Is advancing your career at the top of your to-do list? Are you tired of waiting in the wings? Are you ready to smash the glass ceiling in your field?
Well, there is one thing you should do immediately. Find a sponsor.
I’ve interviewed over 60 of the top global companies that are leading the way when it comes to advancing women through my work with the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund. When I asked each of these companies “What worked?” I heard the same strategy cited over and over—sponsorship.
I admit that at first I didn’t get it. Sponsors? Are those the same as mentors? What’s the difference?
It’s this: sponsors advocate for the high potential employee, they look for opportunities, the visible assignments, the high stakes positions. Once they know you will deliver, sponsors will recommend you—and fight for you, if needed. Mentors are more focused on helping you with the daily challenges of your current role.
As Jo Miller of BeLeaderly put it: “While mentors help you skill up, sponsors help you move up.”
As I look back on my own career, it makes sense. Years ago, I was promoted to run a major office for an investment firm at a time when few women were leading similar business units. How did it happen? My sponsor (a senior executive a few levels above me) recommended me for the big job. When he sensed some resistance from fellow executives (“Can she really do that?” “That’s a tough assignment.” “It gets rough over there.”) he told them – “I am not recommending her because I think she can do it. I am recommending her because I know she can do it. I am willing to stake my career on her. I already am.” That’s what I call sponsorship. He not only encouraged me to go for the big job – he fought for me behind the scenes.
By the way, once I got the promotion – he gave me some guidance I have never forgotten: “Now, you better not screw it up because then it will be on me.” Fair point. Message received. And as any good sponsored employee, I delivered. I did my best to make him look like a hero. And he moved on to his next promotion.
That wasn’t my only experience with sponsorship. Later in my career I worked for the CEO of a major financial services firm who pulled me off a high-profile initiative to lead a major business unit. She could see that the business priorities were shift ing and wanted to make sure I was well-positioned in the new world order. That was the first, but certainly not the last, time she sponsored me to move on to the next thing. And I am still working with that executive today. (Thank you, Sallie Krawcheck!)
Why does getting a sponsor make such a difference? Your sponsor is critical because he or she can do four things for you that a mentor cannot. A sponsor:
The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author as of the date of this report. All information is historical and not indicative of future results and subject to change. This information is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security.