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Mentor vs. sponsor: Why having both is key for your career


Mentorship and sponsorship play vital yet different roles in an employee’s career advancement. Mentorship generally involves a senior executive guiding junior employees regarding work and professional development. However, sponsorship is all about advocating for someone owing to their capabilities at work. This article will delve deeper into the differences between mentorship and sponsorship, their impact on one’s career development, and the benefits of mentorship and sponsorship in a given workplace.

“Mentors give you perspective. Sponsors give you opportunities.” – Cate Huston, Engineering Director.

Leaders in any industry reach the pinnacle of success after stepping on several stones of hard work, perseverance, dedication, and commitment. However, the leaders are often backed by a robust support system of well-wishers, inspiring mentors, and encouraging sponsors who believed in them and urged them to move forward. Employees interact with peers, managers, subordinates, and external stakeholders at various career stages. Some of these people guide employees through their career progression, and some of them genuinely believe in their potential and take responsibility for their growth and development.

Consider two different scenarios to understand the difference between mentorship and sponsorship quickly. A mountain climber shared his tips and tricks with his co-climbers to empower them to get better at scaling new heights. He did not specifically choose them or have ulterior motives while sharing his knowledge with aspiring climbers. On the other hand, an Army Officer handpicked a high-potential soldier to give him the proper training to lead the next enemy attack. The Army Officer had an agenda in mind while imparting training and development to this soldier. The first situation describes mentorship, while the other showcases sponsorship.

What Is Mentorship?

Mentorship involves a give-and-take setup. In a professional environment, mentorship defines the relationship between a mentor who has rich experience and expertise in a particular field and a mentee seeking genuine career advice.

Traditionally, formal mentoring used to occur between a mentor who was generally a senior leader and a mentee who was a junior talent. But, with the adoption of a more flexible workplace culture, the barrier of seniority is broken, and various types of effective mentoring programs have emerged in recent times.

A few of these types of mentoring programs are listed below.

  • One-on-one mentorship program

This type of mentorship involves a single business mentor dedicated to guiding and supporting a single mentee. In this program, a mentor, usually a well-experienced professional, shares their knowledge and work experiences with a mentee, looking to advance his career with the right set of skills.  

  • Group mentoring program

As the name suggests, this type of mentoring includes an impactful mentor guiding a group of mentees based on their project, skill sets, educational background, or geography. This mentorship program inculcates a sense of community, team spirit, and confidence among mentees and leadership values in the mentor.  

  • Reverse mentoring program

In an interesting format of mentoring, in the reverse mentoring program, a less-experienced employee shares their learnings and experiences with a senior employee to encourage transparency, leadership qualities, and interpersonal skill development.

  • Virtual mentorship program

Owing to the current crisis brought on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual mentorship has become a mere necessity for professionals to take guidance from able employees. These programs are facilitated by digital platforms that enable mentors and mentees to connect from anywhere in the world at any time.  

What Is Sponsorship?

Sponsorship can be looked at as the next phase of mentorship. While a mentor guides the mentee through several inspiring strategies, a sponsor believes in their protégé due to the prowess shown at work. Sponsors generally endorse their protégés at a workplace and help them gain an elevated stature or designation through effective sponsorship tactics.

Sponsors tap into their network to provide exposure to the sponsored parties to build professional connections and climb up the ladder seamlessly. One can say that sponsorship arises from a working relationship developed over time.

Take a look at some of the key benefits of workplace sponsorship:

  • Widens the career development realm

Sponsorships can aid and expedite the process of achieving an employee’s ambitious career goals. For example, suppose you are a truly talented graphic designer backed by a solid sponsor. In that case, you are more likely to ace your career aspirations and grow beyond boundaries if you apply your skills in the right way. On the other hand, without sponsorship, you may struggle to reach the same level of success in a short period.

  • Elevates employee motivation

Employees who are endorsed by sponsors are often motivated by the latter to perform better. Moreover, sponsorship boosts their morale and reinforces the feeling that they are on the right track to achieving their goals.

  • Improves employee retention

When employees are happy, they tend to show their loyalty. Thus, employee retention sponsorships have a positive business impact and open new advancement opportunities for employees.

  • Enhances representation

Sponsorships make employees look better professionally. They enjoy better representation and get access to networking opportunities due to their capabilities and consistent performance.

  • Promotes ethnic diversity

Sponsorships can play a vital role in supporting DEI leadership and executing DEI initiatives in the workplace. Sponsorships are highly beneficial for people in minority groups, including women employees, people of color, and Hispanic cultures. When a sponsor advocates for your professional prowess, you get an equal opportunity to shine at your workplace, irrespective of color, caste, creed, or gender. To dive into cultivating an inclusive environment in the workplace, you can visit our blog here. 

What Is The Difference between Sponsorship and Mentorship?

Did you know that 59% of employees believe that their interaction with mentors is more casual and free-flowing than a formal interaction with a sponsor while working towards achieving professional goals? Similarly, various parameters of mentorship and sponsorship influence and impact employee engagement, career advancement, professional growth, and goal setting in different ways.

What Are The Similarities between Sponsorship and Mentorship?

Eventually, sponsors and mentors enhance workplace relationships and strive to have a positive impact on the careers of ambitious employees. Having explored the different aspects of mentorship vs. sponsorship, here are a few similarities between the two and a view of how together sponsorship and mentorship can boost your career.

  • Shining from within or outside the workplace

Mentors and sponsors can either belong to your organization or come from an external company. While their workplaces may differ, their goals of guiding and encouraging your success remain intact.

  • Establishing a career vision

Mentors and sponsors work hard and invest their time helping employees succeed in their respective fields. They go the extra mile in providing a conducive environment for their mentees or protégés to further their career trajectories.

  • Achieving career success

Sponsors and mentors work towards a common goal – career development. They inculcate the right set of skills and knowledge in their mentees or protégés to achieve their respective goals efficiently.  

Why Are Both Sponsors and Mentors Important in One’s Career Development?

As established earlier, effective mentorship leads to successful sponsorship. In a nutshell, mentorship is the foundation for solid sponsorship. To garner business development and career progression simultaneously, mentors and sponsors play pivotal roles in their ways. A mentor is essential to learn the strengths and areas of improvement of an individual, and a sponsor is critical to building on those strengths and inch upwards. Suppose you are an entry-level employee seeking guidance to develop your creative skills. In that case, a mentor is the best person to help you realize your inclination and identify your true potential. Once you have placed your expertise, a good sponsor enables you to shine more extensively and better in that skill with the right set of tools.  

In essence, mentors and sponsors have different hats to don at different stages of your career. Holding on to the right person at the right time is where your skills lie. Making the best decision for your career is in your hands. Your organization can provide you with the tools to aid you in your career journey, but it is up to you to grab the opportunity at the perfect time.

Mentorship and Sponsorship for Career Growth

Today, with so many professionals trying to survive and thrive in a competitive space, constant learning and skill development have become more critical than ever. With the support of key leaders like mentors and sponsors, the business world can become a better place. An influential mentor can impart critical skills required for professional development, and an impactful sponsor can hone those skills to achieve tremendous success.

They say great leaders do not create mere followers but future leaders who can build the train of success. Both mentors and sponsors dispense their duties of effectively shaping the career paths of their respective mentees or protégés.

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