I’ve talked a lot about the importance of having a mentor, as well as a sponsor, and why they’re different. To recap, a mentor is someone who will talk to you, while a sponsor is someone who will talk about you. A sponsor will offer more than just general advice and guidance. They will connect you with their network, give you stretch assignments, give you cover so you can take risks, and use their political capital to help you advance. While women tend to have many mentors, they often lack sponsors who are so crucial to success.
But, before you can find a sponsor of your own, it’s important to do some self-reflection to figure out if you’re sponsorship ready. Have you earned yourself a sponsor? After all, like any relationship, a sponsorship is a two-way street where you are expected to do your part. So, what does it mean to be sponsorship ready? The answer is in the 3 C’s: Competence, Credibility and Confidence. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Competence. First and foremost, you have to be excellent. Nobody is going to risk their reputation on someone who can’t deliver results or who only puts in minimal effort. If you think you have to be born with excellence, you’re wrong. As the wise philosopher, Aristotle, once said, “…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” So get into the habit of doing the things that will make you a rock star. Go above and beyond on your assignments, ask for feedback, deliver results, make new relationships, and learn and articulate your value proposition.
Credibility. When assessing your credibility, what potential sponsors are really doing is assessing your reputation. Are you known for turning in assignments on time and error-free? Do colleagues often seek out your expertise? Do you have a reputation for honesty, strong character, and integrity? These are the kinds of qualities that will inspire organizational leaders to take a chance on you. On the other hand, if you’re consistently late to work, turn in sub-par or mediocre work product and rarely venture out of your office to forge new connections, it’s unlikely anyone will deem you ready to take the next step.
Confidence. This one is tough. I mean, who doesn’t struggle with confidence from time to time? But if you want your company leaders to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. I’ve written about confidence before, and while it’s not easy, building your self-confidence is key to moving into more senior roles. Remember that confidence is a learned skill, not an innate character trait. Project confidence in everything you do – stand up straight, maintain eye contact, and speak clearly. Don’t feel the need to apologize for sharing your opinion, and when all else fails, fake it till you make it!