Some professionals use the terms “mentor” and “sponsor” interchangeably, but they are actually two very different roles that impact careers in different ways.

Your relationship with a mentor is generally casual. A good mentor is a sounding board who offers advice and guidance when you need it.

A sponsor, on the other hand, is more fully invested in their protégés, believing in them to the point that they become an advocate on their behalf. Because sponsors put their reputation on the line, they expect loyalty and consistently outstanding performance from those they sponsor.

Sponsorship is a two-way street that benefits both parties involved. The protégé has access to greater opportunities, and the sponsor can essentially train them to step up and add value to the organization.

Do You Need Both?

Many professionals find that having both sponsors and mentors gives them a solid support system, setting them up for the greatest career success.

A mentor can provide you with career advice that can ultimately help you perform better and make important decisions about your career path. However, mentorship isn’t enough if you’re working your way to the top. Studies have shown that this is especially true for women and people of color.

Sponsorship is key for any professionals trying to break through the glass ceiling to rise in the ranks. A sponsor will be an influential voice in your field or office who advocates for your skills and ability. A mentor typically doesn’t have that kind of influence.

Why Isn’t Mentorship Enough?

A mentor’s words of encouragement and support only go so far. Meaningful action is needed for anyone trying to advance in their field.

The relationship with a mentor can be beneficial on both a personal and professional level, but it’s not enough to advance your career in a timely fashion. Mentors can provide valuable career advice that points you in the right direction for success, but it’s extremely beneficial to have a trusted senior take you under their wing as a protégé.

To put it one way, a mentor would give you a list of conferences you should attend to learn information and network in your field, but a sponsor would invite you to go with them and introduce you to the most influential people in the room. The approach of a sponsor varies, but sponsors generally work with their protégés in a way that facilitates meaningful progress.

In short, the relationship with a sponsor is proven to catapult your career forward in ways a mentorship can’t. Both are valuable for different aspects of your career, but sponsorship is key for career advancement.
Research shows that sponsorship is as beneficial for sponsors and organizations as it is for protégés. In my next Sponsorship Series blog, I’ll delve deeper into that topic. Stay tuned!