If you’re ready to get on the fast track in your career, there’s no faster track than sponsorship by someone with the power to help you on your way.
This might sound like mentorship, but some nuances differentiate a sponsor from a mentor. You may already understand what a mentor is and what they do, from connecting you with a wider network to sharing advice and experience or just being available to brainstorm your latest great idea. But they don’t necessarily influence your promotions or pay.
A sponsor must also not be confused with a career coach. Career coaches, in my humble opinion, are fantastic and they can assist you as you seek out your sponsor and other members of the personal board of advisors we talked about previously. But ultimately, to move up into the ranks with top execs, you need sponsorship.
What Is a Sponsor?
Unlike other people in your professional network, your sponsor proactively improves your career prospects in very tangible ways. A sponsor is the real deal, someone who has both the influence and power to open doors and welcome you to walk through them. This is typically a senior executive with the authority to endorse or even hire you.
It’s important to note that a sponsor is personally invested in your success from the moment they offer you an opportunity, a new responsibility, or speak on your behalf. By advocating for you, they now bear some responsibility for the outcome. Do your utmost to reward their faith, and surely more will follow.
“Sponsorship is about putting your name and reputation on the line for someone else. It could be as simple as recommending someone for a new role, yet it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools any organization has.” — Lynne Doughtie
Finding A Sponsor
Securing a sponsor can take some time and requires patience. You can’t just knock on a random door in the C-suite and ask a VP to take you under their wing. Sponsorships are powerful, and, as such, you must earn them.
Here are some ways to gain the recognition and reputation that might draw the eye of a potential sponsor:
Be Outstanding: It’s the top performers who consistently exceed expectations and go above and beyond to get results who get noticed. (Be sure to document these too – make sure your wins get recorded on your performance reviews!)
Be a Problem Solver: What are the pain points in your organization or within your department? Figure out ways to solve them, and you’re an instant superstar. Streamline processes – become proactive about stepping up to handle more when there are vacancies.
Be a Team Player: Build a reputation as someone who plays well with others. Positioning yourself as a go-to source for information is an organic way to demonstrate leadership chops. Develop relationships with diverse people throughout your organization and act as a connector (someone might just repay the favor!)
“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” – Booker T. Washington
Be Customer-Focused: Customers are the very reason that any business exists. Delivering service excellence to clients means repeat business, a better bottom line, and happy shareholders. That certainly gets you noticed.
Be Authentic: By knowing who you are, what you do best, and what your core values are, you’ll exude confidence. Trying to be someone you’re not, means you’re trying too hard, and that can turn off a potential sponsor. Be you, be proud of the work you do, and do it the best you can.
Be Vocal: Let’s get loud! Well, not too loud, but don’t be afraid to share your success stories. Ask for what you want, and be sure that your boss, your mentor, and others know what types of opportunities you’re looking for. That way, they can speak on your behalf when it matters most.
Be Patient: This bears repeating. It might take some time, but it is worth it when you get to exactly where you want to go.
“Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” — Joyce Meyer
P.S. You won’t always know who your sponsors are. Someone “in the room where it happens” might advocate for you without your knowledge. This can show up as an executive coach, professional development invitations, high-visibility projects, or an opportunity for promotion.
What steps will you take today to secure your sponsorship? If you need a little advice on where to start, let’s talk!