Having a sponsor can dramatically improve your chances of career advancement – even more so for women and minorities. In my article How to Prospect Sponsors we reviewed the importance of sponsors and how to go about prospecting for one. Here, we look at some very important do’s and don’ts when engaging and securing a sponsor.
Proactively find opportunities to network with senior leaders. Attend events, brown bag lunches or presentations that give you a chance to learn from and interact with them. If you have a worthwhile update or a specific topic on which you can have a one-on-one meeting, set one up. Speak up at the meetings where these people are present and make yourself visible and memorable to them. The intention isn’t necessarily to build a friendship, but to build rapport and open up a professional, meaningful line of communication. Show your potential sponsor that you understand their values and that you’ve internalized those values on a deeper level. For example, if your sponsor has talked about a new initiative on the horizon, you might be proactive and provide them with research, notes, and informed thoughts on the subject, demonstrating that you’re paying close attention and invested in the organization’s direction.
Put your eggs in one basket. Cultivate more than one relationship. While you may be eager to motivate an influencer or senior manager to become your sponsor, the person you think may be a good sponsor might not be interested. Ultimately, they will choose who they want to sponsor. Or, expect the unexpected. There could be changes within the organization at any time, or that person may switch their own career path. Any number of other disruptions could interfere with your sponsorship relationship. It may just “not work out,” so make sure that you’re building relationships with more than one person rather than having to start at ground zero in your search for a new sponsor. Even if you have an excellent sponsor, continue to network and build relationships with other prospective sponsors in your organization.
Put your best foot forward. It’s not about doing a ‘good enough’ job but instead, showing that you are committed to your sponsor by going above and beyond what is expected. Show your best work. Always deliver your work on time and make sure that you are contributing work that is of the highest quality. Anticipate what your sponsor may need and get it done. Your contribution is not about doing “favors” or giving a little bit of help to someone. Your effort needs to be more significant: pushing the most important agendas forward. Try providing assessments and reports that they haven’t necessarily asked for but that will greatly assist them on the key projects they are focused on.
Assume that your sponsor knows what you want from them. First, it is essential that you are clear with what you want in your career. What are your goals? Are you seeking a promotion or a role with broader responsibilities? Are you looking to move to a different office? Maybe you’re interested in taking on a specific project. Then communicate these goals to them at the appropriate time. Make it easy for your sponsor to support you.
Recognize that there will be a period in which you will be investing time and effort before a sponsorship relationship actually materializes. You need to consistently show potential sponsors that you are committed and that you can produce results that will help them. They also need to trust you. And building trust takes time. During this period, it is your job to initiate updates and to keep them informed of your contributions.
Mistake sponsors for mentors. A sponsor is not someone who you should let see your weaknesses, and they are not a shoulder to cry on. Remember, you want your potential sponsor to have every reason to push for and advocate for you. Don’t leave any doubts in their mind. You can certainly use mentors and coaches for moral support and encouragement to help you overcome challenges or difficulties, but make sure you are differentiating between who is who.
Sponsors are critical in moving you career forward. Understanding the relationship with your sponsor and how you engage them is the key to securing one: Be clear on what you want from the relationship. Invest time in cultivating your relationships, build trust with your target sponsors, and deliver extraordinary results.