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.

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?

“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.


English poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself”, and while this is usually attributed to the general idea that nobody goes through life alone, it’s easy to see how this can be used in the professional sense. As in, no WOMAN is an island, and everyone should look for a Mentor, Sponsor and Coach to pull them up and through the ranks in their career.

But what exactly is a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, and why do these people need to be in your Career Corner? If you think of it as a sporting analogy, it’s like having a team behind the athlete, training them and pushing them to go beyond their personal best. Without the team, the athlete is training alone. Therefore, without a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, you’ll be gliding through your career without any exciting momentum to carry you through.

What’s a Mentor?

…a mentor is a person who helps you define your dreams.At a Career and Networking event in Sydney recently called, The Power of Mentoring, the keynote speaker, Career Strategist Megan Dalla-Camina explained that a mentor is a person who helps you define your dreams. They don’t necessarily have to be your seniors in your direct line of work, but they are people who you see as a good role model for you. They guide, support and assist you in your growth and learning. However, Andy Rachelff, Executive Chairman at Wealthfront Inc., says that a mentor is someone who can teach you something great in the field you want to build your career in.

A relationship with a mentor is generally long-term, and, just like any relationship, requires regular catch-ups and a genuine connection. If you choose the right mentor, they may even be your ally through any job transition or position throughout the rest of your working life.

Why you need a Mentor

Many women unfortunately don’t seek a mentor, but it’s important that we look for one. Why? Because while we believe we either don’t have time or don’t need one (i.e. we think, “There is nobody in the world who understands my industry/position/responsibilities”), a mentor shows us things about our working life that we might not see. In an article by Forbes Magazine called How a Mentor can help your Career, they say a mentorship is, “like holding up a mirror to your operating style and clearly seeing your reflection”.

Mentors are like your spirit guide – they’ll be honest with you when they know you’re doing something wrong, and they won’t mince words in trying to get you to see the light. They will offer constructive criticism, whether you like it or not. Your mentor is your motivator, and everyone at any level needs a motivator, a cheerleader offering positive yet constructive reinforcement.

What’s a Sponsor?

An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above youWhile your mentor is your dream-definer, your sponsor is, according to Megan Dalla-Camina, your dream-enabler. He or she pulls you through to leadership roles and shouts your praises to those with clout for further promotion. An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above you, and holds a bit of clout themselves in your industry or company. You may not want to be exactly like them in terms of their position, but your sponsor is definitely someone you want on your side.

In an article by Business Insider called Why you need a Sponsor – Not a Mentor – to Fast-Track your Career, sponsors “have a voice at the table and are willing to be your champion … While mentors listen, sponsors act — by telling you what you need to know, clearing obstacles from your path, and making your success their business”.

Why you need a Sponsor

If a Sponsor is willing to sing your praises, then it’s very obvious why you need a sponsor. A sponsor is great for career advancement, and they have the connections and clout to promote you to the right people. They develop career opportunities for you, in ways a mentor might not. A mentor may turn into a sponsor, but without a sponsor, it may take longer to get to the next level in your career. However, you need to show a sponsor that you are worth the trouble of promoting. Remember, he or she is putting their name on the line right along with you, and it would be just as detrimental to them to support someone who wasn’t up to the task.

Another reason a sponsor is a good idea, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, is that sponsors promote “greater female representation at senior levels of organisations by increasing the numbers of women moving through the management pipeline, and helping them stay on their career tracks”

What’s a Coach?

…their advice helps you make decisions that directly relate to your career path.Like a good personal trainer or sporting coach, a Career Coach tells you what to do to get to exactly where you want to be. Their advice, much like a mentor, is invaluable in regards to how you navigate your way through the professional landscape. Unlike a mentor, though, their advice helps you make decisions that directly relate to your career path.

An article in The New York Times called Ready for the Big Leagues? Ask a Career Coach, says that, particularly for midlevel professionals, a Career Coach can help you see what you need to work on to get to an executive level in your career. “Coaches also focus on interpersonal skills, helping people communicate and network more effectively”.

Imagine a personal trainer helping you prepare for a marathon. They start with a plan of action and tell you how many kilometres to run, how to build up your stamina etc. A Career Coach is much the same. He or she is the performance-based person that keeps you on track with your professional goals and keeps you results-oriented. They are able to keep you focussed and disciplined.

Why you need a Coach

In an article from Transition to Civilian called Why Use a Career Coach, a Career Coach is particularly useful for anyone who wants to stay a step ahead of the pack, or are transitioning from one phase of their career to another, sometimes even if you’re switching career paths. They can be beneficial if you:

  • Need to confirm your long-term and short-term goals
  • Need assistance in your job search
  • Want to learn how to promote yourself and your area of expertise

So remember, no man, no woman, no manager and no junior is an island. It’s up to everyone, at any stage in your career, to encourage support and guidance throughout a career.

Featured photo credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) via photopin cc