The Importance of Sponsoring Leaders

A great article in the Leadership Research Institute notes that, “according to research by the Center for Talent Innovation, people with sponsors are 23% more likely to advance their careers than those without sponsors.” The article goes on to say, “this is especially true for women, who … tend to be chronically over-mentored but under-sponsored.”

Sponsoring leaders is different from mentoring. When you sponsor a leader, you become a vocal advocate for them, whereas with mentoring, you are working one on one. As a sponsor, you would bring their name up as a successful example of leadership in a meeting, put their name forward for career advancement opportunities and/or actively introduce them to other leaders of influence who can help them.

Mentorship has a critical role to play and is extremely important as well.  One may start by mentoring a particular leader and then feel comfortable enough to move forward to sponsor them – however it is important to recognize that there is a difference. Sponsorship requires more skin in the game than that of mentorship, as it usually requires some personal risk to your own reputation. But the results are worth it!

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I recently attended a special event to honor Tom O’Neill, former global CEO of PWC and former chair of BCE and Scotia Bank, for his personal commitment to sponsoring women in leadership roles throughout his extensive career. I was honored to attend this event with approximately 30 other executive-level businesswomen who had benefited from his sponsorship, mentorship and support. As we listened to each others’ stories, it became clear that Tom was an exception among leaders, not just for how many leaders he sponsored, but in doing it at all.  At the conclusion of a great evening, Tom challenged us all to make sponsorship a priority and pay it forward, not only by passing on what we have learned by way of mentoring but to further step up and take an active advocacy role in sponsoring other leaders.

Looking for a sponsor? To make yourself ready for a sponsor, you need to develop a positive reputation for success in your organization/field. Without this, you will not attract a sponsor’s attention. Believe me, success is noticed, and senior executives are always looking to identify the next level of talent and bring them on their team. Active sponsors are always looking for the next bright spark! Ensure you are visible, and you have the track record required. When you are ready, start by identifying a leader or leaders that you admire and look up to, who are in a position to help you. Take note if they act as sponsors to others.

Next, you need to develop a relationship with this person, or at the very least, ensure that they are aware of your good work. You may want to first see if a mentoring relationship is possible – this may be the easiest way to start. However, with most things in life that are worthwhile you may just need to put yourself out there and ASK for what you need/want. I would suggest you start however by getting to know them, ensuring you are well positioned with them and then when the time is right – ask away!

While you are busy looking for a sponsor for yourself, as Mr. Tom O’Neill reminded all of us, don’t forget those who are looking up to you. Look around and think about those you could be actively sponsoring at this time. Take special notice of diverse or minority candidates who may need mentoring or sponsoring even more. Making a difference in someone’s career is a very rewarding experience and as with all relationships, the learning will always go both ways.

Reach out to me if this is an area you’d like to explore further!

Here are some of my other thoughts on leadership. LEAD WELL!



Sandra Hokansson

Sandra Hokansson
Sandi Hokansson is a certified executive-level coach and principal of SoundLeadership. Reach her at sandi (at) soundleadership (dot) ca.

Sandra Hokansson

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