Why you need a Mentor, a Coach and a Sponsor

Updated: Jul 11

I have been fortunate to have some good mentors, sponsors and coaches through my career. In fact, I wish I had engaged them earlier in my career as each of them has been highly valuable in my development. The first 7-10 years of my career, I didn’t even know I needed any one of these folks - let alone three. But after having amazing interactions with them, I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of having a coach, a mentor and a sponsor. Think of them as your personal board of directors/advisors. And you don’t just need one of each, you can have multiple mentors or coaches depending on your goals.

Before we get into the Why you need them and How you get them, let me describe each and the difference between a Mentor, a Coach and a Sponsor.


Mentor

A Mentor is usually defined as an experienced and trusted advisor that you can learn from and seek guidance on specific topics. Many companies now have mentorship programs that will help match you with a mentor though you can approach anyone you admire to become your mentor. The mentor and mentee then set up their first meeting and future cadence with topics of interest. Mentorship is an informal arrangement and can be for short or long term. Depending on your goals, you can have one or more mentors. In fact, having multiple mentors is a great idea because you can talk to different folks about different topics. They can also bring in different perspectives depending on what context they possess.


Coach

Coaching is a developmental approach to help build your personal capabilities, interpersonal skills and capacity to understand and empathize with others. It is also described as a thought-provoking and creative process that is meant to inspire you to maximize your personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership. By understanding your own challenges, you can make informed choices about your future. It can help you strengthen your leadership skills and empower you to be more proactive and effective.

Unlike mentorship, coaching can be 1:1 or in a group. You can also have multiple coaches to help you with different aspects of your life. While mentorship is focused on specific development goals, coaching focuses on you as a person - your strengths, values, motivations and so on to help you get unstuck and overcome challenges through your own ideas and actions.

Coaching is generally a longer term engagement. In fact having coaches for life will bring about higher personal and professional fulfillment. There are many different types of coaches - leadership coach, executive coach, life coach, time management coach and so on. Each brings with them a niche area of expertise that you can leverage.


Sponsor

A sponsor is someone who can support you and will be responsible for you based on the goals outlined in your conversation. A sponsor is extremely important to help you achieve specific career goals - like getting a promotion or pivoting careers. This person can be your voice when you are not present. You can also leverage them as an ally.

Your sponsor is usually a senior leader who has clout in the organization. They are either a neutral party or a stakeholder who is aware of your work. They trust you and are willing to support you in public forums. They will occasionally give you advice/feedback to help you improve. Your manager cannot be your sponsor as it is already their responsibility to help you with career development and growth. The sponsor acts as a complimentary input to your manager.

For example:

You are a mid-level engineer who’s highly technical and comes up with great architectural solutions. However, you are a bit shy or introverted and find it difficult to talk about your achievements or speak up without being prompted. You want to get promoted to the next level. While you can leverage a coach to build your leadership skills, a sponsor can help be your voice by highlighting your work, finding your opportunities to present or making space to help you speak up in meetings. Your manager may not always be in every meeting, so having another person be your voice can be very helpful.


Adapted from source


So why do you need all three? Our lives are multifaceted and we need different perspectives for each of them. We may be strong in some areas while needing more support in others. For professional life, mentors and sponsors can be great while a coach can help with either personal or professional matters. And like I mentioned before, you can have multiple of each.

For example:

You are a professional - say a TPM :). You have just joined a new company - your dream company and job. You were previously at a small company on the opposite coast and recently moved to take this job. You are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the changes but you want to succeed from the get go in your new job. What do you do?

With so many things going on, this would be a great time to build your board of advisors consisting of mentors, a sponsor and a coach. You can look for mentors in your new team or company. These mentors can help you with adjusting to the new company culture and help you build technical skill sets. You can hire a professional coach through your company or personally to help you deal with change management and address the feeling of being overwhelmed. The same coach or different one can also help build your confidence and leadership skills that will enable you to navigate your new role with ease and influence executives. And you can start looking for a sponsor that will help with your career goals. You don’t need a sponsor from day one at the job but you can be on the lookout. Eventually, this sponsor can support your promotion in a calibration review meeting with your manager.


It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, new graduate or experienced professional, single or married, there will always be situations and challenges where having one of these people in your network will prove invaluable. Why struggle through it alone when you can get help?

A coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you

Hopefully at this point, you are convinced that you need one or all three of these folks. So how do you go about looking for them? Your workplace is a great starting point - an experienced team member, a leader you admire or respect or a friend who has dealt with similar circumstances in different settings. You can also look for mentors/coaches in your social network - maybe a book club, a sports team or a cultural performance group. And finally, you can hire a mentor or coach. There are mentoring and coaching platforms out there where you can browse through profiles and choose one that you feel matches you best. Talk to friends/colleagues and get recommendations from them. And of course, TPMify also offers coaching services that you can leverage to help you with your career goals.

Few things to keep in mind when you approach someone to be your mentor, sponsor or coach.

  • Be clear on what you want from them and articulate your goal

  • Be specific on what you want to learn

  • Be honest about your struggles and constraints

  • Be coachable - be open to feedback and have a growth mindset

  • Be mindful of time commitment needed - agree on timing and cadence that will work for both of you

  • Be prepared so you get the most out of their time


I hope you will take advantage of the rich experiences of other people in your life. Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long like I did. These partnerships don’t always have to cost money and if even if they do - think of it as an investment into your life and career, the benefits of which you will continue to reap lifelong.


Here's another great resource and summarization:

 

Are you feeling stuck in your role and want to get to the next level? Are you tired doing the same things over and over. TPMify can help with your career goals so you can achieve excellence and be the most sought after TPM. Contact Us to learn about our personalized career coaching services.

 

References:

What is Coaching - SSSC

Coaching - ICF

Why your career needs mentors: Dorie Clark


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