What is a Mentor?

What is a Mentor?

Over the years, I have participated in dozens of mentor/mentee relationships. In years like this, I may have 4-5 formal and 3-4 informal mentorships in place. Other years, it may be one or two of each. In the last decade or so, I do not remember a year when I was not mentoring at least two individuals. The younger me never had the opportunity to participate in a formal mentor-mentee relationship.

That got me thinking, because recently, one mentee asked me the difference between having a sponsor and having a mentor. I had to think about that and told her I would get back to her next session. I then did some research and asked some people whose opinions and insights I value. Here is what I came up with.

Many of us consider the roles of mentor and sponsor to be the same. But truly, they are very different and they vary from person to person.

In a nutshell, mentors have sector or organizational wisdom and the experience to apply it to problems and issues. Mentors offer perspectives and viewpoints that have worked for them. When they have experience in the same sector (like my mentorship within the SMCC or AFP) or within an organization like a company or property, mentors can become critical resources to help their mentees find their way.

So really, mentors guide their mentees and provide wisdom and advice.

On the other hand, personal sponsors are advocates. This is where a more experienced senior industry or company leader helps another individual succeed. They help them grow and climb the ladder, and support them in tangible ways specific to their career development through campaigning for them. They may do this in different ways.

  • Introductions to key people for new or elevated roles
  • Strategy discussions around moving up the ladder
  • Involvement in key assignments and initiatives where they ensure their sponsee gets noticed/engaged

Here is what I have concluded from my discussions and research.

  • A mentor confers with you and discusses your career from the perspective of high level objectives and vision.
  • A sponsor is your backer/believer and helps you to advance your career.

I hope this helps you to see the difference between a sponsor and a mentor. It has helped me to differentiate and understand my role in each scenario.

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