There is a great quote, the origin of which is long lost to history, but the words of which still ring true —
“A coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you”.
This oversimplifies the differences somewhat, but we still like the definition. We love all three as development options and we use these slightly more detailed definitions, below:
Coaching is consciously working with someone towards a set goal — a new skill or capability, or a new or changed behaviour, or a particular goal they have in mind. Done well, coaching is structured against the goal, and time-framed around achieving the goal. “Coaches” are often experts in the field the individual is hoping to learn more about, and are experts in “coaching” that expertise.
Mentoring is sharing your experience and knowledge with someone following a similar path. It is more of a personal relationship whereby you connect less formally than coaching. Mentoring relationships can be lifelong. “Mentors” are often very experienced professionals in a field, or more senior leaders who are ahead of mentees in their career or development.
Sponsoring is proactively and consciously working to support someone’s career by influencing what career and development opportunities are presented to them. The best sponsors are very senior leaders who can positively influence a person’s reputation within businesses, industries or the public arena.
There’s a nice simple summary visual here from Catalyst.
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