your life and his last HBS lecture where he spoke of “what job were you hired to do”…..

I share my recent podcast: The Happiness Advantage with Grace Ueng.

About Grace Ueng

Grace, a human performance expert, is a strategy consultant and leadership coach with Savvy Growth.  Join her Happiness & Leadership community to be a happier and better leader.