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Mentorship, Coaching and Sponsorship

What is the difference?   Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have quite a few mentors, who were generous with their time, ideas and input.  And I have certainly had sponsors, who have recommended me for really good positions and opportunities, as well as head hunting me at just the right time!

But once I was in the position of having a mentor who was also a great coach and a sponsor. Sieg Frankenfeld held my current position of heading up +Accsys (Pty) Ltd for 4 months as a caretaker, before I was promoted from Sales Director to CEO, and he was, and is, an unbelievable coach.

We were at a meeting at our Head Office once, and he was presenting on the company, and he kept saying "I" have done this and "I" have done that.   When we sat down together after the meeting, I queried saying I instead of we about all the positive input and he, smiled, and said "Do you think you will be able to share the failures with your team, too?"  I still use "We" a lot, and am deeply appreciative of everything my colleagues and business partners do, every day, but it was a big life lesson, from the coach side of him.

In the first months of my running the company, he acted as a sounding board, and one man advisory council.  What an amazing listener he is, a skill I am still trying to learn.

While he has gone on to become a Business Coach, as a profession, at the time he held a full time, challenging job, but still found time for me, and it was from this experience that I realised that there was a difference between coaching, mentorship and sponsorship.   It is my opinion, though, and there are many out there, so here is my definition:

Mentorship - its a softer, less job specific approach ie you can be a programmer, and have a chef as a mentor.   Mentorship is around sharing issues and challenges, which might be job specific, but the mentor does not have to be an expert in the role you are in.  The skills being shared are general and come from life and on the job experience as well as formal qualification, and add richness and support.  Both mentor and mentee should gain enormously from the relationship.

Coaching - Business and Life Coaching - this is often a professional or formal relationship, and might even have a fixed time frame attached to it, eg 12 sessions, is very much about providing a platform for open discussion, as well as tools for improving performance.

Sponsorship - when you find a sponsor who really believes in you, it can have a significant impact on your career trajectory, as this is a person who will actively look for opportunities for you, and promote your case.   There is risk to the sponsor in taking on a protégé, and trust is an essential part of the relationship.  Of course, it is also true that peer level people sponsor each other, but typically it is a senior / junior relationship.

As a woman in business I have found that, while both men and women need a combination of the three on their path to success, men are generally very good at business networking and it is time for women in business to focus on finding mentors and sponsors in leadership roles.   In South Africa, some statistics show that over 70% of people in senior leadership roles are men.  Simple maths indicate that many women will have male mentors and sponsors, and certainly I have been privileged to have amazing men help guide me.

Today, though, there are many opportunities for women to meet other women in senior roles, and it is really important to join associations and clubs that will connect women with role models of both genders, as well as building strong relationships within the workplace.

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