Mentors and Sponsors: Why We Need Both

03/18/2014 01:21 pm ET Updated May 18, 2014

Mentorship is about helping you make the right decisions and offering advice; sponsorship is about knowing your work and being able to vouch for you in the workplace, said Noni Allwood, vice president and senior fellow at The Center for Talent and Innovation. She joined a panel at The Commonwealth Club to talk about Latinas in Business. The other panelists included Sandra Hernández, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation and former CEO of the San Francisco Foundation; Aida Alvarez, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and member of President Clinton's cabinet; and Rose Guilbault, president of the Community Safety Foundation and author of The Latina's Guide to Success in the Workplace.

Mentorship and sponsorship are key aspects of workplace advancement. Many people advocate for women to seek out mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, especially earlier in their careers. Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller Lean In talks about Sandberg's mentors and sponsors and their importance in her career. This New York Times article also talks about mentorship and sponsorship and points out that sponsorship requires delivery.

It's not easy to find a sponsor. You need to earn this kind of investment. "Sponsorship only works when it's a two-way street," says Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of the news group at NBCUniversal. "It can't be just 'Gimme, gimme, gimme -- I need help, I need advice.'" You must demonstrate that you'll deliver outstanding performance -- "you've got to consistently make your boss look good," she says.

The article goes on to quote the global head of talent at American Express on her view of sponsorship:

"Trust is at the heart of this relationship," says Kerrie Peraino, global head of talent at American Express. "When I put my faith in up-and-coming talent and become their sponsor, I need to know I can totally depend on them -- because they are, after all, walking around with my brand on."

This article talks about Bridget Van Kralingen, senior vice president of global services at IBM, and the role mentorship and sponsorship played in her career trajectory. The article points out, "Mentoring, in other words, prepares people to move up, while sponsorship makes it happen."

Both mentorship and sponsorship require a commitment and an investment. They cannot simply be seen as a means to an end. For a mentorship or sponsorship relationship to be truly effective, both mentors and sponsors and the person being mentored or sponsored must be invested in each other's mutual success. And they should know where they fall on the mentorship/sponsorship scale: as Noni Allwood and others mention, mentorship and sponsorship are two different roles, and though they are interconnected, the expectations for both are different.

Watch the video above for Noni Allwood's take on mentorship and sponsorship and share your thoughts below.