The 4 Relationships You Need to Succeed: Coaches, Mentors, Sponsors and Advocates

Ask any successful individual how they achieved their level of success, and many will be quick to admit that they did not attain success alone. Even when taking to the stage of accomplishment to accept awards, the elite of Hollywood has a list of people, key influencers, that they want to thank for helping in their transport to success. Such is the case in your career development. I am often asked how I map my success, the first response is usually to have a strategy for where you want to go and the people who will help you along the way.  These professional influencers, these mavericks of change are called coaches and mentors. Although similar in their roles, their tenure in your career path is different depending on your goals and destination of career planning. 

First, you must understand that assembling these influencers is a strategic task of selecting the relationships that will shape your future. Also be clear of the differences between Coaches, Mentors, Sponsors, and Advocates. 


Coaches are an intentional guide in any career, business, or growth path. Often mistaken for consultants and even therapists, coaches are trained and certified to ask the right questions to guide you to an identified desired result. There is a high level of accountability when hiring a coach because they do 90% of the asking and you do 90% of the hard work that you could not/would not do alone.  According to studies from the International Coaching Federation, 65% of people said that working with a coach helped improve performance at work. 80% said coaching helped improve their self-confidence. 


Leadership is not the only precursor for mentorship. The main tenant of mentorship is intention. A mentor/mentee relationship is not a random selection, but one that is rooted in building trust and modeling positive behaviors that influence the growth and development of the mentee. The National Mentorship Partnership states that young adults who have mentors are 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. Therefore, mentor relationships are intentional investments in the personal and professional development of another person’s future success. Organizations that are not developing young talent through mentorship are more likely to lose them. In the Forbes article, Modeling Mentoring is the Key to Retaining Millennials, 63% of millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed, and those who are planning to remain at an organization for at least five years are 68% more likely to have a mentor than not. This has a direct impact on increasing retention of top talent within the organization and also enhances the recruiting efforts of any organization. 

Mentors who are not directly within an organization also offer dexterity in teaching transferable skills, relationship building, and career development planning beyond a mentee’s current position and career scope. Having a mentor outside of your direct field who can develop you in other areas such as finances, entrepreneurship, networking, and organizational development adds as much if not more value to the intentional relationship of mentorship. Mentorship is essentially the dating phase of developmental relationships, and they establish the foundation of a long term commitment of sponsorship.


A sponsor is a benefactor of sorts. Consider a sponsor a stakeholder in your success. You are the CEO of brand YOU, and the sponsor is a key player in aiding your access to opportunities that of which you otherwise may not have knowledge or access. A sponsor may provide funding for ventures, ideas, or underwrite a project as a patron or guarantor. They may also introduce you to others who can aid in your success and expand your reach within their network. In most cases, a sponsor is not looking for a direct financial benefit or return, except the benevolence of grooming and elevating the circumstances of another aspiring leader. The sponsorship relationship requires more time and more in-depth conversations of planning, career mapping, and engagement in the path of your success. Sponsors tend to drive your vision further than your scope of view because of their senior positions in business, community, and society. They evolve into advocates and position mentees into protégés. 


Advocates are the mouthpiece of people and causes they believe in. Who is speaking on your behalf in spaces you endeavor to enter and be an influence? They look for alignment of values and ideas that they can support. They are the wise sage who can articulate your mission and connect it with the sponsors and benefactors to rally around your success. A relationship of advocacy is where the commitment relationship shifts to one of covenant. The benefactor or their advocacy becomes an echo of their work. Advocates commit their lives in support of those who are underserved, underrepresented, and unheard, for various reasons. Understanding their drive and inspiration for advocacy and aligning with their why will strengthen the relationship all the more. 

To summarize these relationships, mentors are head- sharing mindsets and ideas, sponsors and the hand that hold the door open to their world of access and available opportunities and advocates are the voice to speak your name in rooms of which you have yet to enter. They operate sequentially as the relationship governing body to usher you into optimal success.


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