Sponsorship or Advocacy – Which is Which?

Sponsorship or Advocacy – Which is Which?
August 10, 2016 Linda Murray

sponsorship or advocacy?In leadership circles, there are often a number of terms that have similar meanings, and that are used interchangeably. Two of the most common terms that are easily confused and misused are sponsorship and advocacy.

The automatic substitution of some of these terms is not helpful, as it leads to confusion.


Defining Sponsorship and Advocacy – Why are they Important to Leaders?

Sponsorship and advocacy each have a vital role to play in the development, performance and level of success that every leader achieves.  While each helps the leader achieve their goal, the roles that they play in the leader’s development, are profoundly different. As the lines between these terms, and their roles, have become blurred, you could be missing out on the benefits of each of these types of relationships.

Understanding Sponsorship

Most leaders start focusing on their development by first finding a mentor. As they hone their skills and define their leadership style, they later find that they are ready to move to the next stage of development. So they begin the search for their sponsor.

Other times, a leader will fail to search for a sponsor, or decline assistance when offered this help. They will then find they are unable to continue to move upward in their careers. Without a sponsor, many leaders find that they must make lateral moves within their organisation in order to continue to grow, or leave the organisation altogether. When this happens, it can lead to missed opportunities for sponsors, their protégées and the business as a whole.

Sponsors literally open doors for the leaders that they develop. They help them build their network, as well as advocate for them to be offered new opportunities, greater challenges, and more responsibilities.  They help them play more prominent roles and stand out where they can be recognised with additional responsibilities and promotions.

Sponsorship, however, is also a two way street. Because as the sponsor helps their protégé reach their goals and rise in position and influence, the protégé’s performance also raises the authority, standing and recognition of their sponsor. If the protégé fails to put in the hard work and fails to perform in the role that the sponsor has won for them, it is possible that the sponsor might withdraw from the relationship.

Working together, however, to help one another achieve their mutual goals, both the sponsor and protégé each help the other achieve more than either would have been able to achieve on their own. They rise together.

While sponsors are frequently found in the same company, they can also be found in other organisations where the protégé shares mutual goals with other members and the actual sponsor.

Understanding Advocacy

Since sponsors advocate on the behalf of their protégé, making critical introductions, opening doors and seeking to influence the true decisions makers to grant their protégé greater opportunities for development, they are often lumped in with advocates. After all, the sponsor is working to bolster your reputation to others, so they must be advocating on your behalf, and they are. Advocates, however, can really be found throughout every level of a leader’s personal and professional life. They can be found within the leader’s own organisation as well as other networks and groups to which the leader belongs.

An advocate is anyone that speaks highly of you to others and seeks to make others have a positive opinion of you. An advocate is someone on whom you have made an excellent impression. It’s always a good practice to try to cultivate and encourage as many people as you can to advocate for you.

If you find that you are truly helping others and adding value to your relationships, you will often find that it is often not even necessary to ask others to advocate for you. They will do so of their own accord, simply because they like you and believe in you.

Finding Sponsors and Advocates

While it’s certainly possible that you might attract the attention of a sponsor from your own existing network, most leaders find that they need to go outside their existing circle to develop these crucial relationships. Many leaders begin their search for a mentor when they realise that they need advice or guidance in defining their leadership style and setting and achieving their goals.

At Athena Coaching, we are experienced leaders with a proven track record of high performance, so we understand the challenges that all leaders can face at every stage of development in their career. We know what it takes to help you break through the obstacles that have been holding you back from raising the bar on your performance and achieving success.

This is why we offer six and 12 month executive coaching packages where we work with you and guide you every step of the way. We help you to identify strategic issues and goals and develop your own personalised plan of action that will increase your effectiveness, efficiency and performance. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help you raise the bar, conquer your challenges and reach the next level!

Comment (1)


  1. […] An advocate will talk you up when you’re not around. They’re the ones making sure your brand is positive because they are always sharing positive things about you. Advocates can be your peers and still be effective as having more advocates the better. They may not be able to put your name in the running for succession planning, but can still reinforce your positive reputation.  […]

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