Mentor vs. Sponsor

Mentors advise; Sponsors act.

-Sylvia Ann Hewlett        

When I was running fast track program, one of the critical component of the program was mentoring. The mentors were supposed to guide candidates when they moved to higher positions or across career tracks. Over a period of time problems cropped up, protégés felt that mentors were not doing enough for them, as they were not getting promotions fast enough. The protégés were confusing mentors with sponsors.

Management expert Sylvia Ann Hewlett has done research in this area and her advice is if you are looking for fast track growth, then forget mentors and go for sponsors.

Mentors are those people who take an interest in counselling you because they like you, or because you remind them of themselves. Your mentor will listen to your issues, offer advice, and review which problem-solving approaches to take and which to discard. In return, you listen and try to heed their advice.

Mentors can see and put into words for you what you may not see about yourself or be able to articulate. They can help you determine your strengths: what you do exceptionally well and what sets you apart.



A sponsor is also someone who takes an interest in you and your career, but not out of altruism or like-mindedness. A sponsor sees furthering your career as an important investment in his or her own career, organization, or vision. His/her chief role is to develop you as a leader. Throughout the relationship, you’re delivering outstanding results, building their brand or legacy, and generally making them look good. Your dividends are promotions, pay raises, or plum assignments.

Sponsors deliver. They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion; they will see you to the threshold of power.

Sponsors’ arsenal includes the high-level contacts they can introduce you to, the stretch assignments that will advance your career, their broad perspective when they give critical feedback – all ready to be deployed on behalf of their protégés.

Slyvia also talks about what level to look for sponsors in organisation. Would-be sponsors in large organizations are ideally two levels above you with line of sight to your role; in smaller firms, they’re either the founder or president or are part of his or her inner circle.

Without sponsor it will be difficult to for a person to rise fast in organisation. Mentors may take note of your capabilities, but they cannot turbocharge your growth. Without sponsor, talented employees will put their heads down, work harder, and wait, hoping that their mentors and role models will see to their success.

That does not mean that mentors are less important, but employee should realise the difference between two.

Don’t get me wrong: mentors matter. You absolutely need them. But they’re not your ticket to the top. Mentors give, whereas sponsors invest.

-Sylvia Ann Hewlett


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