This is the final installment in a 4-week series on Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors. You can review week 1: Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors – OH MY! by clicking here. The purpose of this series is to not only cover the important role that all of these can play in the advancement of your career, but also to cover how to find and work with each to get the most of your relationship.
This week, the focus is on Sponsors.
As a reminder, a sponsor is an advocate for your business/career success. A sponsor is someone who will use his or her internal political and social capital to move your career forward within an organization. A sponsor will believe in your potential and is prepared to take a bet on you. They get satisfaction from discovering your talent and showcasing you to the world.
Having the support of a sponsor is like having a safety net, allowing you to confidently take risks like asking for a stretch assignment or a promotion. They provide a protective bubble and can shield you from organizational change like reorganizations or layoffs. And they bring your name up in those high-level talent development discussions that take place behind closed doors. Sponsorship is how power is transferred in the work place.
Attributes & Benefits
A sponsor must have power, clout, and the respect of others (or “a seat at the table”) in order to be an effective champion. It doesn’t matter how much someone believes in you, they can’t really be a sponsor unless they are in a position to make others listen. Without that clout, they are more like a mentor.
I’ve heard it said that a mentor sees your potential and helps mold you. A sponsor polishes you to perfection and then invites others to invest in your future. So, while mentors listen, sponsors act – by telling you what you need to know, clearing obstacles from your path, and making your success their business.
When to Seek a Sponsor
Just like mentors and coaches, sponsors are appropriate at any stage of your career. As a matter of fact, you may need multiple sponsors over the course of your career. You may need a sponsor that is willing to go to bat for you and help open doors when you are a college graduate looking for your first job. You may need an internal sponsor when you are going for that big promotion. Or you may need an external sponsor when you are making a big career transition.
How to Find a Sponsor
You must choose your sponsors very carefully. Meaning they must be the appropriate person for what you are trying to accomplish. It doesn’t do you any good to select a VP from another division to help you with a promotion if they don’t know any of the people who will decide if you get the promotion or not. You have to be strategic.
The best way to know who the good sponsors are is to identify the leaders in your organization who have a track record of being talent developers and talent scouts. For example, listen for leaders who publicly praise subordinates, back them up when necessary, and offer challenging assignments to up-and-comers who have not yet proven themselves. That’s who you want on your side.
It’s also very important to note that it is not uncommon for a sponsor to choose you instead of the other way around. If you are a rising star at your company or within the community, more than likely someone already has their eye on you and has selected you as someone they would like to sponsor without you even knowing.
Sponsorship is not a gift. You can’t just walk up to someone and ask them to be your sponsor. You have to earn it. You have to get on their radar, you have to exceed expectations, and you have to make your stellar performance known. Nothing makes you easier to sponsor than outstanding results. But you have to show it before you can ask anyone for assistance. So, make your value visible by being prepared to share your recent accomplishments when a potential sponsor asks how things are going. Another great way to make your performance known is to find a special project opportunity working directly for one of the potential sponsors you’ve identified.
How to Work with a Sponsor
Much like a mentor, sponsors act out of the kindness of their hearts but only if they are convinced you are a winner. If a sponsor decides to go to bat for someone, they have to be sure that person is going to come through. They can’t afford to champion for someone who can’t live up to the hype. This makes sponsors very thoughtful and calculated when deciding whether or not to sponsor someone.
And just like mentoring, you must make sure the giving is not a one-way street.
Not only do you have to outperform to make your sponsor look good, you have to ensure you have their back. By advocating for you, sponsors are putting their own reputations on the line, so you have to be willing to help them succeed, too. Demonstrate that you have your sponsor’s back by sharing valuable information, offering your assistance, and aligning yourself with them and their viewpoints in public.
Don’t expect sponsors to keep track of everything you are doing and everything you have going on – they have jobs, too. It’s your responsibility to make sure your sponsor knows about your success. This is important because if they can easily point to your past successes, they’ll be better equipped to push for you to get a big assignment or promotion.
In summary, a sponsor is appropriate any time you are looking to advance your career and climb higher in your profession. Sponsors will not only talk to you, they will talk about you – to the right people. They will intentionally and proactively seek out opportunities that will help you move up, making your success their success. A sponsor can mean the difference between having a glass ceiling or a glass floor.