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Step outside the sponsorship cycle

The old school tie for too long has provided closed-door encouragement and a leg up to those identified as having talent in some shape or form, writes Janine Garner.

The uncertain future and fast moving business landscape that we are all now experiencing is demanding a change to the established norm. We need to embrace diversity to future-proof our businesses, leaders and careers. Breaking through the old school tie network is never going to be easy, but collaboratively we can work towards a resolution. Sowing the seeds of sponsorship is a critical part of being present in the collaborative space of ‘We’ and needs to become more of a focus across the corporate arena and entrepreneurial circles.

By actively supporting someone likely to be a future leader, as Anna Benninger, senior research analyst for Catalyst, explains: “[You will find] that paying it forward pays back. Developing others really increases your own visibility … essentially what you are doing is showing the company that you are not only about your own advancement, but that you are invested in the future of the organisation.”

And yet sponsorship in the workplace is still regarded with a mixture of suspicion and ignorance — and a feeling of ‘what’s in it for me?’ from the sponsor, which to a large extent colours the relationship before it even starts. For a truly two-way sponsorship to work, then, it has to happen in the right environment — and that environment is one of collaborative thinking.

A 2011 study from the Center for Work–Life Policy published by the Harvard Business Review found that sponsorship can result in as much as a 30 per cent increase in promotions, pay raises and stretch assignments for a protégé. The business case for sponsoring others is there. Research conducted by the Center of Talent and Innovation found that those men and women that were sponsored felt that they were progressing through the ranks of business at a satisfactory pace — 70 per cent for men and 68 per cent for women — compared to 57 per cent of those individuals that did not have sponsors.

If we are to future-proof our leaders, business and personal success, active sponsorship becomes an imperative. The collaborative ‘We’ space delivers learning experiences, the chance to grow, and the opportunity to promote and sponsor others. Sponsoring others, is about securing the present and ensuring that the pipeline of the future generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists is solid. It is about ensuring that the future leaders and pioneers have effective role models now, sharing all they have learnt along the way and opening the book of their contact base. Fundamentally, that they see the power of working as We.

If you agree to sponsor someone, you are helping to build powerful networks and influencing activity and decision-making for a person you believe has what it takes to make it to the top of their profession or in their own business.

The issue is that currently, there are just not enough of those who are in the higher echelons of their sectors and professions who are willing to sponsor these up and coming game changers, entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners. And out of those who are sponsoring – and naturally, the majority are men, because the majority of those in leadership positions are male – it is a case of like sponsoring like.

We need more people in positions of power and responsibility to put their hands up and say ‘I am willing to teach, to show, to engage’. To break down barriers and sponsor those whom they see merit in, irrespective of gender, race, background or old school tie. Because the virtual and digital world is blind – and this is where business wars of the future will be fought, and leaders created.

If you have what it takes as a modern leader, you can take the lead with the next generation of the great and the good. Step up, step forward and give those who are on their way up the slope the tools to make it to the top of the mountain. Because we want leaders, not followers, for the future.

Janine Garner is the CEO of LBDGroup and author of From Me To We – Why commercial collaboration will future-proof business, leaders and personal success published by Wiley. For more information visit www.janinegarner.com.au

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