We’ve talked a lot about the profound impacts a mentor can have on an employee’s learning and development. Effective mentors can provide their protégés with valuable insights into their experiences in the industry as well as the organization and can help guide them on the path to career advancement. But we haven’t talked a great deal about sponsors.
The Important Distinction Between Mentors and Sponsors
At first glance, it might seem like mentors and sponsors are basically the same thing, right? Not quite. One thing a mentor often does not necessarily do is actively advocate on behalf of the protégé. That is more a function of a role known as a sponsor.
In an article for Forbes, Louise Pentland—senior vice president, general counsel and company secretary at PayPal—writes, “Mentors and sponsors serve different purposes, but their end goal is the same: to support you in achieving your goals. You won’t always know who your sponsors are, but they are people who will advocate for you in the workplace when you need to be more visible.”
Securing a Sponsor
Obviously, it would be beneficial for anyone to have someone in a position of authority and influence advocating for them, but it can be difficult to secure a sponsor as compared to a mentor. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, leadership coach Rebecca Shambaugh says that women, in particular, are often given plenty of opportunities to work with a mentor, but they often lack a true sponsor.
“Notably, women have a lot of mentors, but they’re under sponsored,” she says. “And the sponsors are the ones that give you the lift; they give you the visibility; they give you those projects that aren’t in your sight that could really give you greater opportunities to be more engaged in the business and so on and so forth.”
Sponsors and mentors have the same end goal in mind, but they work toward achieving it in different ways. Most of us are fairly familiar with the concept of mentorship, but we may not be as familiar with working with sponsors.
In a follow-up post, we’ll discuss some strategies for gaining a sponsor of your own.