You know how key a mentor can be to your success, but what about a sponsor—someone who works behind-the-scenes to advocate for you and build your reputation? We spoke with career and business experts for their take on identifying potential sponsors and developing those relationships.
The Skill Set: How to Find Your Career Sponsor
Sponsorship is entirely different from mentorship
The key difference between a sponsor and a mentor is that you often don’t know who your sponsor is. “A sponsor is often a senior-level person who has recognized your worth and contributions and advocates on your behalf without you knowing about it,” explains career coach Pamela Weinberg. “They may put your name in for a promotion or assignment, and can boost your workplace reputation, supporting you in situations where you’re not present to represent yourself.”
Identify leaders in your company with great reputations
“Seek out senior leaders who are not only respected in your workplace, but who also have the authority to advocate for you and get things done,” advises Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, an executive coach and Entrepreneur in Residence. “Your best sponsors will be those who garner admiration and influence such that others will follow their recommendations.”
Build relationships with executives
Pamela suggests volunteering with other employees when charitable opportunities come up, joining the company running group or getting involved in other after-hours activities. “Doing so allows key people to get to know you in a variety of settings,” she explains. If you’ve identified someone who could be a potential sponsor, Elizabeth suggests simply swinging by their office and saying, “I’d love an opportunity to work with you on your next project. Would you be willing to keep me in mind?” When she does, ensure you do your best possible work on the project.
Ask for advice
According to Adam Grant, a tenured Wharton professor and Entrepreneur in Residence, the best way to approach senior leaders is to ask for their advice. “You need some way of engaging people to help you,” says Adam. “You want to make them aware of your accomplishments without seeming self-promoting.’” He suggests saying something like, “I just got these two fantastic offers from two teams in the company, and I’m trying to decide which one to join,” which shows that you value their opinion while simultaneously making your achievements known. “At minimum, they give you great suggestions; best case, they go to bat for you,” he explains.
Prove your value
If you show senior members of your company what you bring to the table, they’ll take notice. “Proving your value is fundamentally about making yourself indispensable to senior leadership,” says Elizabeth. “This means not only doing your best work within your assigned responsibilities, but also being a creative problem-solver. I recommend that my clients imagine that they were in charge of their company or team, and consider what they might do to generate new business, fix an ongoing issue or create a dynamic new offering.” Elizabeth explains that proposing solutions and new lines of revenue, and becoming a go-to thought leader within your company, is a sure-fire was to show you matter. “Be a person who runs towards the fire and embraces those tasks that have no ownership or never seem to get completed,” Ivanka adds. “You have to take the initiative to start doing stuff, otherwise it’s easy to get overlooked.”
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