Mentors vs sponsors: The two people who can help you rise to the top

Find a mentor

You might be fortunate enough to have a great manager or a senior colleague who is happy to show you the ropes, listen to your ideas, and help you climb the career ladder. For most of us though, the people in our immediate team are not ideal mentors or sponsors. On-the-job frustrations, tight deadlines and communication challenges mean that we’re better off seeking career guidance and endorsement from outside our immediate team.

Finding an ‘external’ mentor or sponsor (don’t worry, we’ll explain the difference between these two in just a minute), can be daunting – it certainly requires that you step out of your comfort zone – but it’s worth it if you want to climb the career ladder.

Mentors vs sponsors – which one’s better?

A mentorship relationship is one where a more experienced, usually older person agrees to offer you perspective and advice as you progress through your career. This relationship is often born out of an informal friendship and sense of respect, where the mentor has an interest in developing the mentee. The mentee should feel comfortable discussing their challenges, weaknesses and dreams.

A sponsorship relationship is less ‘relational’ and more ‘transactional’. This is where a person with power or influence is so confident in your abilities that they decide to recommend you for special projects and promotions. They give you a level of visibility you would never otherwise experience, but in return they expect you to be able to deliver and reflect positively on them.

Mentors vs sponsors: A mentor helps you to excel, a sponsor expects you to excel.

Two very different relationships, both very beneficial. So how do you go about finding the right mentor and sponsor?

Hopefully your organization already has some sort of mentorship and sponsorship programs that you can tap into. If not, (and it may be something you want to suggest your HR team adds to its employee retention strategy), here’s some advice:

Find a mentor

It’s not too difficult to find a mentor. It’s a flattering request after all, and successful people are usually happy to ‘pay it forward’ and develop the next generation. It’s worth trying to find someone you feel comfortable with. A natural report will enable you to be yourself and give you confidence to share your challenges and weaknesses with your mentor. Remember that you’ll trust this person with sensitive information, so they need to respect you and show discretion.

Once you have identified a potential mentor, develop the relationship by spending more time with them. Chat to them during social occasions, invite them out for a drink or run an idea by them to see how they respond. If they are responsive, ask them if they would consider mentoring you.

Find a sponsor

A sponsor is more difficult to find. You might even have one without knowing it. These are senior or influential people you encounter at work or through your network. They are impressed by you and by your work, so they feel confident recommending you to others.

The best way to find a sponsor to work hard, build your network and be courteous and professional to everyone around you. Remember that a sponsor won’t usually be available to offer advice, and they aren’t usually someone you’d want to share your weaknesses or doubts with. Instead you want to put your best foot forward for this person.

In some cases, a mentor can become a sponsor. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have a very influential person take an interest in your career development, or perhaps your mentor became influential during your engagement with them – that’s excellent!

Introduce mentor and sponsor programs in your workplace

We help companies of all sizes keep their best employees by implementing time-based retention programs that include mentorship and sponsorship streams. It’s a powerful way to hang on to the people you can’t afford to lose.

To learn more, or to request a demo, just contact us by following the link below.

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