Mentor, Coach, or Sponsor – What’s the Difference?

Monday 02 December 2019
We look at how the three disciplines differ, and how you can apply them
building scaffolding

Mentor, coach and sponsor. These three types of partnership can directly influence or support someone's career journey.

Many characteristics unite the three of them. However, while all three relationships involve supporting someone’s career development, they are very different disciplines in practice.


As described on a webinar hosted on ManagementDirect, coaches are usually approached by coachees for help with a specific task or problem. The coaching process is very performance driven, focused on getting predefined results. The contractual obligations of coach-coachees vary in each relationship, meaning that there are no guidelines for how often they meet or the expectations of what the coach can assist the coachee with. The professional relationship often has specific goals to meet – such as a skill being learned or a problem overcome – which is when the professional relationship ceases.


This relationship is formed when the mentee approaches the mentor through a formal programme or a personal contact, asking for the mentor’s guidance, encouragement, and support due to their experiences. The aim of mentoring is to facilitate the mentee's learning and development and unlock their potential.

The role of a mentor is to be a source of wisdom, teaching and support, often for someone outside of their company or immediate environment. The traditional Mentoring relationship tends to involve individuals with years of experience in their field, who can guide an individual with less experience, helping to shape their future career goals and success. They can offer insights into the world of work and help to develop business confidence.

Mentoring can either be an informal relationship established between mentor and mentee, or it may form part of a structured organisational or educational programme. Alan Tang, Head of Special Projects at Wiser, has been mentoring students for four years and describes it as a long-term relationship built on trust. Tang, who currently mentors a Mexican student looking to find a graduate role in the UK, says: “Throughout the process, I've tried to pass on ideas rather than outright solutions. I want Alan to adapt and flex his approach as he develops, rather than just copying what I did.”

As mentees gain insight and experience, mentors can take pride in their success and development. As Tang notes, “That feeling of helping someone secure a life-changing goal is second to none.”


A sponsor is a network- and action-orientated mentor, taking mentorship to the next level. While mentoring is generally related to providing advice and guidance around key development areas, a sponsor is more personally involved in the mentee’s next career steps.

In a business context, sponsors are well-respected individuals who use their large networks to help with hiring and career decisions. Choosing to sponsor someone means becoming their advocate, both in public and behind closed doors. This could be anything from championing an individual for promotion to getting them on the books for conference presentations.

If sponsoring an individual, make sure that the person you’re choosing to sponsor has high levels of professionalism and integrity. Their behaviour reflects on your choice as a sponsor and advocate.

To sign up to mentor young professionals, join CMI Mentoring.