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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

The Difference Between Mentorship and Sponsorship

Recently on the Being Brown at Work Live podcast, I had the honor of speaking to Tanya Griffith. Tanya is the Corporate and Foundation Relations Officer at Oakland University, where she's responsible for securing philanthropic support and connecting donors to university resources. Tanya's position is all about strong relationships, so I was thrilled to talk to her about mentorships. Here are a few nuggets from our conversation that I think might be useful, but be sure to tune into the podcast for the full conversation!

If you've read any of my blogs or listened to the podcast, you've probably heard me talk about the importance of mentors. I'm a huge proponent of mentorship, and have mentored and been a mentee many times myself.

But what is a mentor, exactly?

A mentor is a person with experience and accomplishment who pours into you, sharing wisdom and helping you see things you might have missed. They help you identify what you're good at and what obstacles you still need to overcome. They push you to be your best self, but they also encourage and nourish you along the way.

With a mentor, you should listen, listen, listen. Your mentor has experience you don't have, and they should have your best interest at heart. So often in our careers, we get set in a fixed mindset and can't be moved by wise counsel. Your mentor is the person standing between you and learning something the hard way, so even if they're telling you something you don't necessarily like, have an open mind.

Sponsorship, on the other hand, is when someone advocates for you in the workplace to give you access to a space you might not have gotten to on your own.

This can look like a lot of different things: someone bringing your name up to lead a project, someone referring you for a job opening, or even someone simply connecting you with someone that you wouldn't have otherwise met. Sponsors lift you up to a place that would have been difficult to get to alone.

For Black and Brown women, having a sponsor is incredibly helpful.

We often focus on being the best that we can be, working hard and trying to get ahead, when sometimes all we need is a sponsor to help us get someplace we need to go.

Mentors can turn into sponsors, but they aren't the same thing.

While a mentor might meet with you at regular intervals, listening to your issues, celebrating your wins, and offering their perspective on your situation, a mentor is often someone in an entirely different field or line of work. They may not be able to help you into a higher echelon, and them agreeing to mentor you doesn't necessarily mean they're going to sponsor you.

That's why it's important for you to have goals when you start out in a mentorship.

What do you actually want to learn? What do you need in terms of support? Be honest with yourself, because if you're looking for empathetic feedback and perspective, then mentorship is for you. But if you're hoping your mentor is going to get you a new job, you may want to be realistic with yourself and start looking for a sponsor instead.

If you’re looking for individual coaching to help you identify your goals and overcome your stumbling blocks, you might benefit from one-on-one coaching. Click here to put a consultation with me on your calendar.

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