When it comes to career progression, you need a sponsor.
We all know that mentors provide a valuable role as a trusted sounding board for your issues, offering advice, and reviewing your approaches to solving problems.
In her book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, Sylvia Ann Hewitt says that the chief role of a sponsor is to develop you as a leader. Why? Not so much from like-mindedness or altruism, but because furthering your career helps further their career, organization or vision.
A sponsor will advocate for your promotion and lever open the door. Sponsorship doesn’t “rig the game”; on the contrary, it ensures you get what you deserve — and will propel your career far more than mentors can.
Sylvia Ann Hewitt says:
When scanning the horizon for would-be sponsors — and yes, you need more than one — many high-potential women make the mistake of focusing on role models rather than powerfully positioned sponsors.
My research shows that they align themselves with people whom they trust and like or who, they believe, trust and like them.
According to survey data from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), 49% of women in the marzipan layer, that talent-rich band just under the executive level, search for support among someone “whose leadership style I admire.”
Those you “admire” aren’t usually the leaders with power
CTI research found that only 28% of men and women at U.S. companies say that inclusive collaborators represent the dominant style of leadership at their firm. Instead, nearly half of respondents — 45% — say the most prevalent model is the classic, command-and-control leader who wants his lieutenants to fall in line behind him. Twenty percent perceive their top management to be competitive types — hard-edged, hard-driving guys who value quarterly bottom-line results above all. Very few — 6% — describe their chief as a charismatic visionary who, because he or she is focused on the big picture, seeks out tactical, pragmatic support.
In short, what female talent values and seeks in a sponsor just isn’t on offer among those with real power in the organization. This profound mismatch helps explain why so many women — 40% — fail to find Sponsors who can deliver.
Don’t waste time talking to the wrong people
You’re looking not for a friend but an ally. Your targeted sponsor may exercise authority in a way you don’t care to copy but it’s their clout, not their style, that will turbocharge your career. Their powerful arsenal includes the high-level contacts they can introduce you to, the stretch assignments that will advance your career, their broad perspective when they give critical feedback — all ready to be deployed on behalf of their protégé.
Look beyond your immediate circle of mentors and managers. While you should, of course, impress your boss — who can be a valuable connection to potential sponsors — seek out someone with real power to change your career. Would-be sponsors in large organisations are ideally two levels above you with line of sight to your role; in smaller firms, they’re either the founder or president or are part of his or her inner circle.