Career advancement requires a lot of different things to be working in tandem. One thing that people often forget is how influential their colleagues and leadership can be in their career advancement.

This is true not only when it comes to promotions and pay raises but also in terms of the assignments they get and the challenging opportunities that are made available to them.

When it comes to building your personal network, let’s go into some detail about the differences between a mentor, a sponsor, and a manager—and why it’s important to make sure you have all three of them.


A mentor is someone who provides you with guidance and career advice. Typically, a mentor is someone who has experience in the roles you have or aspire to; they may be further ahead than you in their career, work with you at your company (or at a different one), and are someone you can approach with questions.

In certain situations, a mentor can help you grow your network by making introductions and helping you clarify what the vision for your career is.

Having a mentor is important and something that will make a difference in your career development.


Because you’ll be able to tap into a broader knowledge base of someone that has or had similar goals.


A sponsor is an influential spokesperson for what you’re capable of doing. The difference between a sponsor and a mentor is that a sponsor goes the extra mile. They do this by:

  • Spending time with you
  • Giving you knowledge, information, and access
  • Speaking highly of you
  • Advocating for you in other situations—whether it’s in meetings, promotion panels, or a discussion about a pay raise

The evidence shows that a good sponsor can help you develop untapped potential by spotting strengths that maybe you can’t see and showing you how to add value in areas of business that you haven’t yet explored. This is why a sponsor is a really key person to have in your personal network—they can potentially make or break the path forward for you in your career.

While sponsorship can evolve out of a mentoring relationship, not everyone has the desire—or the influence—to be a sponsor. The key difference is the willingness to speak up and advocate for others and to make a bet on their potential. Therefore, make sure you understand and see this distinction so that you can look for people that are acting as sponsors within your organization.

How to Spot and Engage a Sponsor

To find a sponsor, ask up-and-coming leaders ahead of you who’ve been instrumental to your success. You can also watch for the people in leadership who publicly praise other employees and are willing to speak up and advocate for them. Additionally, be on the lookout for leaders who are willing to support their employees in challenging assignments.

Once you’ve spotted a sponsor, know that it will be a long-term process to develop a relationship and get them on your side. There are a couple of different ways you can develop a relationship into a sponsorship.

First, make sure you’re looking for opportunities for the potential sponsor to get to know you and your work. This could mean volunteering to take on a challenging role; this will help get the sponsor in front of you. You could also invite them to an initiative you’ve started or ask them to take on a special project in which you’ll work directly with them.

Any way in which a possible sponsor can see your potential is going to be a good path toward building that relationship into a sponsorship.


Your manager could be a mentor or a sponsor to you, but if they aren’t, all is not lost. What you need to remember is that they’re still an ingredient to your success and their opinion of you is important to your path forward.

Even if you don’t expect your manager to be the person that takes you forward in the career you want, ignoring them isn’t going to create a potential path forward. Therefore, make sure you’re still exceeding their expectations.

Do quarterly check-ins in which you inquire about your performance, share your goals and desires, and ask all of the right questions about how and what you need to do in order to move forward.

The Bottom Line

You need relationships with all three of these types of people. Mentorship is going to help broaden your knowledge base, sponsorship is going to ensure someone is advocating for you, and your manager is going to be a go-to for anyone in leadership to find out how you’re performing.

Ultimately, make sure not to neglect anyone and to continue to grow your personal network throughout your career.

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