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April 19 | Cipriani Wall Street | New York City

The Difference Between Mentoring, Coaching & Sponsorship

January 14, 2015 12:00 am

For information on how to implement formal sponsorship, go to Diversity Management.


The Difference Between Mentoring, Coaching & SponsorshipOne of the frequent questions we receive at our benchmarkingdebriefs is: “What is the difference between mentoring, coaching and sponsorship—and how do individuals, both senior executives and junior people, benefit from each of them? What role should the company play in these relationships—formally and informally?”

We’ve prepared a primer for you with the help of Sodexo, a company we frequently use to illustrate an effective, results-oriented mentoring program.


According to Sodexo:

Mentor: “Talking with you”

Relationship between two people for the purpose of developing themselves or their careers in navigating the workplace or a particular field. More often than that, the relationships are mutually beneficial, with both partners learning in a purposeful way and benefiting from their relationship in sharing knowledge and experience.

Coach: “Talking to you”

Instructional, often with a particular goal or focus, such as developing technical or soft skills or can be used as a way to train someone on a discrete task or series of tasks.

Sponsor: “Talking about you”

A sponsor, usually someone at a more senior level and/or an individual with strong influence within an organization, assists a prot—g— in gaining visibility for particular assignments, promotions or positions. The role is often recognized as having a career, job or opportunity-related purpose with some inherent degree or accountability on the sponsor’s part.

Dr. Ella Bell, in her recent book, “Career GPS, Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape,” which is excerpted in an issue of DiversityInc magazine, points out that there are “Allies, mentors, sponsors and professional connections” in the workplace, and that all are valuable.

What’s most important, she says, is to have many. “You can’t just get hooked up with the mentor your company provides and expect to get ahead,” she writes. “And networking is much more than collected business cards. These days you need a sponsor—someone high up in the company who can take you under his or her wing, and offer visibility, protection and a boost upward. The truth is, each of these relationships is important.”

Dr. Rohini Anand, Sodexo’s senior vice president and global chief diversity officer, notes that a common mistake women make is having just one sponsor while men have many.

“For a man, if his sponsor’s career gets derailed, it’s not fatal because he has other sponsors. For a woman, that can be very different,” she says.

A sponsor, it’s clear, is a senior-level executive who touts the person’s achievements and helps them advance. Most of these relationships are not formalized.

For example, Anand says, “I have a senior executive sponsor at Sodexo, but it’s not called out formally. A sponsor is an advocate, and this executive has definitely done that for me.”

What’s important, she notes, is that senior executives sponsor people from traditionally underrepresented groups, not just white men.

A mentor often will become a de facto sponsor. Barbara Adachi, national managing principal for Deloitte LLP’s Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women, told us about an internal survey on sponsorship of senior people—partners, principals, directors and senior managers. More than 3,000 people were surveyed and 865 responded.

While close to 80 percent of the women surveyed felt they had a mentor, only about 60 percent felt they had a sponsor. “More men say they have sponsors—they have progressed more naturally. Women don’t always ask—they wait to be noticed and recognized for their work while men just naturally form these relationships,” she says.

Deloitte, like Sodexo, does not have a formal sponsorship program but embeds sponsorship into its talent-development initiatives.

“Sponsors have a vested interest in your career. They can use their actual political capital to help you get ahead. A mentor can be from the outside; a sponsor must come from the inside,” Adachi says.

So what, then, is the difference between a mentor and a coach? According to Sodexo: “A coach, via assessments, tools and methodologies, identifies what the person needs and an action plan. Mentoring is more driven by the mentees identifying needs of their own. There is some overlap—qualities that make a good coach can make a good mentor.”