You probably hear about people having an executive coach or a mentor. A term you may not be as familiar with is a sponsor. Are these different terms for the same thing or do they really serve different purposes? The answer is they are definitely different, and are all important for your career growth. Let me break it down for you.
Coach - This is a formal arrangement initiated by an individual or organization. The goal is to help you improve certain skills or handle specific areas of development. Working with a coach usually follows some type of a structured process that may involve using assessments to gauge skill level and/or collecting feedback from those you work for, with, or who report to you. The coaching relationship usually has a finite duration. At some point your goals will be achieved and the coaching contract will end.
Mentor - A mentor/mentee relationship is usually, but not always informal. Many large organizations have formal mentoring programs. When informal, the relationship may start by identifying someone you admire or want advice from, such as learning how to navigate your organization or grow your career. While a coach helps you with specific skills, a mentor may be a sounding board when confronted with situations you're encountering for the first time, help you identify and build on your strengths, or talk with about career options. Some mentoring relationships last a lifetime while others eventually run their course. The agenda for informal mentoring is set by the individual rather than the mentor or organization.
Sponsor - A sponsor is someone at a senior level in your organization who advocates for you when you are being considered for a promotion or special project. You don't choose a sponsor, they choose you; usually by being in a position to see your work and recognize your talent and potential. If you have a mentor who also has an executive position in your company, they may, over time turn into a sponsor.
So which do you need to maximize your carer development? All of them. At some point in your career, each of these roles can help you improve your performance, get promoted or grow your career. So take the initiative and ask for or find a coach, engage a mentor, and grow relationships with senior leaders to cultivate a sponsor.
Feel free to share your experiences with any of these roles, either as the mentor, coach or sponsor, or as the recipient of these relationships.