A Sponsor Is Having a Personal Glinda for Your Career

In the Wizard of Oz, Glinda takes an active role in Dorothy Gale's life. Glinda is the one who directs Dorothy on her path and redirects her when it was necessary. Glinda watches over Dorothy to make sure she was safe and sends help, often without Dorothy realizing its source. She allows Dorothy to learn and grow from her own experiences and never tries to do it for her. In many ways, Glinda acts like a sponsor for Dorothy, which is what you want in your career.

A sponsor's impact on a person's career, especially women and ethnically and racially diverse individuals (who historically lack sponsors), can be dramatic. It can open you up to opportunities, increase your network, and enhance your brand. Because sponsors often put themselves out for their protégés, they are much more difficult to obtain and maintain than a mentoring relationship (but mentoring relationships can evolve into sponsorships).  

What is sponsorship?

Sponsorship is using personal influence to advocate for another person's career development and advancement strongly. Usually, the protege is someone a level or two more junior than the sponsor. It can occur at all levels and some sponsorships are more impactful than others.

For example, a person can recommend you present to a business partner or for a new position or to have you head-up a transaction or litigation. All of these recommendations can impact your career and development, but the size of the effect is different.

Sponsors can be both inside and outside your organization. External sponsors can recommend you for bar panels and positions outside of your firm.

A Sponsor:

  • Uses ongoing influence to produce positive career results or opportunities for a protégé.
  • Takes on a more intensive, high-stakes form of mentoring; riskier.
  • Publicly endorses protégés, takes risks on their behalf, and argues for the next move-up development opportunity or higher compensation. She provides visibility and exposure. Sometimes they call in favors or vigorously use their influence on a protégé's behalf.
  • Puts her reputation and credibility on the line to advocate for her protégés.

A Sponsor usually engages in some of the following behaviors:

  • Alerts you to and recommends you for critical opportunities
  • Publicly endorses your qualifications and takes risks on your behalf, often without your knowledge
  • Creates the case for higher compensation, a promotion, or a significant leadership position
  • Takes a direct role in advocating for you by expanding perceptions of what you can do
  • Provides you visibility and exposure
  • Puts their reputations and credibility on the line for you
  • Gives you "air cover" so you can take risks

Sponsorship is not:

  • Favoritism/nepotism
  • An entitlement
  • A promise of promotion
  • The latest fad
  • A free ride
  • Unearned opportunities
  • An unbreakable relationship

How does sponsorship differ from mentoring?

  • Mentoring revolves around advice, counsel, and support; mentoring is relational in nature and career-oriented.
  • The quality of the relationship and the factors that determine quality – trust, mutual respect, and mutual learning – are critical to the mentoring process.
  • A mentor helps you deal with overall professional development and advancement, not merely performance goals; mentors can cover more wide-ranging, longer-term personal and professional career issues.

How does sponsorship differ from coaching?

  • Coaching primarily deals with performance; coaching is functional and results-oriented.
  • Coaching helps the individual become more productive and effective at a specific set of functions, tasks, or practices.
  • A coach enables you to identify and set goals in a particular area (function/practice) and develop a plan to achieve those goals.

Why do you want to be a protégé?

Mentoring and coaching are critical to your development and career progressions, but sponsorship gives you some unique advantages:

  • People with solid sponsors have more opportunities and promotions
  • Expands the perception of what you can do
  • Enhances a protégé's network, including other senior leaders, and helps create a brand for the protégé
  • Receive advice/unvarnished truth on self-presentation, skills, and development opportunities
  • May connect with customers or clients

Protégés are not lucky. They have earned their sponsorships. While perhaps, not in a conventional way, Dorothy gains Glinda's sponsorship because she has killed her nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West. 

Sponsorship is not a free ride but can open up doors. In the next post, we will explore ways to position yourself for sponsorship and continue earning that trust.

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Want more tips on how you can advance in your career?

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Sheila Murphy

Founder of Focus Forward Consulting

For over 20 years, as a former senior legal officer for a Fortune 50 company, I successfully developed, coached and transformed talent in corporations and law firms, as well as...