#330 Leadership insight: Mentoring and sponsoring - What is your legacy?


10 August 2021

Role models, mentors and sponsors are important roles to identify and create in your professional networks, as outlined in a recent Leadership insight. So what are these roles and how do they work? 

A mentor is a more experienced contact who can provide support and advice to you professionally. They can listen to you and draw on their experience and expertise to suggest, advise, encourage and support you in pursuing opportunities and setting developmental and career goals. A sponsor is someone who goes beyond this, to advocate for the talented doctors they believe in and use their power and influence to put their name forward. For example, to sit on a committee, lead a grand round, or interview for a new role. To sponsor someone is therefore to advocate for them in other settings and sharing your professional knowledge of and support for their talents and their potential for the future. 

It’s worth noting that research shows women tend not to receive the same intentional sponsorship as men do, so there is an inequality in access and benefits of sponsorship in the workplace. This is perhaps because traditionally women have not been so strongly networked in the informal opportunities where jobs and career prospects are discussed and arranged. The challenge for our senior leaders who are mentoring and sponsoring women is to be on the lookout for any bias in their behaviour. We can check for this by asking ourselves, “Would I be saying or behaving differently if this other person was a man?” And if so, reflect further on what would be most helpful to support and advocate for this talented colleague. Unconscious bias stems from well-entrenched social stereotypes and it is only by engaging in this cognitive effort of monitoring and reflecting on our actions, and making corrections as needed, that we can change outcomes. 

So what are the next steps for doctors, at all career stages, in terms of taking up a role as a sponsor or mentor, or someone who asks another person to sponsor or mentor them? While it can be easy to feel that such ‘networking’ actions are crass or ‘too forward’, this view overlooks that this work is important organisationally as well as individually. Ensuring we all benefit from the developmental support sponsoring and mentoring brings to knowledge and skill sharing, and forming strong pipelines and succession plans for important roles, is a collective and collaborative task. 

To our emerging leaders, considers who’s out there that could sponsor you. How could you set-up a conversation with this person in order to share your thinking and aspiration? Is there something you could ask that prompts them to provide support by drawing on their experience and organisational connections? 

To our senior leaders, consider who could you mentor and sponsor right now that would really make a difference to future teams and leadership roles. What will be your legacy in forming strong, inclusive and innovative pipelines and succession plans? 

And to our middle leaders –caught between those you are leading and those you report to - who can mentor and sponsor you? And who can you mentor and sponsor right now? You have a rich opportunity to think about how you engage in this developmental work both ‘up’ and ‘down’ your team and organisation as you work with future leaders and those in the decision-making seats right now. 

Dr Anna Clark PhD
Leadership consultant & coach

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