All Articles Leadership Careers Why mentorship isn't enough for talent development

Why mentorship isn’t enough for talent development

3 min read


Research into why some people make it into executive leadership, and some people don’t, has illuminated an interesting phenomenon. It turns that that while mentors talk to you, helping you work more effectively in the corporate culture, sponsors talk about you in positive ways — mentioning you for a plum job behind closed doors or pointing out great work you did to a person who can help you advance.

Sponsors, it turns out, are a key to talent development in that sponsors help promising leaders get the right experiential opportunity at the right time in their careers. The higher you go the more sponsors are critical to your success — including at the CXO and board levels.

Yet when I talk to CEOs, board members and other senior executives I rarely hear much about their sponsorship activities. I hear more about how much they enjoy mentorship. And who doesn’t? Nurturing talent is one of the best parts of running a business and so we tend to spend more energy on it. Sponsoring others is also usually best done privately to protect against unhelpful gossip, but this doesn’t shine much light on how this important talent-development activity really works. As a result, it’s challenging for those lower in the ranks to understand how to be a good sponsor and to attract sponsors themselves.

So I’d like to ask mentors to help their mentees become good sponsors and become proactive in attracting sponsors, too. Yes, I want to encourage everyone — even middle and lower-level managers — to sponsor others more consciously. Why train midlevel employees to be good sponsors? Because when you sponsor others, you’re:

  • looking out for the business and helping strategically develop talent;
  • rewarding others’ good work directly;
  • becoming more conscious of what makes a good leader in your organization so you can continue to develop as a leader yourself.

This last point is pretty important for lower and midlevel employees. When you start sponsoring others, you become better able to see how you can proactively position yourself to those above you.

Becoming an active sponsor puts you in a leadership mindset, regardless of your actual authority or responsibility. And that leadership mindset pays off by helping you lead more consciously, develop talent where you see it and take on an “ownership” orientation to the company — no matter what level you’re at now. And all this pays off by making your leadership abilities more apparent to all those who might sponsor you!

Taking on a sponsor mindset is one strategy for becoming attractive to executive career sponsors who can help you achieve your professional goals, but there are more. Join me on May 30 for a free conference call on “How to Attract An Executive Sponsor,” and you’ll be invited to download a free eBook and short video series on the subject, too. Have a mentee who would benefit? Share the link.

Dana Theus is president and CEO of InPower Consulting, reframing leadership to integrate the emotional intelligence lessons learned from working with women leaders. Theus is also a personal brand coach and a regular contributor to SmartBlog on Leadership. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaTheus and on LinkedIn.