This is Why You Need a Sponsor
A sponsor makes a quantifiable difference in every measure of career success. Including satisfaction with the organisation, retention and progression, see ‘Forget a Mentor‘ by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Yet women leaders are often reluctant to go there intentionally, seeing it as tacky or instrumental, preferring their hard work to speak for itself.
If this sounds like you then ask yourself why is having a trusted and rated senior person of influence who is vested in your success not something you would want in your life? Sponsorship is about advocacy and research shows minorities get less advocacy throughout their careers and that holds them back. Without sponsorship people are likely to be overlooked for promotion regardless of competence and performance, particularly mid-career and beyond.
“Women are more likely than men to report they never have substantive interactions with senior leaders about their work. They are also more likely to say they never have informal interactions with senior leaders, such as casual conversations or lunch meetings. Because senior leaders are often the ones to create opportunities and open doors, this lack of access puts women at a disadvantage.” McKinsey & Co Women in the Workplace Report 2018
The reality is that sponsorship is central to advancement. The result of sponsorship is so dramatic you need to be aware of the sponsorship effect on your career.
The 6 reasons Sponsorship Matters
1. They can be a flywheel to your confidence and capability
2. They can help you navigate organisational politics
3. They can support your visibility at meetings and stretch projects
4. They can give you feedback in terms of your impact
5. They can connect you with people who you can learn from
6. They can be a sounding board about your career
So if you have a problem with having a sponsor, challenge that mind-set and simply see sponsorship as a relationship that can fuel your confidence and your aspirations, and then go make those relationships happen. Because if you don’t, there are plenty of your colleagues out there who will. And you can do that with integrity and authenticity. Advocacy is not nepotism nor is it a corrupt use of power.
So what is in it for the sponsor?
They care because YOU as their protégé are their legacy – leaders of substance, wisdom and influence that is (the ones you want as your sponsors). There is nothing in it for them other than that.
What that does mean however is they are spending their reputational capital on you. Don’t squander it. They are there not just to cover your back but you are there to cover theirs. To make them proud that they know good leadership potential when they see it and that others observe that in the both of you.
Do you know the difference between a mentor and sponsor?
It’s an important distinction to grasp. They can be the same person – and mentors can be a pathway to sponsors – but the roles are distinct.
Mentors tend to focus on your development, be a great sounding board and can sit at any level in the organisations. Sponsors are senior managers of influence and give you exposure to other executives, opportunities and assignments. Mentoring is extremely important but it is not always sponsorship. Progression happens through stretch assignments and becoming observed and trusted at more senior levels. Sponsors are huge enablers of that. (see my blog on visibility here.)
Research shows that women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Why? One reason is that it is what they expect and ask for.
How to get a sponsor
So if women don’t have so many sponsors and don’t get the advocacy they deserve, how might you find one
- If your company doesn’t offer a sponsorship programme, join the mentoring program and ask for a mentor several levels up from you who can develop into a sponsor.
- Network! At meetings, introduce yourself to 2-3 people.
- Enlist your boss. Ideally, your sponsor will be a level or two above your boss. To avoid any prickliness, explain what you’re after and see if she or he will introduce you.
- Choose a sponsor who is well-liked, who networks well and has influence.
- If someone says no to a request for a stretch assignment or to be your sponsor, shrug it off and move on.
Once you have a sponsor the hard work really starts, this is not an entitlement, you are not coat-tailing, you need to earn your advocacy. So go the meetings prepared. Choose a topic to discuss each time you meet, and email it in advance. Include a success on a recent project or a goal you’d like to meet over the next year. Don’t always go in asking for advice. If a project went well, ask for a chance to present what you learned to another group. As a protégé you need to come prepared and earn your sponsorship.
The need for advocacy will never go away in your career. Cultivating and mobilising relationships is a critical leadership skill, as is having a sponsor and people expect you to be exercising it.
Advocacy matters, as does the receiving of it gracefully AND the giving of it generously. In positions of influence we have a duty to do that. Don’t sabotage yourself by telling yourself it is not fair or it’s a dirty game. It doesn’t have to be. Sponsor with integrity and be sponsored the same. It makes a real difference.
Please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.