Attracting the Right Sponsor to Accelerate Your Career

Part One

Nothing happens automatically when it comes to your career success. Obtaining sponsorship is no different. How do you obtain sponsorship in a meaningful way? This two-part article will focus on providing insights to answer this question. This first article will review some of the things you should already have or know about in preparation for being sponsored. The second article will focus on actions you can take to be proactive, helping you to get noticed by your organization’s sponsors early on.

So, let’s discuss you being prepared.

As we know, mentoring and sponsorship are similar to each other, but are really two different things. You may be mentored in your company meaning that someone has committed to help you through a coaching relationship. Mentors provide you with feedback; listen to you and; help you with your overall career development. Sponsorship, on the other hand, is all of that and in addition you get someone usually very senior within your company committing to your career advancement and placing his/her reputation, possibly career, on the line for your benefit. They are banking on your success as a future leader.

In some organizations it is expected that leaders do this and there is a formal process in place along with associated performance metrics and rewards to hold them accountable for achieving this goal. In other organizations, the process is less formal, but is still expected to happen amongst the leaders. So whether it occurs formally or informally within your organization, we know such relationships can be high stakes and risky for both parties – the sponsor and the person being sponsored.

The sponsor will very likely be in a higher position than the employee and have more organizational power, so it is natural to think of such a relationship being something which your organization or the specific leader brings to you. It’s usually true that you will be invited to be sponsored rather than you asking for it.

Because organizations place such a high value on the sponsor relationship, it is often reserved for individuals, deemed by the organization, as worthy of investing in. It is unlikely that many of the senior leaders in your organization who can serve as sponsors have the day-to-day interaction or on-going contact with you in order for this relationship to occur naturally. So there is likely to be a controlled process for the pool of leaders who can act as sponsors.

But if you desire sponsorship, it is not enough for you to hope that the organization sees you as worthy of investing in. It is about positioning yourself early on and being ready for a sponsoring relationship. The better you position yourself, the more likely your chance in being sponsored. However, you have to be prepared. So, how can you position yourself to be noticed for sponsorship support whether formally or informally?

These are some of the things you should be doing or know about right now.

Performing Well In Your Current Role

Your performance is a given at this stage if you are seeking sponsorship. It counts all along as we know, but this is where it really counts. The organization must see that you are doing more than just the minimum. Make sure that you are not only performing well but exceptionally well with the projects and assignments that will make a difference. Are there any projects that you know about in your organization that meet such criteria? Are you working on them? Whether the project is or isn’t in your function or area, if you have something to contribute and can add value by successfully impacting the business in a favorable way, talk to your manager about how you can become involved. Remember, it is not just about doing what you have been assigned to do very well, but also doing the right assignments exceptionally well that position you for success.

Understanding Your Company’s Succession Planning and Talent Management Processes
Most organizations have a designated time in which they review the talent within the organization. Understanding where you fit in these processes is important. Many of the conversations about your career and where the organization sees you going will occur when you are not in that room during such talent discussions. So understanding how they work and what could be said about you is critical. Do you know who is responsible for discussing your career beyond your immediate manager? More than likely it is the succession planning team. Make sure you know what your manager is intending to say about you to this group. Give your manager the opportunity to hear your perspective so that s/he can weave that into the conversation about you.

Having a Track Record of Developing Others

We all know that it is often tough to mentor and coach others. Not for lack of desire. It often just comes down to getting our own tasks and projects completed. However, just as important as you wanting to be developed, is letting others see that you have the ability to develop your team members. It comes down to just taking the time to make this happen. Your mentees do not have to report into you or be on your team. You can even mentor your peers. The bigger message to the organization is that you are doing your part. The organization and its sponsors will see your actions. If you are successful in mentoring others, you will develop a reputation of being a developer of people demonstrating the value you see in mentoring relationships.

Now that you are clear on what you need to have accomplished first, stay tuned for Part Two. I’ll be focusing on the proactive actions you can take to position yourself to get noticed by your organization and its sponsors early on.


I am Francine Parham. I speak and write about your career, the realities of what happens at work, and how to navigate through it successfully. I am the creator of the Career Pocket Guides™, a series of books that provide practical insights, tools, and tips to use for your career success. Look for the first book in the series: “The Ultimate Career Pocket Guide” (available April, 2016).

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