At the 2016 MAKERS Conference, Carla Harris, managing director at Morgan Stanley stated: “All the important decisions about your career take place when you are not in the room.”
This quote should give you pause. While many are aware of the importance of a good boss or helpful mentor, sponsorship is something altogether different.
An invested boss offers support and feedback. A mentor provides advice and guidance. But, a sponsor helps you get ahead.
Sponsors are usually a level or two above you and are the first to hear about interesting opportunities in the organization or industry. If they’re willing to advocate on your behalf, they can exert influence over future promotions, sing your praises at bonus time, or recommend you for stretch projects. Sponsors help you gain visibility with key decision-makers and pave the way for their proteges to get recognized by higher-ups.
A boss or mentor can also be a sponsor, but many don’t fulfill this important role in your career.
If you don’t currently have a sponsor, here’s what you can do:
- Be extraordinary. No matter what your role or title, stand out. Go above and beyond, volunteer to help others, and be proactive about learning all you can about the position, industry, clients, or strategy. Sponsors advocate for rock stars. Period.
- Identify a sponsor. This should be someone you respect and is at a level to have influence, connections, and power to open doors for you. Then, find a way to become visible to them. Use your network to get an introduction. Ask to help with a project. Be bold – rock stars have moxie!
- Request a brief meeting. Show how you’ve invested in this person’s work (e.g., followed her social media, attended her speaking engagements), share your career goals, and ask how you can continue to support her mission. Look for ways that benefit both of you.
- Drive the process. Continue to excel in your field, go the extra mile, build ambassadors across departments, and work on projects that support your sponsor’s mission.
- Inspire confidence. If you expect someone to go to bat for you, it’s critical to build trust and be loyal. Not once, not twice, but over an extended period of time.
Sponsorship can take time to develop, but it’s worth it. Make it a goal to create these unique relationships (inside or outside of your organization!) and watch your career soar!