Sponsors & Mentors

Cultivating relationships with people who can help you succeed

Want to know a shocking statistic we have uncovered in our leadership programs from 2017- current? Ninety percent of our female program participants across the globe either do not have a sponsor or know what a sponsor is. Why is this shocking? Because it’s a critical relationship with someone who helps you advance in your career and speeds up your career growth by years. Yes, I said years.

This is a person who not only appreciates your talent, because (s)he has personally seen it or is relying upon the word of a trusted source, but also has the ability to open doors that you may not have even been aware existed. By comparison, a mentor is typically in a position to offer wisdom and encouragement but is not necessarily in a position to help accelerate your career.

Because I like analogies, I often tell women I coach that your sponsor is like your golden ticket. If you’ve ever watched “Willy Wonka,” think about when Charlie finds the Golden Ticket; it created this life-changing possibility and reality for him. Then he proved himself and Willie Wonka changed Charlie’s life forever because he knew Charlie would carry on Wonka’s legacy that fit his vision and passion. In a professional setting, finding a sponsor is comparable to that: Seeking out opportunities and leveraging relationships with others who are in a position to open doors and put their name behind you.

A sponsor is a person who is willing to vouch for you and put their own
reputation on the line, because they are confident that you will represent them well. Why am I so passionate about this topic? Because I actually didn’t even know what a sponsor was until after I left corporate- had never heard of it and didn’t know it existed, just like 90% of my program participants globally. I don’t ever want any of you to be unaware like I was. I’m confident my career would have taken a vastly different path had I been armed with that knowledge.

Looking back, I realized that I did have one sponsor who helped me move into a new position that I had been targeting for three years: Margaret Finley. Although a sponsor typically outranks you by one or two levels, it can also be a well-connected colleague at your same level, or friend, who knows people. For me, Margaret was a dotted-line co-worker, who I got to know mainly through company volunteer leadership efforts we were both heading.

Unbeknownst to me, Margaret had her own sponsor in the division I wanted to join and which I had been networking to get exposure to year over year. She went to this person who had some sway in the open job position I had been targeting, and that person then vouched for me to the hiring manager because of the trust in Margaret’s judgment. I had an interview within a week and a new job within a month. Margaret helped me overcome a three-year obstacle in less than a month. That’s the power of sponsorship.

My experience is an example of how vital it is to get out from behind your desk and develop relationships with people. You never know where the next opportunity will present itself if you simply let people know what the next exciting thing in your career is and why. Someone might just be holding that golden ticket for you.

Comments 1

  • Terrific advice! I don’t think enough people take advantage of mentors or sponsors (including myself). One thing that I struggle with is how to get that relationship started. Do you have any advice on that? I guess more to the point is how to ask the right questions to get the most benefit/learning from those folks.

    I’m also curious about your thoughts on having different/multiple sponsors throughout your career.

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