Harriet Tubman showed remarkable courage as a servant leader; she led more than three hundred fellow slaves to freedom after first escaping herself. Not content to simply enjoy her own freedom, she journeyed back into slave territory 19 times to guide friends, family and strangers to freedom. Servant leaders today, who follow Ms. Tubman’s stellar example, go beyond basking in their own success. These exceptional leaders reach out to support others so they, too, can achieve higher levels of recognition, advancement and development.
While all employees benefit from an internal support system of coaches, mentors and sponsors, diverse employees stand to gain the most. Employees’ managers often serve as coaches to support their success and development in current roles. Beyond this day-to-day coaching, it is especially important for women and people of color to have courageous mentors and sponsors who advocate for them.
Mentors help employees gain skills, feedback and knowledge, as well as cultivate networks to prepare for their next roles. Even so, without the investment of a sponsor, many high-potential diverse employees fail to secure opportunities that help them move to the next level. They are eventually more likely to leave in frustration when they hit the glass (or stone) ceiling, depriving the organization of valued assets.
Especially as organizations seek ways to achieve their desired DE&I metrics, it is important for senior leaders to be intentional about the ways they enhance the career trajectories of diverse employees and protégés. Sponsors, typically senior-level leaders, remember the challenges they faced to gain success and use their internal political and social capital to move careers forward. Behind closed doors, they advocate for others, are willing to challenge the status quo, and voice their support to offer greater visibility and opportunities.
As more leaders serve as sponsors for diverse employees, their influence will open doors and help them be considered for assignments to enhance their position and visibility. All leaders have a role to play in building inclusive workplaces and developing others for future success.
Kittie Watson, Ph.D.
President & Founder