Making the Connection

Mentors, sponsors, and a network you can count on

other or both?

Mentors vs. Sponsors
A mentor is an experienced individual inside or outside of an organization who imparts his or her knowledge, expertise, and professional experiences to another person, known as the mentee. Acting as a career counselor or coach, a mentor provides specific training to a mentee and/or advice and direction on career development and leadership responsibilities. Mentors can also provide emotional support by serving as a sounding board when you need to talk about the daily pressures of your work environment.

“Typically [mentors] have a wider viewpoint than the person they are mentoring, so they can see opportunities before you might get wind of them,” says Donna Fowler, national president of the Professional Coaches and Mentors Association. “They have influence with people who you may need in order to get those opportunities or those projects. And they can work through the organization and teach you how to do it,” she says.

Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal. In the 1998 Korn/Ferry International study, Diversity in the Executive Suite: Successful Career Paths and Strategies, 71% of the executives surveyed had informal mentors and 22% had formal mentors. Mentor relationships often stem from friendships and last for an entire career and beyond. Mentors are typically senior to their mentees, but some mentoring relationships are peer — to — peer. About half the women surveyed in Catalyst’s Three Years Later study have a mentor several job levels above their own, and 10% have a mentor who is her peer.

A sponsor, on the other hand, acts as an advocate for a professional who is looking to move to higher — ranking positions. Some sponsors provide coaching, though they are not coaches. Others, orient new professionals to a
particular position by showing them the ropes. They speak on behalf of employees and make recommendations to their own network of influential colleagues to help candidates advance through a firm.

“A sponsor is a high — level individual in the organization who has taken a personal interest in shepherding another individual’s career, but sometimes you don’t even know who your sponsor is,” says Weaver — Coleman. “A sponsor is somebody who is in meetings that you would never be in, someone who has a social network in the organization that you probably don’t have access to, and someone who influences other people to think about you and select you for a particular position or high visibility project you might not get otherwise.”

An Advocate In The Ranks
Alfreda Bradley — Coar, 42, can appreciate the value of such a corporate advocate. Last July, she stood before 1,500 attendees at the annual symposium of General Electric’s African American Forum (AAF), an affinity organization that offers mentoring programs, seminars, and informal career discussions, to introduce the company’s chairman, Jeffrey Immelt. “In an introduction, most people stick to the script of name, rank, academic and business achievements,” says Bradley — Coar of her performance. “In my introduction, I focused on the concept of risk — taking, which Immelt had been championing at the time. Then I took a risk of

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