Mentoring, coaching and sponsorship: What’s the difference?

Posted on May 05, 2014 - 11:54 am

The lines are often blurred as mentors jump into the coach and sponsor role.

One of the top questions that I’m often asked is: What is the difference between mentoring, coaching and sponsorship? Honestly, it a tough question because the answer is not always in black and white. This is because, the roles are interchangeable and they cross over all time. This means that your mentor can be your coach and your coach can be your sponsor.

I recently met one of my mentors who helped me to further enhance my public speaking skills. He listened to my concerns and shared his experiences starting out as a public speaker and how his skills have evolved over time. We brainstormed ideas on how I could achieve my goals and we came up with a plan. He jumped into the coaching role by providing me with an exercise on how to get ready for presentations which has helped me to better connect with my audience. Then he became my sponsor by recommending me to a couple of his contacts who were looking for speakers – I ended up getting both gigs!

To understand what mentoring, coaching and sponsorship are, how they are similar and how they are different, let’s relate them to a baseball team and/or game:

The Mentor

They have a skill set and a level of expertise in an area that you would like to develop such as how to steal a base or hit a home run. Let’s say you are the left fielder and that you have always dreamed about being a pitcher. You can start a mentoring relationship with the pitcher to learn how they got to where they are, some of the lessons they have learned along the way and their experiences. This will help you to see if you have what it takes to be a great pitcher. Your mentor will help you get to where you want to be by sharing his/her experiences, advice, guidance and support.

The Coach

They are always pumping you up and inspiring you to win the game by providing you with the tools, techniques and exercises that will help you further develop your skills. Your coach will have a good understanding of what it will take for you reach your full potential. They will also help you to set goals and ensure that you are on track in reaching them.

The Sponsor

This could be anyone on your team, who will literally go to bat for you. They believe in you, your abilities and they are going to let others know that you are ready for another opportunity whether it’s on the field or off the field. Many sponsors may start off as mentors – as this provides them with an opportunity to get to know you, your potential and provides them with the confidence to discuss your strengths with others.


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