Mentorship - A personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.
The focus of mentorship is on the personal and professional development of the individual, and just about anything that helps that individual to improve is time well spent. I have written about mentorship in the past and attempted to make a case that mentorship programs fail in large part because mentees/protégées are not truly embracing the responsibilities that come with such a role. Since then, I have been attempting to quantify the resulting value of the time and energy being poured into hollow personal development programs...it simply cannot be done.
Parallel to our push to establish formal and forced mentorship programs across the Navy is our emphasis on demonstrating tangible results of diversity programs. This is a sensitive subject to many so please be clear that I use it as an example of a not so subtle sponsorship program into which it appears to be evolving.
Sponsorship - The overt advocacy on behalf of a specific individual, program, event, product, etc.
For the sake of this thought piece, where mentorship is about helping the individual to grow, sponsorship is about helping an organization get better by lobbying for opportunities on behalf of specific individuals who exemplify attributes valued by the organization.
While mentorship has largely unquantifiable direct results, the impact of sponsorship is clear and unambiguous (resulting success of the individual afforded a given opportunity). The challenge we have is that we don't openly leverage sponsorship. In the Navy, "Sponsorship-by-proxy" comes in the form of personal evaluations, screening boards, detailing opportunities and promotion. In my opinion, the reason we do not openly admit and formalize sponsorship programs in favor of mentorship programs is fear. We believe favoritism will be the result. In fact, just the opposite is true. Sponsorship occurs today, but because it is not openly discussed, we are left with the perception of favoritism.
I mentor fellow Sailors in hopes of making them better. I sponsor fellow Sailors in hopes of making the organization better. Some of the Sailors I choose to mentor, I choose not to sponsor. Likewise, I sponsor Sailors for whom I have no real mentorship role, just a strong respect for them as individuals. Whether we are playing the role of sponsor or mentor, we should be cultivating the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal traits we value most. Our goal merely being everyone realizes their potential and those who represent our ethos best are properly positioned to help the team succeed.
Rather than spin circles in the name of mentorship, let's make forward progress by embracing overt sponsorship. The measure of our success is the alignment of the resulting characteristics (not physical) of the individuals who are purposely thrust upward to those traits we claim to value. Of course, the key to all of this is formally committing to and communicating a single standard of organizational values so that we can all recruit, retain and sponsor individuals who can help us to continually raise the bar. Until we do, the perception of favoritism will continue to grow and fracture the team. All the while, we will attempt to justify the results with the standard "best and fully qualified" assessment based purely on pieces of paper written by others who may not completely understand or share our values.