How sweet are those moments in life when knowing the right person at the right time can instantly change your circumstance and catapult you up from one level to the next!

In the workplace, particularly corporate environments, this kind of level-up boost is called sponsorship – and it’s a secret weapon that many successful professionals have been using for years to advance and climb the ladder. But if you are working towards your career goals without sponsorship, then you are playing the game at a sore disadvantage. For women looking to enter the door to the c-suite, you need this one secret weapon.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation conducted a study on men and women in corporate jobs, and found that women’s careers progress faster when they have sponsorship.

Mentors vs. Sponsors: What’s the Difference?

Here’s how Hewlett describes the two:

“Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return.  Sponsors, in contrast are much more vested in their proteges, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them.”

Mentor Sponsor
  • Someone you admire as a professional because of their character, skills or career achievements
  • May not work in your industry or at your company but is a reliable source for trustworthy work advice
  • You can talk to them openly about your mistakes, trials and setbacks at work; and even your personal life
  • Someone who does not benefit from mentoring you; they are satisfied with simply nurturing your growth and development
  • Someone you greatly respect because of their position or authority
  • Works in your industry or at your company and can provide introductions and connections to key people and opportunities
  • You refrain from sharing personal details and focus conversations on work, career goals and achievements
  • Someone who expects your help or support in exchange for providing you with a platform to climb the ladder; this is a mutually beneficial relationship


In a nutshell, your mentor might be a great role model, but a sponsor will be the power player on your career team that can help you climb the ladder.

You need a Sponsor to Win at Work, not a Mentor

I’ve had a few mentors throughout my career. They were all very brilliant people who gave sound advice and cared about my development as a professional.  But once I found a sponsor, the trajectory of my career immediately changed from slow, steady progress to rapid growth and advancement. My sponsor not only helped me strengthen my skill set, but gave me opportunities to shine, vouched for my professional brand, and fully supported me in getting promoted.

Always Deliver Excellence

The only catch is that you must always deliver excellence. The sponsor relationship is often a mutually beneficial one where the sponsor’s efforts to help you succeed also support their own professional reputation.  Most sponsors are executives who have a network and platform that they are willing to leverage for you because they believe in you and what you have to offer. So because of this, it is important that when they give you opportunities, you always deliver your best work, with excellence.

While, there’s a lot more that could be unpacked around sponsorship, I want you to start considering if you have mentor-figures in your life who could play the role of a sponsor.

Reflect on your current mentor/mentee relationship(s). Is there someone who you can think of that fits the description of a sponsor more than the description of a mentor?

One day you’re going to be in the right place at the right time, and having the right people around to support you in the moment will be critical.

Ready to excel in your career?


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