Many folks out there may feel like I did 10 years ago. You are working really hard in your career or business, doing everything you know you are supposed to do. You have read all of the business books and attended personal development workshops and conferences. You are writing articles and actively engaging online, as well as cultivating your networking like crazy.
Yet and still, you wonder why is it so hard to land those coveted promotions, plum assignments, obtain that dream client account, or have visibility to key industry players?
What is that secret sauce or missing link?
If you feel like you are on a treadmill going nowhere really fast, most likely all you need is a 20% pivot in your current strategy. Maybe all you need is to find a sponsor. Stop being heads down working so hard, waiting, and hoping for someone to see your efforts.
According to research conducted at Center for Talent Innovation & Harvard Business Review, 70% of sponsored men and 68% of sponsored women felt they are progressing through their career at a satisfactory rate compared to 57% of their unsponsored peers.
I personally found out about the concept of career sponsorship merely by accident, at a happy hour ten years into my professional career. It was a lightbulb moment that really brought a lot of clarity as to why I felt like I was working so hard yet not making the significant strides I was expecting given the amount of effort I put in.
Ever since that moment, I became laser focused to make sure I would not only secure a sponsor to help take my career to the next level, I became passionate about helping others learn how career sponsorship can accelerate your career or business.
Instead of working harder, you can work smarter by simply turning some of your existing, yet passive relationships into active sponsors to turbocharge your career or business to the next level.
What is a sponsor?
Simply put, sponsors are power brokers that have decided to take a personal, vested interest in you, your brand, career, or business. Sponsors believe in your potential and are willing to take a risky bet on you.
Sponsors have what I call the “juice.” They are influential and have either a local, regional, national, or global footprint. You know you are dealing with a sponsor when you reach out to them with a need and with one phone call or text message, doors start to magically open for you without much energy.
Mentors with influence are sponsors. Mentors without influence are simply amazing mentors. While mentors and coaches may have your back, sponsors actively encourage you to take risks and will help you typically in cases where you may potentially fail.
How do sponsors work?
Unlike most relationships in your life where you are the active relationship manager, sponsors are table pounders that manage the relationship and usually advocate for you behind the scenes when you are not in the room.
They provide air cover and help shield you, good or bad. Sponsors may or may not be in your direct line of reporting at your company, may or may not be in your industry, may or may not live close to you.
Sponsors expect a great deal from you in the form of performance and loyalty because they are staking their own personal reputation to help catapult you to the next level. Sponsorship relationships take time to cultivate; the best sponsors are usually organic.
Where do I find sponsors?
Ideal sponsor relationships are ones where your targets already are aware of your skills and strengths, they stand to benefit from helping you, and they have the clout to help move your career forward. They are also within proximity – for example, you are 1 degree away from accessing them.
Assess existing relationships that you can activate into a sponsor. Pam, a former colleague, is the owner of a multi-million dollar consulting organization that has become successful because one of her former clients became a main sponsor of her business.
Heather, another former colleague, has been promoted several times in less than five years because of her sponsor relationships.
Thought starters to consider when seeking out a sponsor:
- Think about who knows you and your work, or who may have heard about you.
- Focus on power, not leadership style. Friends don’t always make the best sponsors.
- Seek out multiple sponsors.
- Look for people that have the power to change your career or business – this is not the time to try to impress your boss.
- Ask a supportive mentor or ally for stretch assignments & opportunities in your target sponsor’s line of sight.
- Request a meeting with your target sponsor for career development advice.
- Seek out to attend events, be part of programs where your sponsor will attend and introduce yourself. Have an elevator pitch nailed that speaks to their interest.
Test out your target’s “sponsorability”
Once you have identified several individuals that are target sponsors, observe the relationship interactions with you.
- Do they show up to meetings you schedule?
- Do they respond back to your emails within a reasonable time?
Be honest when making these assessments. Do not get offended or take it personally if someone is not reciprocating as you would like. Just continue to look for other potential sponsors that fit the description.
Once you have a potential sponsor that is willing to stay connected with you, build up trust and credibility in the relationship. When you have wins, share it with them. Aide a potential sponsor solve a looming business problem or help them with a pet project. Then ask them for a small “favor.”
It could be something as simple suggesting a collaboration on a project of interest to you or asking them to make an introduction to someone on your behalf. You have to strike a balance to know when is the right time to provide value versus asking for something.
But if all interactions are positive, supported, and a potential sponsor is willing to do something for you, continue to build. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Christie Lindor is a management consultant on a mission to be the mentor she wishes she had earlier in her career. She spent her first five years looking for the right model of mentorship as an African American woman in the traditionally male dominated, high-stakes world of consulting. Today, with more than 15 years of consulting experience working at top firms, Christie is sharing the secrets of great consultants in a new book, The MECE Muse: 100+ Selected Practices, Unwritten Rules & Habits of Great Consultants.