In another post, I explained what sponsorship is, the advantages of having a sponsor and how it can impact your career trajectory. Sponsors recommend you for opportunities and speak for you when you are not in the room. They are willing to use political capital for your benefit. Given the benefits, everyone wants to know how to get the golden ticket to one of these relationships. Also, if possible, you want to cultivate several sponsors because a sponsor can leave organizations, and having more than one can lessen the impact of someone going. Additionally, having external sponsors can open doors outside of your organization.
What are sponsors looking for in a protégé?
Sponsorship is an earned relationship. Sponsors look for the following behaviors when considering a potential protégé. These behaviors are not natural to embody, and that is what makes sponsorship so difficult to obtain.
· People who embody leadership attributes and values
· Exceptional performance, potential and desire
· People who understand the trade-off of sponsorships and is willing to meet the demands necessary to achieve a more significant role
· People who understand and influence others and actively listen to, empathize with and shape the thinking of others, including those more senior
· People who demonstrate business maturity and organizational savvy
· People who want to impact the business in increasingly more impactful ways
· People who look beyond the current role and suggest thoughtful process improvements
· People who always give more than asked for by managers, think about what is next and delivers two steps ahead
· People who fix a problem or take on a project nobody else wants
· People who appreciate what makes them unique and uses their value add
· People who demonstrate skills and competencies at least two levels up
· People who demonstrate innovation, high learning agility and ability to adapt
· People who display an incredible work ethic
· People who have a broad scope and seek cross-functional projects and opportunities
Not everyone has earned a chance to be sponsored. If you haven’t:
· Solicit honest feedback to find out why you haven’t
· Be open to what you will hear
· Take actions to become more attractive to potential sponsors
The reasons can vary from lack of interactions with potential sponsors and lack of knowledge of what you have accomplished to the hardest one of all: you have not earned sponsorship because of your commitment to your work. You can address the feedback in various ways. To do so, you need to develop a plan. Working with a mentor on this may be helpful.
How do you cultivate a potential sponsorship relationship?
If the feedback you receive indicates that you are acting like someone who has earned a potential sponsorship, doing the following can increase the odds that someone will take you on as a protégé.
· Build on a mentoring relationship.
· Increase your visibility, such as leading a committee, taking on a stretch project or working on something that no one else wants.
· Identify higher-ups who can either inspire you or have the network skills to advance you. While they must choose you, you can try to have them get to know you.
· Potential protégés should smartly cultivate potential sponsors and should learn to “toot” their own horns in an appropriate manner.
· Have a potential sponsor see you in action.
· Once you have a sponsor, you need to earn it every day. Don’t take steps that will cause the sponsor to doubt the relationship.
If the feedback indicates that you have not earned a sponsorship, you need to take a hard look at your performance and develop a plan. It would help if you also thought about whether your organization is one that will be open to a rebirth. If it is not, you may need to think about whether another firm is the right place to go — either way, you need to assess the feedback honestly.
Sponsorship can make a tremendous difference in a person’s career, and it is not free. You need to earn sponsorship before you receive it and afterward. Remember though, “earning it” does not guarantee it; the right people need to know what you have accomplished and have a relationship with you. So on top of working hard, you need to develop a brand and robust network.Sponsorship takes time and effort, and it is worth it.