Being a mentor & not a sponsor

While mentoring has been around for ages, it is vitally important within every industry. We all know that mentoring is a form of teaching a junior employee the ropes by way of experience and knowledge from a senior employee. I often find myself in discussions with friends of mine within the ARFF field concerning mentoring – what they have done as a mentor and the mentors who taught them.

However, a few months ago I had a different conversation about mentoring with a mentor of mine within the ARFF industry.   Our discussion centered around the makeup of a mentor themselves.  We agreed they are teachers, advisors and coaches all rolled into one person.  But, he said something that struck a cord with me: “A mentor does what he does and expect nothing in return.  A sponsor does what they do and expects something in return.”

Think about that for a second.

I have not actually been able to get that statement out of my head since he said it, because it left me with a big question: how could anyone want something in return for assisting someone else?

So I looked for definitions within the frame of business between the two and found the following: “Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return. Sponsors, in contrast, are much more vested in their protégés, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them (Sponsors vs. Mentors).”  The article went on to state that sponsors actually are a two-way street and that the sponsor expects return in investment, if you will.  Honestly, it is a quid pro quo relationship.

While there is a quite a bit of literature out there stating that a sponsor type relationship is beneficial, particularly for women, I would suggest that it depends more on the ethical/moral beliefs of the parties involved.

Personally, I was brought up with the Golden Rule engrained into my being.  You did undo others as you would want done to you; therefore, I do not want something from someone in order to give them guidance or assurance.  Why type of colleague/friend/mentor would I be?

Quite frankly, I wonder when did mentoring become bastardized into sponsorship so that a reward can be achieved? When did it become acceptable to assist someone so that a favor is owed and thus creating a follower?  Aren’t mentors suppose to pass their information on in order to allow people to move up – become leaders themselves?


I have been a mentor to many throughout my years and never thought to ask of anything in return.  I did it because I had something to teach someone that allowed them to become better. And that is when the light bulb went off for me.  Mentors do not act as if they know it all, but are open to learning from the person they are mentoring, just as that person is learning from them. It is a symbiotic relationship.  Are we not to continue to become the best that we can be? To better ourselves and to assist others where we can?

Many times just assisting a coworker on a project by providing input and support can be deemed as mentoring.  Sometimes you may not even realize that you are doing it.  That right there is the true meaning of mentorship. You do it because it is second nature and you want to assist.

I can say that the best compliment I ever received was when a faculty colleague of mine, whom I think of as a sister, informed me that she was my mentor in regards to aviation and I was hers in regards to higher education.  She was right with being my aviation mentor! I am 20 some years her junior and always felt that I was learning from her. She is just so amazing with all of her knowledge and experience with her careers and her life in general. I had no idea that she was learning from me, too! So, it needs to be noted that it is not just the “younger” generation to whom we mentor.

But, back to my point, mentoring needs to be fully embraced and this societal need of tit for tat needs to be ended.  We all have different experiences and viewpoints that lend themselves to the advancement of others.  It should be noted that the learning that occurs assists not only within that realm, but in other aspects of an individual’s life.  We need to do what we can to share our accumulated knowledge base without expectations.

To all of you out there that are mentors – THANK YOU & keep up the good work!  Tons of people appreciate what you do – not just those you are mentoring.

To my ARFF mentor (you know who you are) who spurred the topic of this blog –  I  am so very much appreciative of your guidance.  You are a true mentor, which honestly is good for my wallet, because I couldn’t afford to pay you back!!!!!!




  1. As usual, Dr. Herron–intelligent, insightful, and inspiring! Knowledge is of little value if we don’t share it. These genuine, selfless acts of colleagues who quietly, day after day, give tirelessly to each other in support of each other is indeed a beautiful thing! Let’s foster those work environments! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  2. “Many times just assisting a coworker on a project by providing input and support can be deemed as mentoring. Sometimes you may not even realize that you are doing it. That right there is the true meaning of mentorship. You do it because it is second nature and you want to assist.”

    Once again you have created a great learning experience and have spoken of wonderful things that can happen with positive mentor-ship. I as a mentor do expect something in return from those that I have mentored on my road less traveled, and that is for the one being mentored to in turn mentor someone else.
    As in ARFF and other emergency services the best advise comes from handing down information about the profession that isn’t written or found in any textbook.


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