Mentorship vs Sponsorship



Of course it’s not an either-or. You need BOTH great mentors and great sponsors to advance and succeed. We talked for the last two posts about mentors, and they are GREAT. Most people can’t advance without them. But based on my decades of direct and indirect experience, the TRUE differentiation is around sponsorship. Below are some reasons why I think that’s the case.

  1. Sponsors, by definition, have the influence, ability and power to nominate, vote for, and hire into key positions.
  2. Sponsors can be coaches and mentors as well, but they also have the ability to support the advancement into a higher level within an organization. Generally coaches and mentors are not also sponsors.
  3. Coaches and mentors might help someone shift into a new role, industry or level, but a sponsor help hard-working, energetic and unproven people actually land in new role or position.
  4. Coaches are more likely to have received training on how to coach. Sponsors aren’t necessarily trained to be sponsors. In fact, sponsors may not even realize they are sponsoring someone. They are focusing on solving a problem – connecting the right people to the right organization/problem set.
  5. Mentors are generally intentional about their mentorship goal, but Sponsors are not necessarily intentional their sponsorship goals and objectives. 
  6. Sponsors, are generally more results- and business- focused rather than people-focused (although of course, they care about the person they’re sponsoring).
  7. Whereas coaches and mentors may be more helpful resolving deep tactical challenges, sponsors may provide more insights with strategic challenges.
  8. Sponsors focus on immediate challenges, as mentors as coaches do, but they also address longer-term challenges, such as proactively building a leadership pipeline, bringing in ideas and talent which would stretch business and technology edge cases, and facilitating collaboration across people, technologies, and teams.
  9. Coaches and mentors touch people at all levels within an organization, whereas sponsors care for people at all levels, but focus on people who have the most impact and influence on others within the organization.
  10. In general, coaches and mentors look from the bottom up – helping the mentee/coached navigate the corporate challenges and opportunities from their own point of view. Sponsors however, help their sponsored employee take a longer-term, strategic, top-down approach about the needs of the company and the value they can bring to the table in the near-term and for the long-term.

Your mileage may vary. Your thoughts are welcome. E-mail us at 

Join us for our December 13, 2019 Second Annual ‘Men Who Open Doors’ panel discussion, featuring some outstanding male sponsors. 

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