Why The Right Sponsor Might Not Be An Obvious Choice

Why The Right Sponsor Might Not Be An Obvious Choice

Do you tend to gravitate towards people like you? Or do you intentionally seek out people who are not like you in order to broaden your horizons?

There’s a common psychology principle that states that people tend to like people like themselves, but can you see how this might disadvantage you when it comes to choosing the right allies to help you accelerate your career?

In last week’s blog, we discussed How A Sponsor Can Help You Take Your Career Further; this week we’re going to explore why finding a sponsor who is not like you is a good idea, and we’ll get clear on the skills that you’ll need to bring onto your personal board of directors (your own advisory panel) if you want to go further faster.

Look beyond the superficial

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that men are often accused of having a bias or hiring people who are similar to them, but this is a far more widespread issue. 

We often like people like us because we can relate to them; we share common personal or professional experiences and we feel safe with them. However, if we continue to perpetuate these groups of “similar people”, we stifle growth. When you are ready to take your career to the next level, you need people who think differently to you, have a fresh perspective and have professional clout.

During my career in banking, some of my best sponsors were men. Their lives could not have been more different to mine. What they had though, was something far more important than common experiences: they had the skills or qualities that I needed. When you are looking for a sponsor, actively seek the qualities that you need, and give less weight to the person who possesses them!

It is, however, important that you manage expectations; a sponsor can be a powerful ally and catalyst, but no sponsor has a magic wand.

How to manage expectations

While it’s unlikely that your sponsor will have answers to all your questions, they will be an invaluable asset if they have the four qualities (see our earlier blog) that it takes to build a relationship of trust (competency, capability, character and capacity).

The sponsor-sponsee relationship is a two-way street. It might be a slow burn to get it off the ground, but with dedication and effort it could also fast-track your career and open up a world of new opportunities. Be clear about what you want from the relationship, and when you’re trying to find the right match, look beyond the commonalities and pursue the qualities that you need to set you up for success. 

The qualities you need for your personal board of directors

We touched on your personal board of directors in last week’s blog; your career will benefit from having access to a range of support. There are five main qualities to look out for (or “seats to fill”) on your personal board:*

-1- Mentor: the first seat on your board of directors is held by your mentor who provides advice and support.

-2- Strategist: you will benefit from having a strategist in your second seat so that you have direct access to insider information. For example, I was once experiencing difficulties with a senior colleague until my strategist told me a bit more about this person’s political background; once I had this information, our dynamic changed for the better.

-3- Connector: when you find the right connector to put in your third seat, you will have somebody who introduces you to worthwhile connections, makes your value known and shares relevant information to help you advance your career. 

-4- Creator: your creator will help you realise opportunities. At Elevate Talent, we often find that jobs are created for the “right people”, rather than the right person recruited for a job. Your creator will bring you big-picture thinking, and support you to uncover the opportunities you need.

-5- Sponsor: your sponsor will support you by walking alongside you, having your back, and helping you forge the career path that you desire. 

While you might find somebody who possesses more than one of the above qualities, keep checking in by asking yourself two questions: 

  • What qualities do I need to develop? 
  • Who has these skills or qualities? 

You are not looking for carbon copies of yourself; you need people on your board with the skills and diversity of experience who will challenge you, bring you out of yourself even more, and support you to rise to new opportunities.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that the right sponsorship in particular can make a huge difference when it comes to helping a woman to progress her career (read more in the Harvard Business Review).

Where does Elevate Talent fit into your board of directors?

We run a virtual training programme to develop the female talent pipeline. Together we overcome the persistent challenges faced by women; our most recent survey of delegates revealed that 34 per cent were promoted or moved to a new role during their time on our programme. If you’d like to know how we can support you or your business, get in touch.

Also, check out our new eBook ‘A 4-Step Plan To Help You Run Impactful And Engaging Training Seminars

P.S.  Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter if you’d love to get involved!

 

References

* An adaptation of the work by Herminia Ibarra of London Business School.