Magazine Article | December 9, 2013

Building A Talent Pipeline: Sponsors vs. Mentors

Source: Life Science Leader

By Teresa Shaffer

As a senior executive, you have myriad professional responsibilities. Although most are tangible and driven by your place within your organization, there are silent others that are just as important to your organization, such as sponsoring the professional development of a junior executive.

Sponsors vs. Mentors
Sponsorship is more strategic and less developmental than mentoring.  Sponsors leverage relationships, power, resources, and business savvy. They demonstrate leadership competence and are genuinely willing to help others in order to grow future leaders.  A good sponsor also builds awareness with other influential executives on the importance of being a sponsor.

I was coaching Ted, who was a highly talented director of a large financial institution. He enjoyed leading his team, and was very committed to the organization. His goal was to move to a VP position, but he was never recognized when the opportunity arose. 

After meeting with Ted and learning what he had accomplished, it became apparent he needed stronger sponsorship to help him get to the next level. I worked with Ted to help him identify an executive in his company, whom he respected and admired, that he could ask to be his sponsor. Even though Ted knew the executive and they had a collegial relationship, he needed a sponsor to champion him in executive meetings and talent reviews, so he could gather more support from other influential executives for the VP position. Ted was honored when the executive agreed to sponsor him.  

Ted’s sponsor helped him gain visibility and credibility with the executive team by having him lead a critical companywide project. Together, we implemented the five tips below. Now, Ted is well on his way to his goal of a vice presidency.

I have sponsored many individuals over the years, and I always thought it was important to use my most precious resource, my time, as wisely and as effectively as possible. Here are some practical tips I’ve successfully applied as a sponsor that were an efficient use of time but also had the greatest benefit for the person and company I was sponsoring:

  • Champion the protégée in talent reviews and executive meetings.
  • Help the protégée identify lead projects that offer visibility with the executive team.
  • Set up regular meetings with them to identify and help overcome obstacles, offer advice through the process and before their next interview.
  • Introduce them to key decision makers.
  • Recognize and reward their achievements at a regional and national level.

Take a look around your organization. Like so many, yours may be losing its top talent to retirement in the next few years. Who is in the pipeline to take their place — to take your place? Having a hand in choosing the next generation of top talent can be one of your most rewarding responsibilities yet.

Teresa Shaffer is a certified executive coach and professional coach. Prior to founding Shaffer Executive Coaching, she built a highly successful, award-winning corporate career that included progressive responsibility in sales, senior management positions, and leadership training. Prior to her corporate positions, Teresa worked within one of the nation’s top 10 U.S. healthcare systems.