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Sponsorship is about putting your name and reputation on the line for someone else. It could be as simple as recommending someone for a new role, yet it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools any organization has ~ Lynne Doughtie

You know that song by Teairra Mari in which she talks about finding a man to finance her lifestyle? The one who fills up her tank, buys her designer items and the like? It’s called “Sponsor.” That is not what we are talking about here.

I wonder if Carla Harris knew of this unfortunate colloquial meaning of the word when she chose to use it to describe one of the key people you need to advance in your career? I imagine she didn’t.

Carla gave a very compelling 10ish minute Ted Talk titled “How To Find the Person who can Help you Get Ahead at Work.” In it, she explains the concept of a Sponsor. Most companies describe themselves as a meritocracy as she puts it. A place where if you put your head down, work hard and perfect your skill then that will be enough to get you a seat at the top table. In her view that is not entirely accurate.

She became convinced of this when she sat in her first “assessment meeting” and listened to fellow decision-makers advocate for the progression and reward of particular employees and the opposite for other employees. She realised that in order to progress, we each need an influential person “to pound the table on our behalf” behind closed doors and say “have you seen the work she is doing? She is excellent. She deserves the maximum bonus. Promote her.” As long as the performance assessment process has a measure of subjectivity in it, a sponsor is a necessity.

Sponsorship is sometimes about people behind the scenes who are sitting in rooms determining your assignments and your next career step, and you don’t even know who they are ~Cathy Engelbert

The Business Insider describes a sponsor as “…a special person. It is not just someone that sees you as a protege, they have the ability to make decisions on your career and be proactive in promoting you to managers within the company — making you visible and highlighting your achievements. They are someone sitting in a boardroom talking about you to top decision makers.”

A sponsor is not a mentor.” A mentor is someone more senior in skill than you who nurtures your talents, gives you tips on how to succeed, and gives you constructive advice on how to improve your chances of getting a seat at the top table.” They don’t need to be with or have influence with your employer.

You have two currencies with which to attract a sponsor: performance currency and relationship currency. Performance currency is accrued by consistently delivering on goals and targets and even exceeding them. The more you excel, the more you get noticed. When the right people notice you, they voluntarily sponsor you by advocating for you.

Relationship currency is when you invest in the people in your environment. A sponsor uses their own hard-earned influence currency to move your career forward for no return. Why would a person do that if they do not know you, have never engaged with you and feel no connection with you. This is why getting to know people in your work environment matters. It gives them the chance to get to know you too. This is another way of saying that there is no way to get away from networking. I can hear my fellow introverts gasping in horror 😀

Should you find yourself in the market for one, a sponsor has 3 primary characteristics:

  1. They need to have a “seat at the table” in your organisation;
  2. They need to have had exposure to your work; and
  3. They need to have the juice to make things happen for you.

Carla and other career experts insist that a mentor is a “nice to have” but a sponsor is a necessity. Ask yourself, “who is carrying my paper into the decision-making room?”

“If you are in the room already, then remember that the way to grow your power is to give it away and your voice is at the heart of your power so use it to speak up for deserving people who might otherwise not be noticed.”

2 thoughts on “Women @ Work: Why You Need a Sponsor (Not the Sugar Daddy Kind)

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