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Is Sponsorship the New Mentoring?

Recently I was asked if sponsorship was the new mentoring. My answer is an emphatic NO!

Mentor word map

In my experience mentorship and sponsorship are very distinct. And I believe the most powerful mentoring includes sponsorship. While sponsorship can be a very successful stand alone strategy, it cannot and will never replace mentoring.

Effective mentoring is an interactive, dynamic and empowering relationship that improves the thinking of both partners. This allows them to grow, develop and advance together. They become fully accountable for the actions they take and learn from their mistakes, their triumphs and everything in-between. In successful partnerships both people understand their roles, trust each other, are willing to listen and try new things.

An effective mentor always remembers who you are when the going gets tough. They ask the hard questions that make you think more deeply and clearly. They cheer the loudest when you experience a breakthrough, take a step that seems impossible, or reach a goal so challenging there could be no certainty of accomplishment until it was achieved. Mentoring is all about helping you develop the skills and the kind of strategic thinking that experience teaches.

Sponsorship is all about opening doors to new opportunities. It is one of the greatest gifts a mentor can give. Mentors who sponsor their mentees share access to their own network, to people at different levels in the organization and to resources. Sponsorship when done well can lead to bigger assignments, honors and recognition, and at times, promotions. It lets your mentee know they are growing and learning, and just as importantly that you recognize their progress and value.

You may be more familiar with sponsorship as an on-boarding strategy for new hires. This is a very successful way of acculturating people into the organization so they become productive more quickly. Successful sponsorship relationships can also blossom to become life-long professional friendships. Casey Powell, former President and CEO Sequent, shared with me about how effective sponsorship for on-boarding new hires can be. It helped build a workforce of team players who genuinely cared about each other and the organization. Though Sequent was acquired by IBM in 1999, more than 1500 former Sequent employees have maintained professional relationships that were nurtured by their sponsorship program. They stay in touch via a LinkedIn Group.

When we provide staff training in the essential skills you need to succeed as an effective mentor and leader, we include sponsorship strategies and how to appropriately share your network.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Sean Evangelista

    Heres my understanding and experience:
    Sponsorship = First contact, introductions and assistance to get the newbie up to speed.

    Mentoring = Long term coaching with continual teaching and course correction

    1. odyssey

      Sean, For the most part, I agree with your nutshell definitions. I also think there are great opportunities for sponsorship to be beneficial far beyond on-boarding and make a significant difference throughout the mentorship. No matter how skilled we are, how accomplished we are, someone who can and will open doors for us leads to new possibilities that can yield extraordinary results. I have experienced this first-hand in my own career.

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        1. Susan Bender Phelps

          Matija, Thank you so much. Life does’t get much better. It is so gratifying to learn that my work has resonated with you and has made a difference.

  2. Ken Wallis

    I agree with the comments, essentially, that they are different. A mentor may be a sponsor but a sponsor doesn’t have to be a mentor. The description of the mentor in the comments is very sound and I like the way the active role of mentoring is described. I think sponsorshop goes beyond onboarding. I see it as an activity, rather than a role, in that anyone can sponsor the needs and direction of another, at any time and stage of their career or engagement in a role. It may be sponsoring a relatively senior person in their quest to gain further seniority or it can be as described as a form of introductory ‘buddying’. The question raises the importance of being quite clear about what terms we’re using and what we intend their use to be.

    1. Marcel

      Thank you for the sensible critqiue. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I’m very glad to see such great info being shared freely out there.

      1. Susan Bender Phelps

        So pleased I could be of help on this one. I am always on the look-out for the latest research and the latest trends in mentorship, leadership and communication. It helps me to continually improve on what I am teaching and speaking about.

  3. Sean

    What matters then is that the organization/business clearly defines the actions behind each word.

    1. odyssey

      Yes, Sean, each organization must do that with any of the terms it uses. Definitions are very important because so many words come loaded with meaning gleaned from life experience and common usage. That’s why when I do mentorship and leadership training, we spend a lot of time on the use of clarifying questions to ensure mutual understanding.

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    1. Susan Bender Phelps

      So pleased that you found the video and the article useful. I hope you visit often and share what you learn and like with your friends and colleagues. Thank YOU!

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