Sponsors, Not Just Mentors, a Key Factor in Career Success

I’m a female in a profession that is traditionally dominated by men at the highest levels of the organization. My entire career has been marked by the word “only”—the only woman on the board, the only woman at the table, etc.

Or, so I thought.

When we first began to work on HORNE’s formal sponsorship program, I began to look back over my 30-year career and realize that I had mistakenly placed that “only” label on my own path. In fact, in hindsight, I realize that there were many other people who played very important and intentional roles in my “only” positions. I did not get to be the only woman by myself.

My career was blessed by several key influencers in the organizations where I worked—at HORNE and at the firm that merged with HORNE in 2007. Specifically, two male leaders became my sponsors and chose to use their own political capital to advance me in the organization. 

I was fortunate that they took me under their wings and guided me. They weren’t just mentors—they were more. They were sponsors. And there is a big, big difference. Sponsors have an advocacy, rather than advisory, mindset. Sponsors make phone calls on your behalf. Sponsors work behind the scenes to help connect you with other leaders. Sponsors use their own political capital in the organization to positively affect your career.

There has been great research published on this topic over the years, but my personal experience says this: sponsors, not just mentors, are a key factor in career success. I value the mentors in my life, but my career path says that sponsors were the differentiator in my long-term career success. No one reaches their Full Potential alone, which is why sponsorship has become a passion of mine. I want others to see the power it can have on a career.

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About the Author
Kathy Watts, CPA, CHC, guides our Belonging at HORNE Steering Committee as we work to create a culture that is defined by a sense of belonging. She is a risk taker, one who asks hard questions and doesn’t shy away from healthy conflict as long as it pushes us forward. Her efforts with HORNE’s formal sponsorship program are helping to build the Wise Firm.

Topics: Belonging, Full Potential

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