Consider this statement:
Almost no one gets promoted at their job without some level of sponsorship.
If you don’t believe that, consider whether you were in the room the last time a decision was made to promote you. It would be rare if you were. Rather, someone in that room likely made the case for you to get the promotion. They put some of their own credibility and political capital at risk to make the case for you.
Mentoring vs. Sponsorship
Mentoring is different than sponsorship. Mentoring is a personal development relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps to counsel, advise or guide a less experienced or knowledgeable person on a particular topic or skill. Mentoring is important, but it is much less impactful on helping others grow their careers than sponsorship. Sponsorship is a higher level of support – putting one’s own political capital on the line to forward the career of another deserving person.
Benefits of Being a Sponsor
Because you are putting your own political capital on the line for anyone that you choose to sponsor, these sponsor relationships tend to be beneficial to both parties. You are most likely to sponsor top performers. Because they are top performers, they are likely to perform well on your projects, or for your team or department. As a result, the employees that you sponsor tend to be people that you want to work with. They are those who help you reach your shared goals. They tend to be individuals who are worthy of sponsoring and in whom the investment tends to pay off.
Many of the best leaders I have worked with in my career are individuals whom I have sponsored. I go out of my way to work with them, because I know I can trust them and that they will make meaningful contributions to our shared success.
How to Be an Effective Sponsor
A few suggestions on how to be an effective sponsor are:
- Check your implicit bias (make sure you are not only sponsoring those employees who look, think and act like you)
- Give them stretch assignments and hold them accountable for results
- Stand up for them when others seem to be making biased assessments
- Learn from them and solicit their input – no one person (not even you) has all the best answers
- Advocate for them when you have the opportunity
- Take calculated risks with your political capital to help them achieve their goals
Helping someone grow their career is what strong leaders do. However, it is more than an altruistic endeavor. Assisting others in furthering their careers will likely help you to advance your own, and you will undoubtedly find it personally rewarding to see them succeed.