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How A Sponsor Can Help You Take Your Career Further

How A Sponsor Can Help You Take Your Career Further

Having a sponsor is one of the top ways to help you advance your career – but it can also be a tricky dynamic to navigate.

In this blog, we’re going to explore the differences between a mentor and a sponsor, and how you can optimise your relationship with your sponsor to take your career further.

Years ago I was inspired to hear Lady Barbara Judge CBE say that everybody should have their own personal board of directors, because it’s not possible to know everything about everything. When you can rely on people to share their wisdom around finance or marketing, for example, it enables you to focus on your own area of expertise and benefit from their depth of knowledge.

A mentor and a sponsor could both be considered worthy members of your personal board. Let’s look at the differences between the two.

The difference between a mentor and a sponsor

A mentor will likely share their knowledge and professional experiences so that you can learn from their mistakes. They tend to provide guidance to support you at the stage you’re at. They often remain behind the scenes.

A sponsor could be considered the next step up; they support you to take your career to the next level by acting as your advocate and working with you to increase your visibility and your network (we explored how increased visibility helps you get promoted in our earlier blog, and in The EPIC Formula – An Easy-To-Follow Method To Progress In Your Career). 

Having a sponsor is like having a powerful career ally who will shine the spotlight on your strengths and support you to enhance your overall performance. A great sponsor will advocate for you even when you’re not in the room. They will defend you if any of your professional decisions or actions are questioned. A sponsor will put themselves and their reputation on the line for you. You can trust that they will always have your back.

However, even though many of our Elevate Talent delegates have a sponsor, it’s frequently a bone of contention. 

3 signs that your sponsor might not be a good fit

From what our delegates tell us, there are three main reasons that they find their relationship with their sponsor challenging:

  1. The relationship feels off balance and awkward; you feel like you’re talking the most, but even when you are, they’re not really listening.
  2. You feel like you’re a stalker; you are always the one arranging the meetings or rearranging to suit your sponsor.
  3. Your sponsor doesn’t seem to say anything that inspires or helps you, nor do they ask questions to help you broaden your perspective.

If you experience any of these issues, it’s time to recognise that this sponsor is perhaps not the right fit for you! In our webinar session, we share a five-step mnemonic to help you circumvent these issues. 

What to do if your sponsor isn’t a good fit

If you are experiencing these challenges now, we recommend that you speak to your sponsor to assess whether this is just a blip (they might have ongoing personal issues), or ask them if they have a recommendation for another sponsor who might be better suited to your needs.

A sponsor is only a powerful ally and career catalyst if they are actively supporting the advancement of your career. If you are wasting valuable time trying to second-guess their actions (or lack of), they’re no longer an asset and it’s time to move on.

How to find the right sponsor(s)

When I worked in banking, I had a sponsor who supported me to hit the ground running. By the time I was ready to move onto the next stage of my career, I was also ready for a new sponsor. Recognise that as you grow and evolve, it’s likely that what you need from your sponsor will also change.

To find the right sponsor for you, think about the qualities and skills that would support you best. Which individual springs to mind? Your sponsor might be employed by the organisation you work for, but they may also be external; this is where having a broad network proves invaluable.

You don’t need to rush to find a sponsor – take your time to get to know people and consider the type of results you might achieve by teaming up with them. There are many organisations that will help match you up with the right professionals, including Women on the Wharf London (networking).

Finding the right sponsor for you could be the difference between your career stagnating or taking off. You might have a mentor and a sponsor, or two sponsors; as an individual the choice is yours.

At Elevate Talent, we’re on a mission to support mid-level executive women to maximise their potential and advance their careers through training and coaching. If you have a mentor or sponsor, we’ll ensure that you get the most out of that relationship to help you take your career further, faster.

P.S.  Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter if you’d love to get involved!



Lady Barbara Judge CBE

Women on the Wharf London