Mentorship vs. Sponsorship - Is There A Difference And A Benefit To Both?

By
Mariam Rowhani
BetterManager Executive Coach

May 4, 2021

Mentorship vs. Sponsorship, Is There A Difference And A Benefit To Both?

An important step in anyone’s career is to stop and reflect on their learnings and growth along the way. Think back and try to recall from the time you entered the workforce until the present moment, if any of your successes were guided and inspired by mentors and/or sponsors. Did they have an impact on your decision making process and how did they support you? You probably did all the hard work but maybe certain individuals in your life galvanized you to make a leap in your career and galvanized you in achieving some great milestones in your career.  

According to Louise Pentland, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and company secretary at PayPal, explains it in her Forbes Leadership Council piece, “What I have learned from being a mentor myself is that mentorship is a two-way street. You give and you take, and you have to recognize what you want out of the relationship. Mentors and sponsors serve different purposes, but their end goal is the same: to support you in achieving your goals.”

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the sponsorship and the mentorship relationship and how they can influence you. Holly Brittingham, Senior Vice President of Global Talent and Organizational Development with Foote, Cone & Belding, states that: “Sponsors actively seek out and facilitate career-expanding opportunities for their protégé, and, in turn, the protégé commits to stepping up and demonstrating value to the organization, even if this requires them to shift their way of thinking and their leadership behaviors, in order to be successful.” Sponsorship, then, is a synergy rooted in action that furthers both sides’ aspirations. Brittingham notes: “Sponsors open doors and provide access, while protégés support and drive a sponsor’s vision.”

Mentors on the other hand serve more in an advisory capacity supporting you in shaping your aspirations and plans. Think of them as accompanying you in your journey to achieving your goals. Mentors tend to have significant professional experience that they share with you and they don’t necessarily have to work at the same company. Mentors are like your cheerleading section. Economist, founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, Sylvia Ann Hewlett explains: “Mentors can build your self-esteem and provide a sounding board – but they’re not your ticket to the top.” Sponsors, on the other hand, can be that ticket. Sponsors take a direct role in the advancement of their protégés. In today’s world, having the support of a sponsor can only lead to endless possibilities of open doors and expansions in your professional life. 

Here is an example of Louise Pentland’s relationship with her mentor: “It’s not often talked about, but mentors don’t have to last forever. I've had five or six in the past 20 years and each one supported me through a different phase of my career. My current mentor was the chief marketing officer at my previous company and worked before that at Verizon and on the Obama campaign. She has been there, done that, and when she thinks that I am wrong she always has the confidence to tell me, no sugar-coating. She has been the most helpful in terms of figuring out how to evolve my career as a working mother and how to move over to PayPal after 20 years at my previous company.”

Additionally, there has been so much discussion lately about how to elevate and implement diversity as well as inclusion in the workplace, and having a mentor and/or sponsor might be a critical need especially for women and minorities seeking to advance in their organization.  While sponsorship enhances individual relationships, it also has implications that radiate throughout a professional culture, enhancing it in myriad ways. Brittingham asserts: “when a well-connected senior leader commits to advocating for someone from an underrepresented group – even when this requires more investment in building relationship capital required for success – this individual-level action translates, at an organizational level, to disrupting the patterns that prevent career advancement for women and minorities.” Sponsorship can have a tremendous impact on the organization, especially when it comes to cultivating diversity, retaining talent and training leaders.

Additionally, there has been so much discussion lately about how to elevate and implement diversity as well as inclusion in the workplace, and having a mentor and/or sponsor might be a critical need especially for women and minorities seeking to advance in their organization. While sponsorship enhances individual relationships, it also has implications that radiate throughout a professional culture, enhancing it in myriad ways. Brittingham asserts: “when a well-connected senior leader commits to advocating for someone from an underrepresented group – even when this requires more investment in building relationship capital required for success – this individual-level action translates, at an organizational level, to disrupting the patterns that prevent career advancement for women and minorities.” Sponsorship can have a tremendous impact on the organization, especially when it comes to cultivating diversity, retaining talent and training leaders.

As succinctly summarized by Louise Pentland, “Both mentors and sponsors are important in maximizing career growth, and some of my most valuable relationships have been formed with my mentors and mentees. Not only will sponsors and mentors believe in your potential when you are doubting yourself, but they will champion your successes, to open doors for your next big career move.”

Now could be the perfect opportunity for you to find your mentor and sponsor for the next year at your organization and begin your development journey. From there, you can explore the learnings on your journey. And you can set an intention that someday, you could pay it forward by becoming a mentor or sponsor, too, and making a difference in someone’s life.  

RESOURCES

Mentorship vs. Sponsorship, And How To Maximize Both, Forbes.com

Sponsors vs. Mentors: What’s the Difference & Why It Matters, Glassdoor.com

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

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About Mariam Rowhani

Mariam is a freelance writer offering support for businesses & entrepreneurs locally and globally. She brings a significant amount of experience in the corporate marketing industry and as a freelancer in content management, internet research, blogging, article writing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Her mission is to empower business owners to produce content that clearly and authentically communicates with their target audiences, ultimately making lives less stressful as well as allowing for more free time to live more well-balanced and healthier lives.

Episode Transcript

Posted on

May 4, 2021