Mentoring vs. Coaching vs. Sponsorship

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During recent weeks while I was traveling with the TechWomen delegation in Jordan, and then when I was talking about MentorCloud and mentoring with  Al-Makassed (the Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association of Beirut) and TechWomen participants in Lebanon, my frequent explanations about professional mentoring got shorter. In particular, my differentiations between mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship got more crisp through repetition. I understand clearly these three words are often used interchangeably and that each of the three kinds of relationships often contain elements of the other two. However, I have found it helps to distinguish the three.  Key differentiating elements are:

  • Power (positional or hierarchical authority, degree of control)
  • Topic (specific tasks, life change)
  • Duration of the relationship (short-term, long-term)
  • Reward (benefit or pay, particularly to the senior member of the relationship)

Sponsorship or Patronage

In this relationship, the patron or sponsor is in a position of authority and intentionally using their power to advance the interests or career of their favorite, client, or sponsee. Sponsorship can be positive (as in the development of a successor or talented junior associate) or negative (as seen in destructive favoritism or political corruption). The favorite may be a long-term political or organizational dependent. A sponsor or patron may protect and support the favorite over time while they grow their abilities or advance within an organizational structure. The patron may directly control the work of the favorite, takes responsibility for the favorite, and may benefit directly by their work – or indirectly by accepting credit for their success. The favorite’s own capabilities may be questioned because the patron is seen to be responsible for their achievements. This is a limited relationship – that is, a patron will have only one or a very small number of favorites. See Wikipedia’s article on
Patronage for legal and illegal examples.


Coaching is a relationship or kind of communication with the primary goal of conveying specific knowledge, training, or skills. A coach is more knowledgeable and experienced than their client or student, at least in the target topic or task area. The coach may be paid to be in the relationship as the student’s work supervisor, master craftsman, or teacher. A coach may have many students but the relationship is often limited to the time it takes to transfer the specific information or deliver expected results.  The coach may or may not have longer-term hierarchical authority over the student.


Mentoring is a longer-term relationship focused on larger professional or life issues. The mentor is usually much more experienced than the mentee but may or may not be an expert in the same professional area. The mentor and mentee should not be in a supervisory relationship; that is, the important power difference between them is one of wisdom rather than positional authority. Mentor and mentee often work together long-term and become friends. The mentor may advocate for the mentee but does not control the mentee and does not take responsibility for the mentee’s success. Mentors may have many mentees, sometimes in one-to-one or one-to-many structures.  Mentors are usually unpaid professional volunteers who get satisfaction from “paying it forward” – that is, giving back some of the guidance that benefited them during their own development.  Mentoring is a personal relationship in a professional setting.

Key deliverables from the mentor are:

  • Introductions to experts or wise people who can help the mentee.
  • References to key resources, training, experiences which will expand the mentee’s understanding, experience, or context.
  • Feedback – the mentor acts as a sounding board for the mentee.  The mentor may offer specific advice or may only provide enough guidance for the mentee to figure out his or her own way.

Additional Reading:

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Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

1 Comment

Filed under Mentoring & Other Business

One response to “Mentoring vs. Coaching vs. Sponsorship

  1. Pingback: 8 Essays on Mentoring | KatysBlog

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