A common complaint I hear from people is that they cannot find a mentor. A term I prefer to use is sponsor. A sponsor knows your strengths and advocates on your behalf. It’s different than a mentor and good to have both but if you can only have one of them, a sponsor is more important.
In large and complex organizations, it can be immensely difficult to be ‘discovered’ on your own merits and it is hard to drive change without a strong sponsor. A sponsor is often the person who speaks on behalf of others and advocates for them and/or their projects.
Do you have a sponsor?
I recently led a group of high potential executives through a “stakeholder analysis” and it culminates in discovering your sponsor. It’s easy to do and most people could benefit by going through the analysis:
- Identify all the stakeholders in your network (make a list – names or initials).
- Create a map with yourself in the middle and start to place others by initials in triangles around you; the people you work with the closest are closest to you on the map and those you work with the least are the furthest away (based on how frequently you interact).
- Evaluate the relationship. Based on how much trust is in the relationship draw either a thin line if there is low trust or a thick line if there is high trust. Then add arrows indicating if the relationship is one way or two way (reciprocal). Flag relationships as effective or ineffective with a unique symbol for each. (Often a relationship with low trust and is only one way (you always initiate) is with people outside of your inner circle is a relationship issue).
- Lastly, denote who your sponsor is. A sponsor is someone who can help you grow and advance.
Great insight is created by the visual depiction of your network.
Years ago, my stakeholder analysis showed that I had a strong network; the people on my team and those I worked with every day, I had great relationships. However, those that I didn’t work with frequently, specifically, my peer relationships were weaker than my direct report relationships. This is not unusual; ‘peers’ often rate others lower than other respondent groups (bosses, direct reports, others) on leadership assessments. It seems to me that peers rate others lower is because there may be some competition and you don’t work together as frequently as others.
My biggest ‘ah-ha’ from my analysis, was that I didn’t really have a sponsor. Trying to make changes and improve any organization without sponsorship is difficult. I believe most people want to change things for the better. But without good sponsorship, it can be difficult to create big change within complex organizations. Was also frustrated that I couldn’t create more positive change. I was swimming upstream without a sponsor.
And having a sponsor is even more important if you are just trying to develop your career. Everyone can benefit from guidance, support, encouragement, and behind the scenes protection. Some organizations such as P&G do this very well. Their culture is focused on helping people grow their capabilities and their people systems are set up to develop ongoing career paths and their sponsors help identify potential assignments for the employee. They employee is still responsible for their career growth, but upper level managers are ready and willing to be sponsors to help them along the way.
Call to Action: Complete a stakeholder analysis – do you have a sponsor? If not, who could you seek out to be your sponsor?