Mentors are extremely valuable resources. They can help widen our perspective, identify alternatives and enhance our ability to see ourselves as others see us. They can also help us exercise our critical feedback muscles in an era when humility is seen as the new smart. How we handle critical feedback is important if we want to be viewed as an invaluable member of the team who can be trusted with increased responsibility. But when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, sponsors are the people to seek.
Mentors and sponsors, although different, are closely aligned. While a mentor supports job development, a sponsor connects you to actual job opportunities. They are people in positions and with the clout to recommend you for promotions they learn about. It’s not uncommon for one person to be both mentor and sponsor.
Like finding a mentor, finding a sponsor can be challenging – especially if you are not naturally inclined to seek out help for personal advancement. But if you’re looking for ways to move up, it’s important to be deliberate about the connections you make and the goals associated with those connections.
Here are 3 important questions that can determine if you’re ready to be sponsored.
Who am I already connected with who has the power to promote me, or direct knowledge of opportunities within my current company? It can be intimidating to cast a net into unfamiliar waters, so assessing your current network is a more comfortable place to start. If you look at your existing connections through the lens of sponsorship, you’ll more than likely come up with a respectable list of influential people who know other influential people. They are people who are well networked and informed. They seem to know a surprising amount about what’s happening inside and outside of the company. Everyone, including the company’s leadership, likes and respects them – which may mean building a relationship with them is fairly easy.
Besides my current network, where else might I find a sponsor? Networking events are specifically designed to help you meet people outside your company. You can also make great connections through post-graduate, continuing education or skill building programs. Volunteering, particularly at the Board level, is another great way to connect with new people who are committed to having an impact beyond their 9-to-5. For them, helping you is just as rewarding as fulfilling a non-profit’s mission.
Do I have a solid track record? You need a sponsor to plug you into their cherished network – which means your performance reflects on them as well as you. Are you worthy of someone putting his or her own reputation on the line? If your own reputation could use some repair, there are ways to address that.
Is your ambition sincere? Are you genuinely ready to increase your level of engagement and commitment? Or do you just want out of the job you’re in? This is an important distinction. If you’re asking someone to put themselves out for you, you have an obligation to deliver.
All right! You’ve determined you are ready to make a move. You have a list of potential sponsors in hand. Start by communicating to your mentor that you’re interested in taking on a bigger role and would like her/his help. Don’t leave it to chance that your mentor knows your ambitions and intentions. Be clear about what you want and ask them to play a role. Using this approach, you’re attempting to turn your mentor into a sponsor.
No mentor? No problem. You’ve got your list of key people to connect with – the ones with relationships and the clout to help you make your next move. Invite them to lunch or coffee and share your desire to grow. Briefly explain what you have to offer in a bigger role and ask them to keep their eyes open for opportunities for you.
Finally, if an opportunity does come you way as a result of this relationship, be sure to graciously thank your sponsor, and be willing to do the same for others…pay it forward.