Career Boosters: Mentors, Advocates and Sponsors
Building your career? You’ll need help. No matter how good you are at your job, you can’t sit around waiting to be noticed. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, the Tiara Strategy (head down, deliver great work, hope someone notices) rarely works. You must promote yourself, and find others to speak up on your behalf.
Yes, you should impress your boss and take credit for your work. But mentors, advocates, and sponsors will take your career to the next level. Together they cover 3 important parts of your career plan: skilling up, being talked up, and moving up.
Mentors help you develop a skill. They can be within or outside your organization, at any level in the hierarchy and of any age. They just need to be better at the skill than you are, whether that’s a technical activity or an aspect of leadership. A mentoring relationship is a safe space, where you can share your concerns and vulnerabilities. Mentors take great personal satisfaction in helping their mentees succeed. Find a mentor by identifying someone from whom you want to learn, asking them to teach you about that specific skill, and committing to listen and learn.
Advocates bridge the gap between mentors, sponsors and colleagues. An advocate knows and respects you and your work, in depth. They speak positively about you to others. They can be former or current peers, managers, or direct reports. Colleagues on high-visibility project teams, or people with whom you worked closely to solve a difficult problem make great advocates. Their first-hand experience with your work style and performance gives them instant credibility. Advocates are members of your network’s inner circle. They help you get credit for your work, are wonderful references, and believe in your ability. Sponsors often find potential proteges through their advocates.
Sponsorship is a much more transactional relationship. A sponsor can make or influence a hiring decision, placing you on the next rung of your career ladder. They are by definition at least 2 steps up the hierarchy from you, or even more. The Sponsor invests her political capital in helping your career; in return you must deliver! Sponsors get someone they trust, who will work on their behalf. Successful sponsors also develop a reputation as spotters of top talent. The Sponsoring relationship is about the sponsor’s success as much as your career advancement. You can’t ask someone to sponsor you; your work, and your advocates, must bring you to their attention.
Fitting them all together: The career boost in action
Laureen, is the head of marketing for a small country organization of a big company, with a track record of creative promotional strategies resulting in steady sales growth over the past 5 years. One day Juliette, Commercial Head of her region, invites her to a meeting. Laureen rarely sees Juliette and has never spoken privately with her, so she is shocked to learn that Juliette knows all about her successful programs and wants to hire her as her own strategic assistant – a 2 step career jump!
Juliette is offering to Sponsor Laureen. How did it happen? Through Laureen’s own work, along with her mentor and advocates. Laureen’s mentor, Elaine, helped her develop her skill as a marketer, improving her programs. Her colleagues in other countries, Karin, Stephen and Anne, built on her ideas and gave her credit for inspiring them. And Juliette, a leader who listens to what’s happening in her teams, heard about Laureen and investigated.
Elaine helped Laureen skill up. Anne, Stephen and Karin talked Laureen up. And now Juliette will help her move up. Want to learn more about mentors and sponsors? Read my post on being mentored into a corner.
Look through your own network. Who are your advocates? Who are your mentors? And who could be a sponsor? Together they can help you build your dream career!