We all know that having a sponsor is one of the most crucial aspects of career development. A sponsor is your voice when you’re not in the room, your advocate when HR is judging you solely on your resume, and a bridge into executive offices and new opportunities.
At nearly every networking event I go to, someone always asks me, “How do I get a sponsor?”. Indeed, it is a challenge and takes time, but it’s not nearly as difficult (or as formal) as some think and, in fact, it’s highly likely you already have people sponsoring you (or indicating their willingness to sponsor you) and you don’t even notice.
Here’s some not-so-subtle ways you’re already being sponsored.
They torture you with exercises. Recently, while agonizing over a spreadsheet of numbers and formulas and scenarios I could hardly understand, my boss told me, “Do you know why I torture you with exercises like this? So you learn how to do it yourself and if I’m not in the room, you can answer a question.” A previous manager would always assign me the biggest pain-in-my-ass projects that didn’t fit anywhere else. I thought he was just dumping them on me, but instead it was those projects he would ask me to present on and roll up to executives. If you’re being assigned tedious tasks, given difficult challenges, and handed projects no one else wants it’s highly possible you’re being tested, groomed, and set up to showcase those accomplishments and knowledge down the road.
They say your name a lot. Next time you’re talking to a manager or someone in a position of influence, note how often they say your name. If they say it more than a twice, it can show that they 1. actually know who you are and what value you bring and 2. have likely said it before or will say it again at their next meeting. A trick to get someone to say and repeat your name is to say and repeat theirs. Say it when you greet them and say it again when you’re closing the conversation with the ever-important recap of what you just talked about. “It was wonderful to catch up with you, Peter, and talk to you about my goals for our channel organization to drive revenue in second half 2018.”
They SPAM you with FYIs. There may be nothing more annoying than an FYI email, but if you find that a superior is consistently sending you information, looping you into email chains, and inviting you to meetings, it possible you are being included so your voice can be heard. There is no greater power than access to information. Read those emails, notice who’s on them and who’s making the decisions and why they made those decisions. So often a decision made by one team affects another so start using some information from that email you were just added to influence a decision on your next call.
They put you on the spot. Every time someone starts a sentence with ‘Not to put you on the spot but….’, I get massive heartburn because I’m about to be put on the spot. Managers that do this to you every time you get on a call with 100 people are assholes, but if someone does this to you when it’s just the two of you or in a small group of other managers or executives may be testing your ability to think fast while giving you an opportunity to share your thoughts on something important. Another sign that someone is willing to help you move up the corporate food chain is their insistence of you being uncomfortable. And by this I mean, they push you to take a new role that frightens you, they encourage you to present on the next champion call, or they assign you ‘stretch goals’ that test your endurance and drive.
They tell you. I used to miss this one all the time. A manager would tell me they were talking to another manager and mentioned me, or they told an executive I had handled a project well, or they shared with another team a best practice I developed. These seem like small things, but soon enough your boss may casually let you know he was chatting with the CEO and told him what a great job you were doing and that, my friends, is a very big thing.
Picture credit: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2014/04/21/scenes-from-marathon-route/coGjAQNBHFkjga6fBnFWUI/story.html?pic=3