I make a distinction between sponsorship and mentorship, both are very important but they are very different. And sponsorship is, if you can believe it, even more effort-leveraged than mentorship.
Five Suggestions for Aspiring Sponsors:
1. Make Introductions
If your sponsee [is that a word? It is now :) ] has a great idea, a quick email with the right people on the to: and cc: line can make the difference for a person who has limited contacts, or limited credibility. You can do more by actually showing up at the first meeting and simply introducing the pitch.
2. Frame Success Criteria
Many times, a new person will not know the best way to attack a problem or how to convince others. You can show them what documentation or evidence is likely to be required. A mentor might teach them all about how to gather the docs but as a sponsor it could be enough to say “Jim is gonna want to see these key metrics, get them and he’ll be sold.” This is about showing your sponsee the organizational credibility currency.
3. Reveal Hidden Greatness
If you’re keeping an eye out for your sponsee, you’ll often get access to great information about the work they’re doing. It may even be important to decisions you or your leadership team are making. Cite the work! “I was reading this fabulous analysis by Jane last night and I got to thinking…”
4. Provide Access
Once you’ve established your sponsee as a person of interest in an area, get them invited to relevant meetings so they can be on hand to provide additional information that is likely to be useful to decision makers. Even if you’re starting from a high-quality report there’s always what wasn’t in the report…
5. Move Ideas Downfield
If you’ve done some of the above, you can help even more by actually taking on a good idea as a project, or at least starting it out. Implement your sponsee’s plan and show your organization that your sponsee is a great quarterback — catch a pass and score a first down (or more) with their play.
These are just examples of course but the general theme is clear. As a senior leader, it’s very easy to cast a big shadow over your organization — what you really want to do is shine a light on it. You have access and insight and you can use these things to help get hidden talent into your light where it can be seen, and grow.