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What is a Sponsor? And how do I find one?

Although it is important to have mentors to support you in your career, having a sponsor can make all the difference to the path that your career will take. Sponsors will advocate for you and put their reputation on the line to ensure doors are opened for you. Of course, the sponsor needs to see the potential in you and your commitment to a successful career.

A Sponsor is someone that is in an influential role within an organisation (whether that’s your own or another within your industry). They will recommend you for stretch assignments and promotions, help you build relationships with other influential people for your career and can also give you the confidence to ask for a raise.

Of course the sponsorship relationship is a two-way interaction, you will be required to do as much for your Sponsor as they do for you. In this article The Relationship You Need to Get Right, the author shows examples of how the relationship works successfully as well as unsuccessfully. In order for it to work there needs to be commitment shown from both parties. The most successful protégés, for their part, recognize that sponsorship must be earned with performance and loyalty—not just once but continually”.

Performance is probably the most critical factor for a Sponsor to recognise your talent and decide to back you. Leaders will give their time and attention to those who perform exceptionally well.

Research conducted by Sylvia Hewlett, an economist and founder of the think tank, The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), enabled her to put together a roadmap for protégés:

  1. Embrace your dream and do a diagnostic – of yourself and your company and the path ahead. Close skill gaps
  2. Scan the horizon for potential Sponsors
  3. Distribute your risk
  4. Understand that it’s not all about you
  5. Come through on two obvious fronts. Outstanding performance and unswerving loyalty- to the business- make you a core asset to senior leader’s team
  6. Deliver a distinct personal brand. Draw on your dereference. Tap your gender smarts, cultural background, social media savvy or quant skills to distinguish your contribution and drive value that sets you apart
  7. Make yourself a safe bet
  8. Lead with a yes
  9. Nail the tactics
  10. Exude executive presence.

These are powerful strategies should be central to your career plan.

Unfortunately for the majority of women in middle management positions it is not just performance that will get them to the next level. Of course performance is the baseline that will be expected of you but building a strong network of sponsors and supporters is key. As this article Active career management – the importance of sponsors points out – “Usually promotion decisions are made with the input of many, not only through formal but also through informal channels, so the more people you have that support you, the better”.

One of the ways to get a sponsor suggested in the article is to make an extensive list of senior managers within your organisation that you think are critical to your career path. Then keep them informed on a regular basis of what you are doing and your achievements. This will not only show them what you are capable of but also keep you top of mind.

Xplore’s new Unexpected Women book, Sponsorship Journeys investigates the relationship of 10 successful women and their sponsors, in particular what has made them effective. In this excerpt from the book, Pip Marlow – Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, explains how her relationship with Sponsor Steve Vamos has accelerated her career:

From the very beginning, we had an excellent working relationship. He knew whatever task he threw at me, I would tackle head on and deliver. And he liked that. I knew that whatever task I took on Steve had my back and would support me. One day Steve sat me down and asked me how I was preparing to take on the role of Country Manager. At this point, I was 35, really enjoying the work that I was doing but the Country Manager job seemed so far from where I was that I hadn’t even considered a plan to get there. I asked Steve if he was serious and he said he absolutely was! He went on to say that he believed I could get there before I was 40 but I needed to do a few different jobs before then to make sure I was well set up to take on the role. With that, we constructed a plan and went about executing against it. Steve pushed me to take on roles that I would not have backed myself to go for. He believed in me before I believed in myself.

Get your copy of the book today so that you can benefit from the knowledge that is shared by these amazing women and their sponsors. 

If you’d like to talk to us further about sponsorship then please get in touch at

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