How a sponsor can help you become a successful leader

From giving feedback to helping you navigate the politics of your organisation, a sponsor can do more for your leadership career than you might think.

Angela Lovegrove, Regional General Manager NSW of Telstra Business has helped many people to develop successful careers. She has mentored and sponsored dozens of employees throughout her career and seen the benefits of both the mentor and sponsor relationships.

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The difference between a sponsor and a mentor

The difference between a sponsor and a mentor is described by Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her 2013 book Mentors Are Good. Sponsors are Better: “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.”

Angela believes the mentor relationship has its place and can be really important. She also believes sponsorship, especially for women, can be essential to their career success.

As women, we often correlate hard work with success, but this is not exclusively the case.

Angela states: “It’s not about how hard you work. It’s about your ability to communicate, lead and how you behave in these environments.”

So who needs a sponsor?

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“Anyone who shows leadership potential” Angela says. This means they must have shown they possess some leadership qualities to start with, and the potential to grow and learn. They must be worth developing and working with.

“To be a good leader, you’ve got love working with people and helping others to be successful.”

This applies to both the sponsor and the sponsoree.

Angela has also used sponsorship as a means of succession planning. If an employee shows leadership potential, sponsoring and guiding them through the organisation can help to identify opportunities to step up to management roles and take over from predecessors.

How can a sponsor help you?

Angela outlines some benefits sponsors offer. They can help you to …

  • Grow in confidence. Having someone helping you navigate the organisation can make you more confident in your approaches with others.
  • Model good behaviour. Your sponsor is in their position for a reason; observing how they interact with others can act as a model for your own conduct.
  • Understand different perspectives. Having someone challenging you, and give you feedback can help you to expand your mindset.
  • Grow your network. Sponsors help you to establish relationships across the business and externally where possible.
  • Help to raise your profile in the organisation. This can lead to increased opportunities including promotion into management roles.

For all its benefits, sponsorees should be aware there can be some resistance from non-sponsoring management or co-workers.

This is where good people skills can come in handy. “You need to communicate well with these people and build a relationship with them too. The sponsor can assist with this through behavioural coaching and general support.”

The responsibilities of the sponsor should be taken seriously as their role is to truly guide the sponsoree on their path to success.

“There is an imperative with sponsors that they have to deliver; they can’t let you down.”

Angela will be presenting a keynote address on the role of sponsors in leadership at the Macquarie University Faculty of Business and Economics ‘Women, Management and Work Conference’ at Sheraton on the Park, Sydney on Wednesday 12 November 2014.

For more information about the event visit the website here.


What experiences have you had with a sponsor relationship? Did it benefit you within the organisation?


Sally Miles Sally is the Women’s Editor at Leaders in Heels. She is a Sydney-based mum to two children, wife to one husband, renovator to half a house and squeezes in full-time work as a publisher at a global education company amid the chaos.