Which is Better – Mentor or Sponsor?

by | 2 Jul 2024

Relationships are one of the most important success factors in leadership. Interestingly, we are not usually taught how to develop effective relationships through our education and nor do we usually invest much time or effort into it throughout our career. Sure, we network, make polite small talk, but I’m talking about a committed strategy where you link with someone else for career progression, promotion and leadership change. We get busy and focus on the task aspects of our work and lives and can pay little attention to the importance of people and their role in supporting our careers and leadership growth. Commonly, when we do invest in relationship development it’s usually with a mentor and can be through an organic or structured type program. Mentoring is just one proactive way. The other is to cultivate sponsors and these relationships will take you to an entirely different place. Read on and see how sponsors (and mentors) can help you develop yourself and continue to build effective relationships and transformative change.

There’s More than Mentors

It’s likely you’ve heard of mentors and the beneficial role they can play in your personal and professional development. If you’ve had a mentor, you’ll know that they can bring so many benefits. These include being a sounding board, sharing experiences, providing advice and guidance, offering challenge, support, feedback and encouraging you to progress and take on or lead change. The key role of a mentor is to share their experiences to support you and encourage you to lead your own change. Mentors can be one part of your development plan, but there’s more. Let’s talk about sponsors and how they might be what you are looking for right now!

What’s a Sponsor?

Sponsors are different to mentors. Sponsors advocate for you. They are your supporter. They know who you are and what you can offer. They keep you in mind and put your name forward for opportunities and roles that align to your goals. I think of sponsors as your very own Public Relations agent. Sponsors are committed to your development and the positive role you can play in change. 

What’s the Difference Between Mentors and Sponsors?

While there are differences between mentors and sponsors, it’s important you have both to assist your leadership development. Be clear about what each role can partner with you on. Having a number of sponsors at any given time is great, it’s good to have more than one. Here’s an overview of the roles of mentors and sponsors and the difference between the two.

Who Should Get A Sponsor?

The short answer is that everyone should have a sponsor! They help you to see opportunities. Let’s go deeper. Emerging leaders can benefit enormously from having a sponsor. This is because sponsors can identify and advocate leadership roles from their networks that an emerging leader may not be exposed to. Without this advocacy emerging leaders have no one on their team looking out for them. Remember, the role of a sponsor is to advocate for you when you aren’t there. So, if you are looking for career progression, looking for new project opportunities or business clients then a sponsor is someone you need in your network.

What Does a Sponsor Look For?

A sponsor is attracted to people who are ready for change and those that show up authentically with clear goals about what they are looking for. In my experience as a sponsor, I often identify talent and potential and act on this before others see it. This ends up supporting emerging leaders with talent and fresh perspectives. Change requires new ways of leading and this often comes from those that aren’t yet around the table. Sponsors advocate for you to be there.

Over to You

I hope you now have a clear idea of the role of a sponsor and how a sponsor can benefit you. Take time to make a list of potential sponsors. Get in touch with them and introduce yourself. Follow up with some more information via email about who you are and what you are looking to achieve in the next couple of years. Share your vision and ask for them to support you by being a sponsor.

Good luck. And please feel free to reach out to me here if you think I can help in any way.

Until next time!

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About the Author

Jo Eady

Jo Eady

I’m a leadership specialist, a human centred facilitator and a modern day storyteller. I live in Victoria, Australia. For the past two decades I’ve developed and facilitated a range of leadership initiatives, strategies and programs and have coached many across Australia’s agricultural and rural sectors. I love being a change agent and my key motto right now is courage over comfort. I support others to develop their own leadership essence and shine from the inside out.