Throughout my career in the technology industry, sponsorship has been a secret component of my career success. While mentoring is widely known and practiced, sponsorship is still at an early stage of intentional acceptance. Earlier in my career, I remember thinking I wanted to be a fly on the wall during calibration meetings of people where talent potential and promotion were discussed. When I became a HR manager and then a manager, I knew that behind every job appointment or promotion, there are always key decision makers who advocate for you to get that role. That’s why sponsorship is the key to accelerating career growth.
What is a sponsor?
A sponsor is a person who embodies the desire to help you grow professionally. This person is older than you in the organization – some potential sponsors may be your manager, your missed manager, or any business leader you work with who is older than you. They know your job and know you as a leader, and so they can speak positively about you / for you when you are not in the room. The key difference is that the sponsor will use its “political capital” to help you open the door to new opportunities, defend you and help you expand your network. To get a sponsor, you must first work hard to build your credibility. Ultimately, combined with strong achievements and sponsorship your sponsor (s) can help you advance your career and strive for success.
Having one or more sponsors is especially important for women, as women are reportedly sponsored 1.5 times more likely strive to be top executives. With sponsors, women are also more likely to turn to managers about a stretched project (a project beyond general knowledge that allows them to develop and prove their skills).
The key difference between a teacher, a coach and a sponsor
It is important to emphasize the differences between teacher, coach and sponsor. A teacher is a person who has the skills you want to learn – they pass on knowledge, experience and advice. A coach is someone who can help you clarify your career goals, build capacity and manage internal interventions impostor syndrome. A coach, unlike a mentor or sponsor, is usually external to your organization, although some companies have internal coaches.
The sponsor is not necessarily a teacher or coach, although they may share qualities with both. Rather, they are the ones who both win and use their political capital to help you move forward. They will help you gain visibility, and to someone you will be able to promote a win-win partnership of achievement and advocacy. A great sponsor will challenge you with a bolder vision to allow you to see your greater potential.
To find a sponsor, first think about whether your goals match the goals of your manager or the leader you view as a sponsor. This will help you achieve both of your goals. If they see that you are helping them achieve the company’s goals, they will be more inclined to help you expand your responsibilities and thus enhance your career. Now your success also becomes a win for the company!
Your North Star career
When looking for sponsors to help accelerate your career growth, it’s equally important to know where you want to go for your career, especially for mid-level executives and executives. Careers North Star helps a person visualize the overall picture of their career or what is their ultimate career goal. They can then recognize the paths they can take to lead them to this goal, the skills they may need to achieve it, and the courses of action they can take today to get closer to that goal. In my own career path, when I decided that my North Star career would one day become a marketing director, every role I took from that moment on was very deliberate. I pondered what role would give me new competencies and skill sets that would allow me to eventually rise to the CMO position.
When creating a North Star Career, there are a few important questions you need to ask yourself. Try starting with:
- What do I appreciate?
- What is most important to me?
- What worries me the most?
- What’s the big picture for me?
Then, when looking for possible ways forward, consider:
- What positions will bring me closer to my North Star career?
- What skills or competencies do I still need to develop?
- What strengths do I like to use?
Sponsorship combined with the hard work and clarity of your North Star career will allow you to open up career opportunities that you may not have even dreamed of. This can allow you to go for the calculated risks, engage the support system and cultivate your personal brand. Within your company, sponsorship can simultaneously promote the greatest talents, help your company strengthen the pipeline of continuity of leaders, and cultivate an inclusive leadership culture.