“How do we communicate to people that they don’t just get a sponsor? How do you help them understand that sponsorship is support they have to earn?”
I received this question from one of our partner companies that is working to start an internal sponsorship program to develop its people. This question is pertinent because sponsors are different from mentors. Mentors give you advice, but sponsors put their own reputations on the line to help advance your career. You can choose your mentors, but sponsors choose you.
Sponsors will make an investment in you, and it is your job to earn that investment. In this five-part blog series, we will help you see how you can set yourself up to earn the support of a sponsor and take your career to the next level. We will equip you with tools to “S.H.I.N.E.”
First, you must “Show up as a leader a Sponsor would stake his/her reputation on.” Here’s how:
Demonstrate Your Desire to Learn and Advance
You are already a top performer. Your results show it. And that’s great because the first step of being sponsored is to consistently deliver and exceed expectations. According to recent research by CTI, 62% of respondents said nothing makes you easier to sponsor than outstanding results. But how do you make yourself stand out if you are surrounded by top performers? Sometimes, simply communicating that you want to get better, grow, and advance your career can do the trick. Ask your potential sponsor: “What can I do that will stretch me and wow you?” A sponsor who sees that you are excited to own your career will be confident that their investment in you will be worthwhile.
Share Bad News Early
Sponsors risk their reputations by supporting you. As a sponsoree, you make a commitment to your sponsor to support them like they support you. One way you can do that (and demonstrate your leadership capability) is to communicate bad news early, bring ideas for solving the problem, and keep your sponsor regularly informed of the steps toward resolution.
Sue Suver, CHRO for Aptiv, recalls a time in her career where she had just been promoted from a role in Communications to the VP of Organizational Development, reporting to the Chief Financial Officer. In this new area of the company, Sue was not a technical expert, but she had been brought in for her leadership. When one of her projects had a significant problem, Sue went directly to the CFO and said, "Randy, we've got a problem."
She walked him through what they discovered, her alternative solutions, and what her recommendation was going to be. Then she looked at him and said, "Listen, what's happened here, we're still trying to understand. But make no mistake, as the leader of the group, I own it. It's my responsibility to understand what went wrong and to make sure that we can fix it so that it doesn't happen again. You have my commitment to do that, and I'll come back in a couple of days and tell you where we are."
The next day, the CFO stopped by her office. "I wanted to tell you that what you did yesterday was a real sign of your maturity, and it told us that you were exactly right person to put in this job. I wish more of our leaders were comfortable getting the bad news out of their mouths early and that more people were comfortable owning it."
When something really goes poorly, it is a leadership moment. You can either shy away from it, or you can take a lesson from Sue and own it. Owning the bad news builds trust with your sponsors (or potential sponsors), who will know that you will have their backs.
Act Like It
For a sponsor to have confidence in promoting you, he/she needs to know you have confidence in yourself and the competence to do the job. This isn’t “fake it ‘til you make it.” Act Like It means you need to shape your mindset to match the role that you want.
A Signature graduate from our program in 2013, called to tell me the CEO of her company was considering her for Chief Strategy Officer and a member of the Executive Committee. She didn’t know he thought about her in that way and was stunned that he did. I guided her to let it boost her confidence and change her behavior. “Act like you are in that role. In meetings, ask the questions that reflect you are thinking about the corporate strategy. In your discussions with others, voice your opinion about opportunities for growth. Use the word strategy in your presentations. Carry yourself in a way that someone on the Executive Committee would.”
Three months later, she was promoted to this position, and it was no surprise to anyone she worked with. Her intentions aligned with her words and actions, and she showed her true capabilities. Give your sponsors the confidence they need to put you in a position to succeed.
If you want to be sponsored, you must earn that investment. Share with us an example of how you earned your sponsor in the comments.