Mentors, Sponsors, and Coaches – OH MY!

Mentors, Sponsors, and Coaches

I had the pleasure of being asked to present this topic to a wonderful group of women last week so I thought I would share it with all of you as well.

With the ongoing conversations regarding the gender pay gap and what it takes to really break through the proverbial glass ceiling, more and more focus has been placed on the importance of mentors, sponsors, and coaches in the business world. In this post, I’m going to briefly cover the definition of each.

The number one reason people say they got ahead in their career was because someone – a mentor, friend, colleague, or associate – helped them out. One of the biggest myths in the work place is that if you just work hard people will recognize your worth and give you that promotion, pay raise, or important career opportunity that you deserve. The truth is that promotions, pay raises, or opportunities rarely happen without you initiating the conversation. No one is going to put your career on their radar unless you ask them to.

Leveraging mentors, sponsors, and coaches is a great way to help you do just that.


A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. They are someone in your field you admire or they have achieved a level of success you aspire to. I’m not sure who said it but there’s a great quote: “Mentors are angel investors in our souls”.

The primary purpose of a mentor is to guide you to success by allowing you to learn from their triumphs and failures. It’s a perfect scenario, right? You can emulate the things they’ve done right without having to duplicate the things they’ve done wrong.

A good mentor will give you a reality check. They’ve been in your shoes before and have faced similar challenges. Because of this they can call a spade a spade and can throw a flag when you slip into your fantasy world of how the work place ideally should be instead of how it is.

A good mentor will ask you the hard questions. This will force you to dig deep inside yourself to discover your true motives for your actions and adjust your course accordingly.

Because a mentor is someone you admire or aspire to be like, a mentor can be anyone inside or outside of your field depending upon what you want to be mentored on.


A coach is also an experienced and trusted advisor but they are professionally trained to help you maximize your full potential. Coaching is more than just giving you advice. Coaches help you take on specific professional projects, personal goals, and transitions by analyzing your current situation, identifying challenges, and devising a plan of action designed to achieve specific outcomes.

Coaches can focus on different areas of your life. There are business coaches, life coaches, health and wellness coaches, divorce coaches, etc. So, they can help in many areas of your life. They can help you identify goals and define a vision for success. They can help you create personal and professional action plans. They can help you with starting a new business or growing an existing one. They can help you with business or career transitions. Some coaches can help with work/life balance, identifying and overcoming limiting beliefs, fostering stronger connections (both personally and professionally). Really anything that you can say you want to accomplish can be helped along by a coach.

You should select a coach based upon their background and areas of expertise as well as the fit or feeling you get from speaking with them. The best way to do this is through an interview or initial consultation.


A sponsor is an advocate for your business/career success. A sponsor is someone who will use his or her internal political and social capital to move your career forward within an organization. A sponsor will believe in your potential and is prepared to take a bet on you. They get satisfaction from discovering your talent and showcasing you to the world.

A sponsor must have power, clout, and the respect of others (or “a seat at the table”) in order to be an effective champion. It doesn’t matter how much someone believes in you, they can’t really be a sponsor unless they are in a position to make others listen.

The best way to know who the good sponsors are is to identify the leaders in your organization who have a track record of being talent developers and talent scouts. That’s who you want on your side. It’s also important to note that it is not uncommon for a sponsor to choose you instead of the other way around.

Sponsorship is not a gift but something that you earn. You have to get on their radar, you have to exceed expectations, and you have to make your stellar performance known. Nothing makes you easier to sponsor than outstanding results.

Knowing the difference between mentors, sponsors, and coaches and how to leverage each can make a huge difference in your career success. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll dive deeper into each one highlighting how to choose and work with all three.


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