THE BLOG
09/22/2016 09:16 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2017

Sponsorship: A powerful career accelerator for diverse talent

This is part two 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 sponsoree.

As busy professionals, we're often consumed by the task at hand. With our nose to the grindstone, we don't look up to see the possible senior leadership role five to 10 years down the road. We don't take the time to expand our network, forgoing opportunities to strengthen relationships with influential decision-makers. Assignments that could fill a gap in our skillset often just aren't on our radar.

In essence, we neglect to nurture our careers.

That's where a sponsor comes in.

A sponsor--a senior leader or influential individual with a broad understanding of the organization--can help high-performing professionals assess their strengths and blind spots, and can advocate on their behalf to put them in positions to develop more fully as a leader.

In Part 1 of our series, we discussed the value of sponsorship from an organization's perspective. But what does it mean to the professional being sponsored? In an effective sponsorship, the sponsoree hopefully gets a trusted, long-term relationship with a senior leader or key influencer within the organization who has a wealth of knowledge about the organization and the industry.The sponsoree can tap into this knowledge to calibrate a career path and fine-tune goals for specific positions.

Sponsorship is a leadership development mechanism designed to offer a sponsoree many career benefits, including: opportunities to expand their network; exposure to executives enterprise-wide; insight into the organization's culture; a clear understanding of the expectations associated with the pathway to leadership; and the backing of a senior leader or key influencer for an elevated and critically important role in the organization.

Through our experiences in the corporate world and in higher education, we have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of sponsorship on individuals' careers. We know it opens their eyes to experiences they have not considered and can expand the individual's social network. This is both the beauty and the power of sponsorship.

Most professionals think they know what their next job should be. Chances are, they are thinking vertically. Sponsorship lets them see in all directions. A sponsor can look both vertically and horizontally in an organization, which uncovers more options and opportunities for the sponsoree. A sponsor can also provide critical feedback on how to best prepare for and take advantage of these opportunities.

Studies show that sponsorship can be a turbo charger for careers. According to a recent Deloitte report, individuals who have the active support of sponsors within their organization are more likely to advance in their careers. Moreover, sponsorship can improve the chances of more stretch assignments, more promotions, and pay raises by up to 30 percent, according to the report.

Some of the work by Audrey Murrell has shown that the impact of sponsorship is especially important for supporting diversity and inclusion efforts within an organization. An innovative approach called inter-organizational formal mentoring shows that facilitating sponsorship relationships as a component of formal mentoring programs is an essential element of diverse talent pipeline development. The connection between sponsorship and diversity has also been shown to exist through research and practice activities by Catalyst, Inc. Sponsorship as part of formal mentoring programs is an essential element of developing diverse talent and future leadership within the organization.

Based on the feedback we get from students and professionals who have experienced a sponsorship, we know it's a priceless relationship. Invariably, it creates a more versatile, knowledgeable, and satisfied professional who's poised to lead.

At its core, sponsorship is about relationships. It's a bond built on confidence and trust. It depends on the exchange of knowledge and sharing of networks. Because sponsors put their reputation on the line, they need to be confident the sponsoree has the potential to grow and the drive to excel. And because sponsorees don't know what they don't know, they need to trust their sponsors to help guide them on their professional path. It's a give and take, and is well worth the effort.

If you're ready to accelerate your career, tap into the power of sponsorship. Look for organizations that invest in diverse pipeline development by including sponsorship as part of their formal efforts. It can accelerate your career development and prepare you to step into that next level of leadership. It can also help your organization develop a strong pipeline of diverse leaders who can add value for years to come.