I am often asked what the difference is between mentoring and sponsoring. There seems to be a good deal of confusion between the two since both are centered on asking people to help you advance in your career. So what is the difference between mentoring and sponsoring?
Mentoring is about advising and sponsoring is about acting.
In a New York Times op-ed article by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, she explains the difference between sponsors and mentors this way:
“Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return. Sponsors, in contrast, are much more vested in their protégés, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them.”
Sylvia has also written a book on the topic titled Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor that I highly recommend for anyone who is looking to get to the next level in their career.
Sponsorship over my career
I have benefited from sponsorship over my career. And I am grateful for all my wonderful sponsors who have believed in me, helped me to make great connections and who provided me with guidance and critical feedback.
My sponsors have been women and men that I had developed relationships with over years throughout my career. I was able to demonstrate my skills and experience to them and gain their trust by working alongside of them while serving on boards, consulting, as a Chief Financial Officer and by getting involved in my community.
When you are looking for a sponsor remember that it is a two way relationship based on mutual respect and trust. You both need to be invested. Your sponsor is putting their name on the line by championing you, so you need to follow through with their advice and work hard to keep your sponsor’s good reputation intact.
Sponsoring is about giving back by paying it forward for others. Don’t be afraid to ask for a sponsor or take action as a sponsor for someone else.
I am putting “asking for a sponsor” into practice with Women Get On Board. We have formed an Advisory Board with experience and connections in governance, law, investment banking, accounting, financial services, corporate finance, M&A, professional development and media.
I would like to extend a big thank you to our inaugural Advisory Board for helping us shape the strategic direction of Women Get On Board! Your sponsoring will help us advance our mandate to connect and promote women to corporate boards.
This is NOT a well-understood concept …but absolutely a game-changing approach to diversity challenges.
Mentoring continues to be a relatively benign action in the marketplace and a focused explanation why we haven’t had the responses we would have liked to see. Anyone can provide salve to their conscience by “saying they are a mentor” …unfortunately it doesn’t bring change …a lot of talk but little action.
Sponsorship is a scary and risky process… and therein is its power and outstanding outcomes(generally)… maybe we need more thought papers on effective sponsorship …