7 Ways to Spot a Potential Sponsor

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A sponsor is someone who is willing to place a bet on untapped potential. A seasoned sponsor will have established a track record as a talent scout and talent developer.

According to Amanda Martinez, who is Group Vice President of Corporate Procurement with Albertsons Companies, you’ll recognize a potential sponsor because he or she has a track record of creating success stories out of protégés. “Your sponsor needs to be someone who people see as a good judge of performance,” she says. “That makes the sponsor’s vote much more powerful.”

If your company is like most, there are a limited number of people in your organization who have both the desire and the influence to act as your sponsors. Here’s an important first step toward gaining sponsorship: Identify who those leaders are.

If you’re not familiar with whom these individuals are, make a point of finding out. Here are seven ways to spot potential sponsors.

1. Look for leaders who publicly praise subordinates, support them on contentious issues, and offer career guidance and challenging assignments to rising stars.

2. Talk to colleagues to uncover which leaders are hands-on in their involvement with talent development initiatives such as mentoring and high-potential talent management programs.

3. Observe the career paths of other high-potential leaders to see if you can figure out who is sponsoring them. If someone’s career is soaring, chances are there’s a sponsor or two behind the scenes, facilitating that advancement.

4.  Attend employee resource group events to discern which executive sponsors and speakers are the most involved and committed.

5. Pay attention when colleagues speak highly of the boss who made a big difference in their career, or entrusted them with a high-profile assignment that broadened their capabilities.
When an up-and-coming leader speaks up in a meeting, notice who supports them, endorses their ideas, and backs their decisions.

6.  When your organization encounters turbulence, like downsizing, reorgs or a change in leadership, watch out for leaders who are actively protecting protégés from the negative impacts of those changes.

7. If you discover a leader who fulfills two or more items on this list, take advantage of opportunities to network with that advocate and get to know him or her.

But making yourself known to a potential sponsor is only the first step. There’s more to it.

Step into a sponsor’s shoes for a moment: Can you really expect this person to advocate for you, call in favors, speak persuasively on your behalf, and generally put his or her reputation at stake to advocate for you, when you barely know each other?

Think about it. A sponsor has to trust that you’ll do what’s best for the business, and that you’ll represent them well. Before recommending you for a larger role, or a risky, high-profile project, you must display your strengths and your untapped potential. The sponsor also needs to know enough about your career goals to be sure you’ll say “yes” when they recommend you for an assignment. And they need to have faith that you’ll deliver. This level of trust can only be built over time.

Sponsorship is not a relationship that can be built in the time it takes to ask, “Hey, Valerie, will you sponsor me?” during a drive-by hallway conversation. Asking for sponsorship outright may even hurt your chances of enlisting that executive if you haven’t clearly demonstrated your capabilities, track record, and trustworthiness.

So if you aspire to attract a sponsor, go beyond the basics of business networking. Look for opportunities for the potential sponsor to get to know you and your work. This could mean volunteering to deliver a presentation to him or her, or inviting that leader to attend a team meeting where you’re scheduled to speak. Or, you can volunteer for a special project working directly for your potential sponsor, or serve together on a committee. The goal is for the sponsor to see you in action.

Step up and perform well, and you might make an impression on a future sponsor.

For a list of additional steps you can take now to attract a sponsor’s attention, click here.

Jo Miller

Jo is Founding Editor of Be Leaderly, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc., and creator of the Women’s Leadership Coaching® system, a roadmap for women who want to break into leadership. She has traveled in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and workshops, and counts being the only Aussie women’s leadership coach in Iowa among her unique “koalafications.” Learn more about Jo’s services at womensleadershipcoaching.com and follow @jo_miller on Twitter.

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