Jeanne Schulze, MA, Senior Executive Coach
As the summer heats up, so do the challenges facing organizations on local, country, and global levels. The uncertainty of a possible recession, staffing up or down, and employee decisions to stay or go make navigating career growth challenging. While we cannot control the future, we can control our mindset and how we approach it. Think of the challenges as a chance to grow and learn. Your career strategy for navigating the future starts with having clear goals, self-confidence, and a network of people that can help you on your journey. One of these is a sponsor. But how do you find one either within your organization or outside? How do you “show up” in a sponsor relationship?
Step 1: Investigate. Reach out to your organization’s HR department to collect information. Ask if they have a designated sponsorship program. If so, how does it work? Who can participate? How does one join? Ask if there are certain groups of employees who are selected for a sponsorship program, like young managers, women, people of color? Do they have sponsors but call them something else? You may find that the process happens organically, meaning connecting with a sponsor is up to you. Remember that a sponsor is an influential person, often a manager who opens doors, helps make you visible, and promotes your potential.
Step 2: Make yourself visible. This is not arrogance; it is confidence showing that what you bring to the organization is of high value, including your skills, motivations, experience, and commitment. Attend meetings where influential people are present. Join task forces on difficult issues to demonstrate your skills. Show your willingness to engage in a team whose work may be outside of your comfort zone.
Step 3: Build trust above you at work. Strive to consistently perform at a high level while being willing to just do what needs to be done. Step up and step in to solve problems, promote something new, or be an ambassador through cross-functional communication/collaboration. Demonstrate your confidence by sharing feedback from your experience and pointing to the next best steps for the endeavor.
Step 4: Step outside your box by joining external networks. Professional associations, industry special interest groups, or groups supporting a specific cause that you care about are all sources for meeting potential sponsors. Volunteering for a non-profit provides both exposure to different people and a chance to grow your skills in a different venue while making a difference.
Step 5: Show up as your best self with your sponsor. Since she is putting her brand and reputation on the line to promote you, provide her with a valuable resource to help her get her work done. You may not like the person, but you do need to respect them, trust them, and earn their trust. This is an opportunity to learn to work with difficult people while still holding on to your integrity. Check your ego at the door.
A sponsorship is a relationship. Investing in finding, working with, and appreciating a sponsor is one of the most powerful steps you can take to grow within your organization and beyond. As Brené Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Be brave. Be confident. And, most importantly, be yourself.