Executives, who want to promote up and coming leaders to the C-suite, need to establish a formal leadership development program. Leadership programs are essential in developing these future executive officers and potential board members by building personal and professional networks, enhancing knowledge on economic and social issues, and helping meet new challenges with focus and innovative strategies. Leadership development programs also encourage future leaders to take on challenging assignments, even if not 100% qualified and learn from current and past leaders.

There are two programs that stand out as especially effective for developing future executives: mentorship and sponsorship programs.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs provide a powerful personal and career development tool to those who want to achieve and exceed their career goals. Mentorship programs are proven to build confidence and encourage individuals to step up to the next level, discuss ideas and work collaboratively to address tough issues. They also help organizations in recruiting, networking, employee satisfaction and retention. Executives benefit by having better leaders for the organization, which results in positive business outcomes, feelings of personal fulfillment, continuous learning, strong relationships, improved job proficiency, increased professional credibility, and the building of soft skills like self-awareness.

Mentorship Programs at the Fortune 500

Many Fortune 500 companies use mentorship programs as a tool for professional development. The intent of the programs is to break down internal knowledge barriers and to facilitate collaboration, interpersonal relationships, cross-functional learning, upskilling and reskilling, and to promote a positive company culture. In fact, in 2022, 92% of the Fortune 500 offered a mentorship program to their employees. In doing so, both employees and the business benefit — companies that offered mentoring programs ranked higher on the Fortune 500 list, which means more revenue and better profitability.

Different Types of Mentorship Programs

There are different kinds of mentorship programs, including:

  • Traditional one-on-one mentoring: a mentee and a mentor are matched either through a program or one their own.
  • Distance mentoring: individuals or groups are in different locations. This is often called “virtual” mentoring.
  • Group mentoring: a single mentor is helping a group of mentees.

Executive Mentoring Programs

There are also executive mentoring programs. An executive mentoring program is a formal training process in which senior executive leaders receive guidance and coaching from professionals to support their career development goals. The purpose of the program is to focus on career goals, leadership skills, strategic planning and business development objectives. CEOs, presidents, C-suite executives, business owners and ambitious leaders are normally the participants of this type of mentoring.

Building an Effective Mentorship Program

Training leaders who want to build an effective mentoring program will need to determine the program’s purpose, identify the participants, establish a format and come up with topics to address. The goals of the program might include:

  • Building professional networks.
  • Providing clarity in vision and mission.
  • Boosting confidence and charisma.
  • Providing a clear career path.
  • Be good role models.

Sponsorship Programs

A sponsorship program is used to advance the career of an individual just like a mentorship program. However, the difference between the two lies in their process and impact. Mentorship is normally done privately, while sponsorship is highly visible. A sponsor is someone with experience who can guide a protégé and provide psychosocial support. This is done by providing the protégé with exposure, visibility and experience through opportunity. The sponsor is vouching for the protégé, saying that their merits and legitimacy are real and that they will become potential successors when they succeed. The primary motivation to become a sponsor is to influence future talent.

Great examples of sponsors and protégés are:

  • Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt.
  • Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.
  • Lou Gerstner and Ken Chenault.
  • Anne Mulchay and Ursula Burns.

In Summary

Developing potential leaders should be on the mind of all executives. Mentorship and sponsorship programs are great tools to have for developing future talent. Implementing these programs at the middle management level, where most careers stall out, will help maintain your best performers.