Published: June 29, 2022

Transforming the Annual Meeting through Sponsorship

Mentorship is consistently recognized as playing a critical role in assisting individuals to achieve their career goals. Sponsorship is a less well-understood career development tactic, but is known to be just as critical to career success.

Mark E.P. Prince, MD, and Kelly M. Malloy, MD, Annual Meeting Program Committee members

We propose that senior members of the AAO-HNS intentionally and purposefully use their positions to bring other members forward and provide them with opportunities to be heard and seen at the Annual Meeting and other events. This will require current leaders in the AAO-HNS to be intentional about relinquishing some of their opportunities and promoting others into the space created.

Mentorship is consistently recognized as playing a critical role in assisting individuals to achieve their career goals. Sponsorship is a less well-understood career development tactic, but is known to be just as critical to career success. It has also been shown to be instrumental to increasing diversity in leadership. Sponsorship requires a different set of skills and is conducted in a framework that is unique from mentorship.

Surprisingly, many individuals, both leaders and those who aspire to lead, are not aware that sponsorship is at least as important as mentorship to career advancement. It is vital that physicians, other healthcare providers, current leaders, and aspiring leaders understand the elements of successful sponsorship. Role models provide examples of success, mentors talk with you about ideas and goals, while a sponsor talks about you, their protégé.

Sponsorship is a vitally important activity for leaders to engage in and for protégés to seek out. Sponsorship allows protégés to gain visibility and leadership opportunities. Sponsorship also helps organizations create the next cohort of thought leaders and decision makers. One of the important aspirations of the AAO-HNS is to develop the careers of members of the Academy. This requires that we intentionally employ sponsorship to achieve that goal. Sponsorship skills can be learned, and all members of the AAO-HNS, especially our leaders, should be dedicated students thereof.

How does sponsorship work? 

The mechanism is quite simple. Those with the power to influence decisions use their power to advance others for positions and roles. A successful sponsor needs to identify opportunities for others and be willing to promote someone other than themselves into those opportunities. Protégés need to identify potential sponsors whose influence aligns with their career goals. Both the sponsor and the protégé need to know each other well enough to ensure there is alignment and that the sponsor has enough knowledge of their protégé to advocate effectively for them.

What does sponsorship in action look like? 

At the AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting, a sponsor’s goal would be to promote less well-known individuals and those not yet in leadership positions onto Panel Presentations, Expert Lectures, and committees. Members of the Academy come to the Annual Meeting to learn from experts, but the assumption that those who are heard from the most and are most visible are the only experts is not a correct one. There are many experts among our talented and knowledgeable membership, and sponsorship gives our senior experts the opportunity to promote other experts in the field. The audience needs to be assured by the sponsors that the individuals they are sponsoring are indeed experts and will bring valuable new ideas and unique perspectives to the conversation. 

Are there risks and pitfalls to sponsorship? 

Absolutely. There is always risk our biases may impact our choice of protégés, that we might unconsciously only sponsor individuals most like ourselves. Impactful sponsors leverage their connections and networks to benefit a diverse group of individuals. Similarly, protégés should identify a wide spectrum of sponsors and should be encouraged by their mentors to think broadly about potential sponsors. 

What are the benefits? 

Sponsorship allows those seeking leadership and increased visibility to achieve their goals, thereby growing next generation leaders and difference makers in otolaryngology. Effective sponsorship has the added benefit of being able to rapidly improve diversity and inclusion in the broadest sense. 

Sponsorship is a vital tool to bring voices to the table that are otherwise absent and unheard. Ultimately, effective sponsorship creates the next cadre of sponsors who will be more diverse and be able to have even greater impact on the growth of our specialty. Finally, there are the benefits for the sponsor of enhanced influence, reputation, and, most importantly, joy when protégés succeed. Sponsors report great satisfaction and happiness in their professional lives because of their efforts to leverage their professional and social capital for others.

Sponsorship can be a positive disruptive force for change. The difficult truth is that for those of us in senior positions, we need to seriously consider how many presentations, Expert Lectures, Great Debates, and Panels we need to participate in at this point in our careers. We should be purposeful in promoting more diverse voices and be willing to step aside to allow the field to become more inclusive and impactful. Sponsors must be prepared to let the spotlight shine on others but reap an incredible sense of satisfaction and purpose in return. It is both a leader’s responsibility and a great joy to sponsor others. 

More from July 2022 - Vol. 41, No. 6