There has been a lot of discussion recently about the importance of sponsors in advancing the careers of women and minorities.
Research conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation shows that with sponsorship, minorities are “65% more likely to be satisfied with the rate of their advancement.”
Sponsors are not your mentors and are not necessarily your managers either. They are senior leaders in (and sometimes, outside) your organization with power and influence. They believe in you, have a seat at the table during decision making meetings and are willing to be an advocate for you – for a new opportunity, a promotion or to protect you, if needed.
The first question that you must ask yourself is: “How do I find my sponsor(s)?”
When prospecting sponsors in your organization, look for leaders who:
1. are not in “maintenance mode”. It is not good enough that they are senior. They need to be expanding and growing their careers and are proactively seeking out new talent and support for their agenda. Who are the movers and shakers?
2. have a platform you can get behind. They are leading a group, initiative or project that interests you and/or you have the skills that would be very valuable to them.
3. believe in sponsorship, understand the nature of sponsoring, and know how to do it well.
4. have integrity and a solid reputation. They don’t need to have the same style or approach as you do, but you want to know they operate in a manner that is consistent with your values and that being associated with them will not jeopardize your reputation.
So how do you learn more about the senior leadership in order to begin prospecting?
You can start by reading their bio’s or articles written about them. Try talking to people who have worked with them or has been around longer and, therefore, offer a more informed perspective on who’s who in the organization. Listen carefully during town halls or other meetings where you can hear from senior leaders, especially those outside of your direct reporting line. Ask them questions to get to know them firsthand. Pay attention to internal memos and news about people on the move, new appointments, announcements about projects, committees, and who the guest speakers or panelists are at events. Volunteer to be on task-forces or other committees where you might gain direct and indirect exposure to the senior managers in your organization.
As you learn more about them, start a list of potential sponsors, based on the criteria above.Sponsors can be a critical component to putting your career on the fast track. Seeking potential sponsors is only the first step, but an important one. Choose wisely as you will be investing a significant amount of time and effort to engage, build trust and deliver for these people if you truly want to maximize on the sponsorship relationship.