Coach? Mentor? Sponsor? Who Do You Need on Your Team?

by Carla Howard


Mentors! and Coaches! and Sponsors!


I’m a big fan of assembling the right team; this holds true whether you’re fixing the brakes on your car or taking the next step up the corporate ladder. Having the right support team will be a huge help as you:

  • Navigate office politics
  • Fill skill gaps
  • Learn about new and exciting opportunities
  • Gain exposure to groups you don’t typically work with

Being supported by the right people makes all the difference. Building your personal team can be ohhhh so frustrating! Especially if you’re not sure exactly what type of support you need.

If you’re thinking, “I wish there was an easy way to figure out which of these support people I need,” I’ve good great news. There is!

The short assessment found here will help you determine the type of roles you need on your team based on where you are in your career. (Note: downloading the assessment will also sign you up for my mailing list)

  1. Now that you know if you need a coach, mentor, sponsor (or some combination of these roles), it’s time to start looking for the right people. The best candidates for your support team will have the following attributes:


  • Expertise in a specific field you want to grow in
  • Skilled in technical areas where you have skill gaps
  • Understands your strengths and weaknesses
  • Able to make expectations clear at the beginning of each coaching session
  • Patience as you learn new skills
  • Willing to provide resources, support, and training to implement solutions
  • Acts as an accountability partner
  • Note: The Coach’s level of personal risk is low


  • Provides constructive feedback and guidance
  • Asks challenging questions
  • Helps you see a different path
  • Identifies behaviors that are holding you back
  • Demonstrates honesty, openness, and compassion
  • Gives advice based on experience
  • Excellent listening skills
  • High emotional intelligence
  • Note: The Mentor’s personal risk is non-existent

Sometimes the same person will fill the Coach and Mentor roles.

Typically, your Sponsor will not be your Coach or Mentor. This person is singularly focused on sponsoring you throughout the organization.


  • Works in your organization (Note: The sponsor can be external if you are making a career change)
  • Holds an executive position
  • Respected by employees at all levels of the organization
  • Has a high degree of influence
  • Creates opportunities for you to engage in high-profile assignments
  • Introduces you to people within his or her network
  • Willing to extend their influence to further your career
  • Advocates for your next promotion
  • Note: The Sponsor’s level of personal risk is high. Your performance will be linked to your sponsor

Because your expertise and level of competency will change over time, the people who fill these roles will change too. Be sure to re-evaluate your support team every four to six months to determine if you need to supplement or change the members as you grow.

The best way to attract the right people to be a coach, mentor, or sponsor is to focus first on connections. Build relationships, ask thoughtful questions, and then ask if they would be willing to support your career growth.

(More on this topic in my next blog, “Are You My Mentor?”)

We all need guidance as we learn new skills and become more influential leaders. Assembling the right team will make all the difference in your rise.

Remember: None of us succeed alone.

IAAP works with the best trainers in the industry to ensure you have relevant, engaging, practical content at your fingertips. This blog is written by a speaker with a program in the IAAP Approved Programs database. Search by name or keyword to find their contact information and book them for your Branch or Region event. 

If you’d like to attend one of these events, you can find one in your area here.

Carla Howard is a professional speaker and mentor. Her passion is helping professional women become more influential and promotable so they can rise with confidence and grace. You can learn more about her and the services she offers by visiting her website at Carla would love to answer your questions in future articles, so please email them to

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