How to Find a Sponsor
There were times when my career zoomed ahead, and other times when it went sideways or even downwards.
And looking back, the single biggest determining factor for the speed and direction of my career progress was whether or not I had a sponsor at the time.
What’s so special about a Sponsor?
A sponsor is someone internal to your organization who's senior to you and has the power and clout to pluck you out and place you into a bigger, better career opportunity.
They're the person who advocates for you behind closed doors when all the important decisions are made, like compensation, promotion, and who gets which opportunities.
It really pays to have a sponsor. The question is, how do you find one?
How do you find a Sponsor?
The thing about sponsors is that they have to choose you, not the other way around.
That’s because a sponsor puts their personal reputation and political capital at risk by advocating for you. They are vouching for you with other people and pushing hard to convince others to take a chance on you. If you don’t come through and deliver, it reduces their credibility.
So, the best thing you can do is put yourself out there so that the right people can see you and be attracted to sponsor you.
Here are three steps you can take to attract a sponsor.
3 Strategies for Attracting a Sponsor
1. Identify 1-3 people who you think would be an ideal sponsor
Here are some questions to help you create your short list.
- Who’s senior enough to be in the room when those important decisions are made?
- To what extent are they likely to have the inside scoop on what’s going on in the organization?
- How much of a natural link is there between their business interests and you and your business?
2. Get them to know who you are and to see you in action
Getting potential sponsors to see you “in action” might occur naturally, like being in a client meeting together and having them see you being charming as well as authoritative. Or having them in the audience when you’re giving a speech.
Or you may need to proactively reach out to them by setting up a time to go and see them. A great reason to have the meeting would be to get their advice on a business matter or give them a business update.
3. Give them a reason to sponsor you
Once potential sponsors see you in action, then the third thing that's important is to give them a reason to choose to sponsor you. And here’s where you have a real opportunity to show your best self.
How to Attract Potential Sponsors
Here are the three key steps for making sure you’re putting your best foot (or self!) forward.
1. Look the part
You need to “look the part” for the role you want sponsors to support you for. That means observing how people are dressed for the one or even two levels above you.
For example, if you aspire to be a top executive but no one in senior management joins in on “dress down Friday”, then wearing your jeans to work might not be the best idea.
2. Act the part
Pay attention to how you behave around the office and make sure you're not treating the office too comfortably, as if it’s your home and only sprucing up your act when you're dealing with external people.
The office is the setting where your potential sponsors observe you. Pay attention to the way you sit in a meeting, the way you speak, the things you choose to say or do, and even the way you're walking down the hall. For example, are you scurrying or are you striding?
3. Deliver results for the part
At a minimum, you want to deliver the results that are expected from you at your current level. Then, ideally, you want to start delivering results at the next level that you aspire to. You want your future sponsor to see that you're capable of delivering results at the next level.
Which then brings me to the sponsorship killers.
The Four Reasons Why Sponsors Won’t Choose You
In addition to looking the part, acting the part, and delivering results for the part, make sure you don’t give potential sponsors a reason to not choose you.
Here are four common mistakes that can kill your chances of attracting a sponsor.
1. You’re seen as lacking potential
Remember, a sponsor backs you for what you can become. In that sense, it's almost more important to be seen as having potential for the next level than it is to be seen as doing a great job at your current level.
That’s because high performers, who do an excellent job at what they currently do, aren’t always high potentials who are seen as capable of operating at the next level.
You want to be seen as having potential.
2. You’re seen as selectively motivated
A “selectively motivated” person is someone who really revs up the engines and puts on the jets at the last minute or when they really like a project but who otherwise is lazy.
This tendency is a warning signal to a potential sponsor that they can’t count on you to deliver once you get that next big opportunity.
3. You’re seen as lacking in confidence
A person lacking in confidence might seem too risky for a potential sponsor to back. What if they get you a new opportunity and you don't have the confidence to execute?
4. You're seen as politically naive
When you're politically naive, you’re apt to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. This is a big risk to somebody who's looking to support you. A potential sponsor can’t afford to look bad for having chosen to sponsor you.
As an aside, asking somebody, “Will you be my sponsor?” is a sign that you may be politically naïve. It’s an awkward question that puts the person on the spot. Remember, you don't choose your sponsor. They have to choose you.
Go Attract Your Sponsor
A sponsor is critical to your career success. So go ahead and accelerate your career by finding your sponsor and attracting them to choose you.
Think about what you can do to give potential sponsors reasons to choose you. Then, put yourself out there. And make sure you don’t give them reasons to not choose you!
What's the next step you can take to attract your sponsor?
Leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear from you.
And if you already have a sponsor, what can you do to nurture the relationship with the one you have? A great place to start is to know exactly what not to do or say to your sponsor.
Awesome advice as always, May.
Glad this was helpful, JoAnn!
This was a really useful post, thank you!
I have a couple people in mind. And now I know what I need to do, it is more continuing what I do already but being bolder and ensuring the opportunities to give updates on my work happen more frequently. I usually try to avoid these opportunities!
Thanks so much for the information.
Awesome, Susie! Yes, be bolder…and show up more frequently. I also find that it’s useful to pay attention to the things I avoid – there’s often opportunity-enhancing information there!
Very useful May. Thanks. I will start taking interest in the sponsors projects, pain areas and priorities, so I am able to discuss that with him thoroughly to stand up from the crowd and get him to choose me.
Probably it is generally true. The worst side of the action is to persuade myself that looking for a sponsor is not equivalent to lose respect to himself. So this is not for everyone.
Great post as usual May, really enjoyed your video.
Great advice!! I don’t think I have the nerve to ask someone to be my sponsor—but, on the small chance that I was thinking to do so, I’m glad I read your post. 🙂
Remember—your sponsor chooses you— Quote of the day!!
Appreciate your thought-provoking perspective and guidance on real-world topics.
Good advise and actionable takeaways. Thanks May
You’re welcome, Debbie – thank you for taking the time to comment!
Thank you for this inspiring and helpful video.
Thanks helpful, may you live long and healthy sounds.
I need a sponsor in my career
Several examples pertaining to look and act the part gives physical office environment examples that a lot of us no longer find it a regular occurrence, but the guidance still holds true to look the part on camera and ensure your voice is heard.