Only 13% of women leaders have sponsors according to data from the Center for Talent Innovation. How do the rest of us get the right sponsors? Sponsors are the people several levels up in the organization who have political clout and influence to get us promotions, the right assignments, and visibility. While mentors can give advice, sponsors get us promoted. We need both. Sponsors generally find us, but we can certainly take action to be visible and raise our hand. To get the inside scoop on how people really decide who they sponsor, I spoke with several people in leadership roles and those in HR who have the inside scoop on how this actually happens.
Five Factors That Drive Sponsorship
1) Consistent Results – We have to be great at what we do and we have to do it consistently. In order for sponsors to be willing to use their precious political capital on our behalf, they have to have confidence that we will deliver for them. “Demonstrate competence consistently. It’s what builds confidence and credibility” advises Chris Lowe, President of Food Service at Coca Cola North America. This is a necessary factor, but it’s not sufficient.
2) Communication of your personal brand - What is it that you’re great at and helps you stand out? This is not about fulfilling the job description. This is about us understanding the special spark or talent we have that creates value in an important way. Are you the person that is able to turn around client relationships? Are you the person that’s able to solve the toughest problems? Are you the visionary that is able to envision future trends like no one else? A great tool for doing that is using personal assessments (I recommend Strengthsfinders and Stand Out) in addition to feedback. Discover and articulate your personal brand in your performance review and career discussions.
3) Clearly understand fit between your brand and value drivers in the organization – “It’s important to take ownership and navigate your career toward projects and assignments where your special talents also create tremendous value for the organization”, says Tammy Woodard, an HR professional for KPMG.
4) Connect strategically – Who are the people who have power and influence in the organization? They are likely two levels up in the hierarchy. Get to know them. Work on projects or teams where they can see you in action. Make sure you speak up. Get really good at presentation skills because that is where potential sponsors are generally going to see you first. “Find out what matters to them. It may be very different to what matters to you, so listen carefully. If our goal is to get promoted and they are a decision-maker then we need to help them get what’s important to them”, says Woodard.
5) Collaborate across the network – “Sponsors want to support people who have good social skills”, says Lowe. “They have the ability to get others to collaborate with them. They have the ability to get things done because they are seen as team players”. “Socialize” (get informal feedback and discussion going) on your ideas. Sponsors want to propose people for advancement who others will also give the nod to. Make it easy for your sponsor to sponsor you by making sure you have a wide network of influential people who know you and are aligned with you.
You’re probably thinking, “And I do this all in my vast reserves of spare time?”
1) Delegate and de-clutter activities that don’t count – Like most things in life 20% of our effort generates 80% of the results. Take some thinking time to de-clutter or delegate activities that don’t count. Plan thinking time on your calendar to do this.
2) Bring a strategic mindset to what you’re already doing – Much of this doesn’t need to take extra time. All it requires is a different mindset. The next meeting you’re in, make the effort to connect with influencers and understand their goals. Help them get to know you.
3) Commit to collaborating in what you’re already doing - Make it a leadership practice to help someone feel heard and understood in a meeting. It is in our enlightened self-interest to help others get what they want. These are the “social skills” that Lowe mentioned.
What is it that you’ve observed in your organization that gets people sponsored? Pick at least one action you will take from reading this that will help you get sponsored.
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This article was written by Henna Inam, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. She works with women to help them realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. They create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Nestle, J&J, and others who know female leadership talent is good for business. To accelerate your own growth connect with her here. Connect on Twitter @hennainam.