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  • Writer's pictureMandy Green

How to Find the Perfect Sponsor to Boost Your Career

Finding a sponsor within your business can really turbo-boost your progress so I’m going to give you the four vital questions to answer before you can get the help you need. 

Women need more sponsorship, that much is crystal clear from the research.  Early  to mid career is often a problematic time for women.  There’s a broken rung at the front end of the career ladder  as well as a

glass ceiling at the other end plus a leaky talent pipeline throughout so we can absolutely do way better than the current 21% of women at senior leadership level

First you need to understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor is usually an experienced person who can advise you, teach you and support your professional development.  Mentors can be great to increase your knowledge and confidence but they generally stay within the domain of learning.  A sponsor on the other hand is usually a senior level individual who will actively promote and advocate for your advancement.  With a sponsor, you become a protégé and the advantages of having this kind of batter on your team are greater exposure to high visibility or stretch projects, enhanced influence and increased promotion opportunities.  The research shows that women are fine with asking for help from mentors but lack the confidence to approach potential sponsors.  Men are more likely to take that risk so let’s just take a deep breath and  jump up too and see what happens.  The worst that can happen is that someone says no.  But think about it… the reality is that you’ll get kudos for trying and it doesn’t stop you going for it again later down the line.

So the next thing to do is make a list of potential sponsors.  Look around you.  Who do you admire?  Who has the leverage?  Who would you like to impress?  In a large company look 1 or 2 grades higher than you.  In smaller companies you could even approach the CEO.  Your sponsor can be male or female.  The most important thing is that they are ready to support real talent when they see it.  But remember supporting you will put their reputation on the line so there are key 4 questions you need to answer before you approach a potential sponsor.

1.     Am I a strong performer?  What’s the evidence for this.  What have my previous achievements and contributions been?  Can I articulate my strengths and development needs accurately.  You don’t need to be perfect (another pitfall for women!) but you do need to have a good internal acceptance of your skills and potential

2.    How am I seen within the organisation?   Are you considered to be a safe pair of hands?  Do people see you as a disruptor and innovator?  Are you known for your attention to detail or your people skills?  You’ll need to do a bit of work on your personal brand here.

3.    Am I already known by this potential sponsor and if so am I well thought of by them? What’s your existing relationship?  Do they even know you exist?  Have you had any previous dealings with them and if so how did that go?  If this is new territory you may need an extra pair of hands to open that door.  Try talking to your line manager first but if you think you’ve got what it takes, don’t take no for an answer. 

4.   Do I  know how I’d like my career to develop and what sorts of future roles I’d like to take?  Sit down and plan your short medium and long term career goals and be prepared to state them clearly. 

If you can answer all 4 of those questions, congratulations.  You’re ready to roll. 

Next prepare to approach the sponsor.  Remember that a sponsor won’t help you just to be nice.  They are there to push the talent forward for the benefit of the business so you’ll need to prepare a business case.  The good old elevator pitch can help you get clear on what potential and value you offer, what you are asking for from them and what the ROI will be. 

Finally you need to nail down a meeting and say your piece.  Remember to be short, direct and clear.  These are busy people so practice and articulate your pitch.  Stand tall, make good eye contact and ask for what you want.  Your inner critic will be full of self-doubt “I’m not ready for this!  I’m going to look stupid!  But seriously, do not take any notice of it.  Acknowledge those thoughts and feelings but go ahead push through and do it anyway.  If you can answer those four questions, you’re ready.

So now you know what you need to do, take a short time out and plan your strategy.  We need to get more women through though pipeline if we want to up that 21% so what have you got to lose?


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