Why You Need a Sponsor More than a Mentor

imagesA sponsor is a mentor on steroids. A mentor gives you advice, encouragement and direction. A sponsor advocates for you. Or, to use Sheryl Sandberg’s term – your sponsor “leans in” for you. Your sponsor doesn’t just help you the way a mentor would by making a few calls, helping you prepare for a meeting or checking your resume. Your sponsor is more like a linebacker: creating openings, clearing away the competition, and pushing others to help you get ahead.

Sponsors are not behind the scenes players. They connect their protégés to the right opportunities and make the case for hiring, promoting or awarding the plum assignments. This of course, means that sponsors – who are typically employed at the same company as you or may be on the board or otherwise affiliated with you – don’t have a casual relationship with you or your career.

You are an investment for a sponsor. You are good for their career, which is why they go out of their way and put their reputation on the line by backing you. Their star rises if you are a star performer. You are like a living legacy or a trust fund that throws off interest to make life better now and in the future.

In Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s New York Times article last Sunday, she quotes two executives who speak to what’s at stake and what it takes.

Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairwoman of the news group at NBCUniversal: “Sponsorship only works when it’s a two-way street… It can’t be just I need help, I need advice.” In other words, you’ve got to prove you’ll make your sponsor look like a genius.

A sponsor will only advocate for you if you have a track record of high achievement that makes you an asset worth investing in. That track record might be in school, in community or philanthropic endeavors or in the workplace. One of my coaching clients got a sponsor by participating in a community foundation project, working alongside some high profile executives who were donating their time. In conversations, he was able to make these executives aware of some of his other achievements. One of the executives helped him get hired and continues to help him get ahead in the company that now employs them both.

Kerrie Percaino, global head of talent at American Express says that what’s really on the line is TRUST. “… I need to know I can totally depend on them – because they are after all, walking around with my BRAND on.”

You’ve got to ask: why would anyone allow you to wear his or her brand and use it as your golden ticket? Consider what it means for a sponsor who has built a stellar personal brand through decades of hard work, accomplishment, relationship building, and communication.

Why would someone put all that on the line for you, betting that your future accomplishment would reflect well on his or her personal brand?

Over the years I have developed a document that I call: Achievements-In-Brief, to help me remember and crisply talk about my own accomplishments. It lists the tougher assignments and challenging clients I’ve worked on, the actions I took or directed, and the results from those projects and relationships. My challenge to you is to do the same.

Write up your own Achievements-in-Brief: consider your school projects, work, business and outside commitments. Each achievement would have three parts:

  1. The challenge you faced
  2. The actions you took
  3. The result you got

If you like, send it to me. I’ll give you some feedback, which might get you ready for attracting a sponsor who can lean in and help you get ahead. Subject line: Achievements-In-Brief, email: [email protected].

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