A sponsor who’s genuinely vested in your success can be one of the most crucial people in your network because they have the power to open doors to new opportunities and relationships that aren’t even on your radar. So how exactly does career sponsorship work?
This is part five in the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto, supported by Charles Sturt University. See the introduction here.
While mentors can offer you navigational support in your current role, sponsors help you navigate your career.
According to Charles Sturt University Executive Dean of Science Megan Smith, sponsors widen your scope of opportunity.
“You do need people to help you see what is possible sometimes,” she says.
Smith is an active career sponsor for emerging talent but she too has experienced the power of sponsorship in her own journey.
“I have had senior members of staff tell me, ‘This is an opportunity coming up, have you thought about this?’” she says.
“‘Have you thought about being the head of school [because] there’s a range of people who might be interested in this job and I thought you might be one of those people?’”
LOOKING FOR PROTÉGÉS
A good sponsor will give you visibility, advancement, tools and resources because they have a vested interest in your career, says Zendesk’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand Amy Foo.
“Sponsors want to create protégés and succession planning,” she says.
Because of this, sponsors see your success as mutually beneficial.
“So these are typically your bosses,” she says.
Foo’s current sponsor is Zendesk’s global chief financial officer Elena Gomez, who’s based in San Francisco.
“She will never sugarcoat advice and she provides very clear navigational support and direction,” says Foo.
“If there are things I can’t see at eye level, she will tell me.
“She always gives me tools and resources that I ask for [and] she gets me to where we both want to be.”
YOUR INTENTIONS MATTER
An effective sponsor relationship can reward you with immense confidence and support to build a successful career.
But for this to be possible you need to be intentional.
“Express intention to mentors and sponsors that you think will be able to provide support and navigational ideas to you and indicate the cadence that you’d like to meet them,” says Foo.
“And when you meet them, express the outcome that you’d like to achieve so that your mentors are clear, your sponsors are clear, and they will be able to guide you better.”
Sponsorship often develops by senior staff reaching out to you so it’s important to build meaningful relationships with your leaders early on.
Never “self-censor” who you connect with as you move along your career.
“Whatever you are, there’s always misconception that people who are senior won’t have time for you [but] people are really genuinely interested,” says Smith.
“Particularly, in people [who] want to progress themselves.”
Foo also believes it’s a big mistake to assume that people like your CEO don’t have time for you.
“Be brave to speak up to people who may be out of reach,” says Foo.
“Women have a choice in sponsorship, mentoring and getting the right cheerleaders in our lives.
“We all have a choice, we just have to understand it and also exercise it.”
SPARK THEIR ATTENTION
As an active sponsor, Smith keeps a number of staff on her radar for when new opportunities come across her desk.
People who show capabilities in leadership and problem-solving always spark her attention.
“They’re people who want to improve themselves,” Smith says.
“They have a vision and a goal for where they’re trying to go, they think about what they’re doing right now and they want it to be better.
“They are people who actually listen to other people, try and form relationships, try and form groups, try to solve problems.”
When you see someone take a genuine interest in your career and encourage you to step up, don’t deflect and don’t ignore it.
“Recognise and take advantage when people are sponsoring you,” says Smith.
The rest of this series can be found here:
Introduction: ‘The Mentee’s Manifesto 2019
Part one of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to build a support network of mentors, sponsors, coaches, personal cheerleaders and more
Part two of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How leading women at the top of their game have worked with mentors and sponsors to get there
Part three of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to land a mentor and work with one effectively
Part four of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to benefit from and get started on mentoring others