A mentor can have a profound effect on an individual’s career, offering the knowledge, encouragement and connections one needs to grow. But once you’ve found one, how can you continue to make the most of that relationship?
“A sponsor speaks for you, advocates for you, uses their political capital on your behalf,” says Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America. It’s the advocacy part of the equation that makes sponsorship such a game-changer. Sponsors will make your name known within your organization, proactively offering opportunities for your advancement.
Some forward-thinking companies have created formal sponsorship programs to facilitate the development of such relationships, and the results thus far have proved promising: According to a 2010 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, 70% of men and 68% of women with sponsors say they are satisfied with the rate at which they’re advancing in the workplace. “Men and women who have powerful allies from above advance in ways that their unsponsored peers do not,” the study’s authors conclude.
One organization at the forefront of the sponsorship movement is the Marseilles-based food and facilities management company Sodexo. Since women have, historically, been less likely to receive sponsorship than their male counterparts, Sodexo has focused its efforts on accelerating female workers into leadership positions. “At the end of the day, you can skill up women, but it’s not just about women developing the competency,” says Global Chief Diversity Officer Rohini Anand. “They need someone advocating on their behalf.” When all is said and done, Anand says that the sponsees of Sodexo’s senior executives are promoted at a greater rate than that of their peers.
Even if your company doesn’t have a formal sponsorship program, you can still take steps to get the most out of your mentor relationships and ratchet them up to the sponsorship level.
Start by thinking about where you want to be in a few years, and looking to your current network to identify individuals who have the seniority to help advance your career, says Laura Shermin, co-president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a New York City-based think tank. The best sponsor, she says, “will be the person who helps you be a better, more realized version of you,” someone who “has the power and influence to help you get where you want to go.”
Along the way, you may find that some senior leaders just don’t want to be sponsors, so never set your sights on just one individual. “Put your feelers out and try to make a bunch of people your sponsor,” Shermin says. “You’re not their protégé until they decide.”
Once you’ve identified potential sponsors, it’s time to catch their attention. Make it a point to demonstrate how hardworking, loyal and trustworthy you are. After all, if they are going to put their reputations on the line for your career advancement, they’re going to want assurance that you are well worth the risk. “[Sponsors] should find it advantageous to do something for you,” says Shermin. “They should feel like you’re on their ‘A’ team.”
One sure-fire way to achieve this is by taking on additional responsibilities at work. Show your potential sponsor just how industrious and dedicated you are and, over time, the relationship will gradually turn into that of sponsorship. “The critical piece is, in order for the relationship to continue, the protégé needs to invest in that relationship and turn it into a sponsorship,” says Shermin.
The bottom-line? When it comes to turning a mentor into a sponsor, commitment is key. As critically-acclaimed author Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote in Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, “Protégés attract sponsors by delivering in exceptional ways and secure sponsorship by remaining utterly devoted, even as they distinguish themselves as stars in their own right.”