THE BLOG
11/29/2016 04:48 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2017

Sponsorship: A purpose-driven approach

Editor's note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series on sponsorship as a force for fueling innovation in leadership development. In this article, co-authors Mike Fucci, Chairman of the Board of Deloitte LLP, and Audrey Murrell, associate dean of the University of Pittsburgh's College of Business Administration, discuss sponsorship from the perspective of the sponsor.

As you advance in your career, it is natural to look beyond your own situation and on to the impact you have (or could have) on the talent pipeline of the organization. Your experience, knowledge and relationships are invaluable for you--imagine what they would mean to others attempting to advance their careers.

We believe the best tool for sharing the knowledge and experience you have gained is sponsorship. Sponsorship is a leadership development approach in which a senior leader (or network of influential individuals) both guides a professional on a career path and advocates on his or her behalf for key opportunities or leadership positions.

How does a sponsorship relationship start? The responsibility typically falls on the more experienced person, executive, or senior leader. These leaders look across the enterprise to identify high performers and start the sponsorship conversation. Regardless of how a sponsorship relationship begins, it is critical that both parties are active participants since both can benefit from an effective relationship.

In her research, Audrey Murrell has documented examples of formal sponsorship programs in the corporate environment . Some of the most effective programs are more than just leadership development. They also transmit knowledge from influential innovators to inspire the next generation of change creators.

Effective sponsorship can also enhance succession planning, leadership development, talent management, and diversity. Sponsorship can create opportunities for growth and development. It can open the aperture of the conversation and can make it more likely for the sponsoree to consider options they might have otherwise overlooked.

And, ideally, effective sponsorship can also help you. Doing great work can be fulfilling, but doing great work and setting others up for success can take "fulfilling" to another level. In sponsorship, executives have an opportunity to add to their legacy. Sponsors take an active role in building a diverse pipeline of leaders, which is essential to many organizations' growth and success. As a sponsor, you can also ensure that the work you have done as a leader within the organization continues through the next generations of leaders or innovators you support and sponsor.

As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, diversity and sponsorship can go hand-in-hand, and diversity can play a critical role in the sponsor's selection process. We encourage sponsors to support professionals who have different experiences and perspectives, for this will likely enhance the impact of sponsorship. A relationship between two people with diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and skillsets can lead to more versatile professionals and new ideas.

In Part 2 of this series, we examined sponsorship from the vantage point of the sponsoree. The benefits can be many: opportunities to expand one's network, exposure to executives enterprise-wide, insight into an organization's culture, and laying the groundwork for the pathway to leadership. Furthermore, sponsorship is a clear signal that one has received the backing of a senior leader or key influencer who has that person in mind for future growth in the organization.

For executives looking to add value on a different level, sponsorship can be a purpose-driven, legacy-building answer. Sponsors have a vested interest in helping sponsorees to be successful and may even have a performance metric tied to effective sponsorship, providing greater incentive to move the needle on diversity, leadership development, and organizational change. What better way to build long-lasting capacity within the organization, as well as put the finishing touches on your career, than helping to ensure the success of those who will follow you through the ranks of leadership by becoming an effective sponsor.

Tips For Being an Effective Sponsor

We recognize not everyone knows how to be an effective sponsor, so based on training provided at Deloitte and research conducted by Associate Dean Murrell, here are some highlights of what we have learned about effective sponsorship. Effective sponsorship involves:

  • Being empathetic and receptive to the sponsoree's needs and experiences (which may differ from your own)
  • Helping a sponsoree clarify his or her own career concerns and aspirations to determine the best fit for new opportunities or positions
  • Cultivating trust by showing mutual respect, maintaining confidentiality. and providing honest feedback
  • Maintaining a coaching style that uses active listening, insightful questioning, and mutual agreement while keeping in mind that you as the sponsor don't have all the answers
  • Leveraging opportunities and being an advocate for the sponsoree in ways that provide support based on their needs and aspirations
  • Being conscious of unconscious personal biases that may have an impact on developing an effective relationship