Mentors vs. Sponsors Made Simple

By Chelsea C. Hayes, SPHR | The Coaching Factory

Think about the best thing that has ever happened to you in your career. Chances are, whatever you just thought of wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for another human. Someone intervened. Someone suggested, shared, agreed, approved, approached, collaborated, introduced or fought for you.

Humans need help. We were put on this Earth to lift, support, guide, train, inspire and encourage one another. In the workplace, this magic is most commonly described using two words: mentoring and sponsoring. These words are not interchangeable and cause unique outcomes. Let’s take a look at the difference between mentors vs. sponsors.

  • A mentor is someone who provides sound advice.
  • A sponsor is a proven leader who is deeply invested in your advancement and voluntarily introduces you & your work product to influential leaders.
  • If you’re curious, a coach is a leader who is extraordinarily knowledgeable in a specific area and provides practical steps to lead you towards your goals. Strong coaching relationships are individual and nuanced, so today, we’ll focus on mentors vs. sponsors.


Speaking up for yourself and being thoughtful about who you’d like to learn from is important. You may want to ask yourself:

  • Do they do business with integrity in a way that is honorable and inspiring?
  • How does this person lead under great stress or pressure?
  • How do I feel around this leader? How does this leader make others feel?
  • What do I believe this person can teach me that no one else can?

While the answers to these questions are key, in our experience at The Coaching Factory, the most fruitful mentor/ mentee & sponsor/protégé relationships are ones where the mentor & sponsor take an organic interest in the career of the mentee & protégé. Programs and engineered outings are beneficial, but none are more exemplary than relationships that bloom organically.

Mentorship is helpful, but sponsorship is what is necessary to achieve the type of success we read about. For women and people of color especially, sponsorship is wildly important and should be something you’re focused on from the very beginning of your career. According to the 2018 “Women in the Workplace” study by McKinsey & Company, 27 percent of men say they never have a substantive interaction with a senior leader about their work, while 41 percent of black women say the same. Sponsorship requires interaction and this doesn’t happen by chance, so keep sponsorship top of mind.

Let’s think of it like going grocery shopping. If you go to the store without a list, it may take a long time to find something to make for dinner. You may wander aimlessly until you reluctantly, finally decide on something that will just make the hunger subside. On the flip side, if you go to the store with a list of five ingredients you need to buy, you’ll be home quickly, with a balanced, thoughtful meal. You won’t have wandered — you’ll have conquered.

Our careers work the same way. Sponsorship (the healthy meal) exists, and you have to know what attracts sponsors early (the ingredients) so you can receive the opportunities your incredible work warrants.



Numbers don’t lie. Meet and surpass your goals, and, most importantly, people still need to like you once your goals have been exceeded! Andy Shiparski, Managing Broker at Compass, asks powerful questions: “Are you truly creating a unique experience? Are you doing everything for your clients that you would do for yourself if you were selling your own home?”

Do More Than What’s Required.

You’d be surprised how many people don’t do the simple things correctly. Be early, show up polished every time and do what you can to make life easier for all your teammates. This may mean showing a home for a fellow REALTOR® when their schedule unexpectedly changes.

Remember: Nice Words = Mentors,
Unusual Actions = Sponsors.

Volunteer to do the right thing (even when it’s the hard thing), do something that isn’t technically your responsibility for the betterment of the team, and joyfully stay late to ensure a problem is fixed — these are all unusual actions and will be noticed.

Listen More Than You Speak.

No one likes a know-it-all. If you talk non-stop, you’ll be pegged as un-coachable. Even if you’re effective, people will steer clear of you. I’ve seen capable talent work ten years without sponsorship, simply because they unknowingly irritate their colleagues. We all must practice listening.

If you’ve done all the above and you still don’t have a sponsor, your company may lack the pool of leaders to sponsor you or there may be something someone isn’t telling you. The first option we can’t control, but the second one is in our control. There may be a piece of feedback you aren’t getting or aren’t responding to. Be gentle with yourself and remember that feedback reigns supreme. He or she who gets the most feedback wins. Start by asking your closest colleagues, and even those who aren’t in your inner circle, where they believe you excel and how you can grow.

If you’ve gotten this far, I know your growth is important to you and I also know you truly can have anything you want. The tricky thing about life is, we don’t get what we want alone! Perform well, keep people first and be kind. The truth is, we all need each other. Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished — there are no limits to where we’ll go together.