Stepping up in your career and your leadership is not a lone activity and, as you go into more senior leadership roles, sponsorship is critical.
A sponsor is someone who will give you the support and backing you need to be successful in your current role and in your ability to step up into more senior roles.
A sponsor’s role is to advocate for you when and where you need to be more visible – they put your name forward for roles you didn’t know existed or were becoming vacant, for example. In fact, many senior roles are not even advertised, so you need sponsors advocating for you where you can’t. A great sponsor will also help with your confidence because they will support you to step up when you might be holding yourself back.
Sponsors don’t just magically appear. Sponsorship must be earned and reviewed on an ongoing basis. But when you have the right sponsor, the result can change your career.
It is important to have a system in place and be very conscious about what sponsorship you need to support your career and your leadership. Read on for four steps to help with your sponsorship goals.
Choose the sponsorship you need
Be strategic about the sponsorship you need and then search for would-be sponsors based on this. Look beyond your immediate circle of mentors and leaders. While you should, of course, impress your boss – who can be a valuable connection to potential sponsors – you should seek out someone with real power to support your career.
Would-be sponsors in large organisations are ideally two levels above you with line of sight to your role; in smaller firms, they’re either the CEO or someone on the executive team.
Connect with appropriate sponsors
Have a conversation with potential sponsors. Don’t leave it to chance and assume they will act as sponsor for you for a specific role you are applying for or more generally be opening doors for you just because you impressed them in some way in the past.
Nurture your relationships with sponsors
Like every good relationship, your sponsor relationship needs to be nurtured. How you build the relationship will likely look different for different sponsors, but it is important to be proactive about how you nurture and manage these relationships.
As a (bad) example of this, I had a leader call me who had worked for me some time ago. He wanted me to be a referee for a new role at executive level and said he would also like my sponsorship by way of supporting him into the role. I hadn’t heard from him for eight years! I could barely remember his achievements. Nevertheless, I offered to provide a reference. But I didn’t hear from him again for another nine months – at which point he told me he didn’t get the job and asked whether I could sponsor him again. The answer was no!
Review your career and sponsors
Every 12 months, you must sit down and review your sponsorships. This is best performed at the same time as you are looking ahead to what you want to achieve for the year professionally and what development needs to take place to support that. Sponsors move in and out of organisations regularly so you never want to find yourself having applied for a role or needing support with no-one senior to advocate for you.
Finding the right people to be your sponsors and highlight your accomplishments is not always easy, but it is necessary. Just doing good work isn’t enough.
Connect with Michelle here.
Michelle Sales is a Premium member of Business Chicks, and the author of The Power of Real Confidence (Major Street Publishing $29.95).