At almost every stage in life we can benefit from a mentor, a special friend who has walked the road ahead of us and is willing to help us along by suggesting strategies for creating a successful journey, choosing an alternate path, or overcoming roadblocks. Mentors encourage us, challenge us, guide and advise us. They help us to recognize and evaluate career opportunities and consider the likely outcomes and consequences of our choices.
But when it’s time to move forward on goals, one needs a different kind of relationship. To shift into execution mode one needs a super-mentor, a sponsor, a well-connected advocate who believes in you and your potential. Sponsors are influential and powerful people who have the clout to open doors, make connections and recommend you for plum assignments and promotions. They take an interest in you and your career, but their chief role is to develop you as a leader, a leader who will become an ally. A sponsor sees furthering your professional success as a way to further their own and to give themselves bragging rights when you succeed. Mentors prepare you to make a move; sponsors make it possible for you to realize your goals.
When considering who might make a good sponsor for you, do not look for a role model to admire and emulate. Look instead for a powerfully positioned rainmaker. You seek not so much a friend, as an ally. Next, make a brutally honest calculation of the value-added you can offer to your prospective sponsor. Very rarely will a sponsor go out on a limb and call in favors to advance the cause of another without a powerful incentive, which can be acting as the backer of someone who shows the ability to climb to the top. This is a quid pro quo strategic alliance. To attract a sponsor to open doors for you, make that individual proud to be affiliated with you. Exceed expectations, meet deadlines, hit a home run every time. Furthermore, you must be unfailingly loyal to your sponsor. When he/she needs backup, you are the first to stand up and deliver the ROI.
Where might a Freelance consultant find a sponsor? Network in places where powerful people congregate. Get involved with activities and work yourself up to earning a leadership role, where your prospective sponsor can witness your enterprising ways, ability to motivate and work with a team and ability to get things done. A not-for-profit organization board, fitness center or yoga studio, or place of worship are all good networking venues.
Separate yourself from the pack by honing your communication skills. Learn to excel in verbal communications, interpersonal relationships and rapport building; give excellent presentations; sharpen your writing skills; show empathy, good humor and a willingness to collaborate. People think that those who communicate exceptionally well are good leaders and smart (whether or not that is the case). When you’ve identified prospective sponsors (there can be more than one), work on developing a relationship and allow it to grow organically.
Time will be involved and much will depend upon mutual trust that develops and the boundaries of your prospect. The clock may be ticking on your plans, but if you are perceived as pushy, the relationship will be lost forever. What you want are opportunities to talk, so you can let this individual know what you’d like to do. You can even state that you’re looking for help. The prospect will either offer the help, or will not. If that person does not come through, either he/she has no influence in that realm, or would rather not risk extending it to you. Your prospective sponsor either values you or does not.
Tribalism matters. Mentors and sponsors tend to bond with those who remind them of themselves and relationships often form within gender, racial, ethnic or religious categories. Your communication skills, when honed as advised above, may help you to transcend boundaries. Also, in our increasingly global society, your sponsor may decide that diversity will be advantageous when cultivating allies.
Thanks for reading,