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Why A Sponsor Matters More than A Mentor and How to Get One

A sponsor, an influential leader who actively elevates your professional profile, can power your career trajectory because they are in the room where important decisions are being made. They can promote your brand, defend you, and give you air cover if necessary.

The common trajectory for career advancement usually involves seeking mentors – experienced individuals who can guide, advise, and share wisdom. While mentors are undoubtedly valuable, the role of a sponsor is distinct and arguably more impactful in certain aspects of career growth.

Sponsors don't just guide; they actively invest in you.

Having a sponsor is about having someone in positions of influence who not only believes in your talent but is also committed to actively advocating for your career advancement.

Question is how does a sponsorship relationship unfold?

Minority female executive with broken glass ceiling
A Sponsor Can Boost your Career Powerfully

Be a High-Achiever

The first step in attracting a sponsor is to be outstanding in what you do. It involves consistently exceeding commitments, solving the toughest problems, and cultivating strong organizational relationships.

Build Your Reputation

Making your achievements known is key. It's not about boasting, but strategically sharing your impact in public forums and personal conversations. Use LinkedIn to celebrate wins. Recognize team members who contributed. Be consistent.

Identify Potential Sponsors

Not all leaders are naturally inclined to be effective sponsors, despite the growing awareness and discussion of this role in many organizations.

Your task is to determine whether these leaders share your values and are genuinely interested in dedicating their time and energy to your development. While the concept of sponsorship is gaining traction, there's often a blurring of lines with traditional mentorship roles.

This was highlighted in a study by Julia Taylor Kennedy and Pooja Jain-Link, revealing that only 27% of respondents who considered themselves sponsors actually advocated for their protégé’s promotion.

An even smaller group, 19%, provided what's known as "air cover" or active support during challenging times.

The point is, in your search for a sponsor, prioritize those who demonstrate a readiness and commitment to actively invest in your success.

Understand the Goal of your Sponsor

Understand that sponsors may have diverse motivations for their involvement. Some sponsors seek to enhance their own standing within the organization, others value the opportunity to receive candid feedback or serve as a sounding board, and there are those who are driven by the desire to leave a lasting legacy. Align your work with your potential sponsor's goals.

Ask for Help With Your Goals

Don't assume that your sponsor is a mind reader. Be specific about what you want them to do. This could involve requesting your sponsor to recommend you for high-profile projects, support you in implementing innovative solutions to existing challenges, or actively champion your achievements during performance evaluations.

Don't take your sponsor for granted

Continuously being a high performer, helping your sponsors achieve their goals, and having realistic expectations are vital. Show gratitude for investing their time and social capital on you and continue to deliver on your promises.

The significant influence a sponsor wields can boost your career fast. It is also possible to engage with more than one sponsor, enhancing the impact on your professional growth even further.

Enter these relationships with openness, clearly articulating your motivations and objectives. Bring your full enthusiasm to these interactions.

In doing so, you, your sponsor, and the organization mutually benefit, creating a powerful synergy that fosters personal growth, advances your sponsor's objectives, and contributes to the success of the organization.

Ready to accelerate your career? Book a complimentary mini-coaching call.

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