The distinction between a coach and a mentor is that a coach does not offer advice but instead acts as a support as the individual makes choices that align with their goals. As a mentor, a leader has specific advice and guidance based on his or her own expertise. A leader as a sponsor is someone who tells others of the individuals achievements. Maybe this looks like recommending your employee for a promotion or sharing an innovation of theirs with senior leaders. As a sponsor you are helping others to see the potential in this individual, especially those that may not work with them regularly. Sponsorship is important to employee development because that's how others learn of an employee's capabilities.
So, here's an analogy that may help solidify these different roles. Think about the sport of bowling. In bowling, a person stands at the end of a long lane where 10 pins are set up in a triangle at the other end and the person then throws a heavy ball toward the pins to knock them down. The trick is that the lane is long, so it takes some strategy and skill to throw the ball correctly and along each side of the lane are gutters, and if the ball rolls into the gutter, of course no pins will be knocked down at all. When little kids bowl, there are often rails along the sides of the gutters, it prevents the ball from rolling into the gutters as the kids learn how to throw with strength and precision. These gutter rails are like a coach, they simply keep you in your lane. There's no expertise required to be a rail, it simply exists, but it's there to prevent the ball from falling off the lane and therefore keeps it on its journey toward the pins. Because the ball is heavy and it must be thrown in a particular way the throw needs strength and precision, there's an art to this. A mentor might be another bowler who is bold for a long time, that mentor could show the new bowler how to stand, how to throw it in the straight line or throw it with the right curve and even how to increase the speed of the throw. In this case the mentor is giving specific advice on the skill of the game based on experience.
When you're bowling, your usually only paying attention to your lane and maybe the immediate group of people you're playing with, a sponsor might go to another lane and tell one of the pros to come, take a look at how much you've learned over the course of one lesson. A sponsor might go to someone in charge and recommend you as a member of a league. As you can see, coach, mentor and sponsor roles are all important to the development of the bowler and that's the same as developing future leaders.
So, imagine you're going to run a marathon, right? So if you're running a marathon, you need all three, right? First of all, your mentor is going to be the person that says, I've done this before, hey, here's my advice. So they me give you some advice about how to run this race, what to eat, how to prepare. Your coach is going to be with you every step of the way, right? They're not going to tell you what to do, but they're going to be with you, they're going to facilitate the questions. They're going to provoke thoughts around what you should do, they're going to motivate you, they're going to hold you accountable, so that's the coach. The sponsor what they do is they're finding the best races for you. You don't even know, they're like, hey, I got you in the boston marathon, your sponsor might do that or, hey, I talked to my friend, they're going to get you in the Boston marathon or whatever or the Chicago marathon and so those are like the three distinct roles. Any given leader is going to play all of these roles to differing degrees with their employees. And the question to ask yourself is when does this person need you to be a coach? When do they need you to be a mentor? The leader-follower or leader-employee relationship is in and of itself complex, and at any given point the role of the leader should consider what employees need the most to effectively solve the problems they were hired to solve.