Last week as I was wrapping up a college workshop I’d facilitated, I shared what’s always a fun discussion – the mistakes I’ve made and lessons they’ve taught me over a couple of decades of work. One that always makes me smile is one of my first boss’s words of wisdom. He told me, “Success is based on three things: Luck, sponsorship and timing.”
At the time I brushed it off. I’d grown up hearing that success was about working hard, not something as uncontrollable as luck or timing. And sponsorship I chalked up as being synonymous with colleagues thinking highly of you. In retrospect I realize how naive I’d been.
Looking back, I can see how luck and timing worked both for me and against me at different times. But sponsorship was something I didn’t fully appreciate. The impact of a true sponsor is invaluable, and is different than those of mentors, which tend to get a lot more press.
There’s lots written about the power of mentors – and mentors are indeed great to have. I’ve mentored more than a hundred people in my career and while I care about their success, I’m not invested in it.
A sponsor, though, is different. As pointed out by Heather Foust-Cummings at Catalyst Research Center for Equity in Business Leadership, “A mentor will talk with you, but a sponsor will talk about you.” In other words, they’re the people who will be advocating for you even when you’re not in the room.
Because of this, sponsoring also means a sponsor is putting her or his reputation on the line – so sponsorship has to be earned. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor” puts it: “A senior person is not going to go out of their way unless you have proven your worth.” While sponsors are key in moving up the corporate ladder, Hewlett adds that “There is no way up in any career where you don’t need sponsorship,” says Hewlett. “At the end of the day, you need a powerful person to open doors for you.” So sponsors are at least as important to entrepreneurs as they are to those working their way up through big companies.
Twenty years after my boss shared his wisdom, I experienced one of the most visible examples of sponsorship I’ve benefited from in my career. My most recent sponsor, Orlando Harris, director of Career Services and Leadership Development at San Francisco State University, was one of our very early Journeous clients and exemplified what great sponsors do. He saw the connection between our solution and its ability to move the needle on key initiatives he and his team were focused on. But he recognized that his customers – SFSU students – wouldn’t get the full benefit if he implemented it in the traditional manner.
Instead of walking away, he engaged faculty partners in coming up with a shared solution. He championed getting our proposal funded and approved internally. He kept in close contact with the faculty and students who were part of Journeous to get their perspective. He proactively shared the early outcomes we were seeing with school leadership, reinforcing early support and generating interest from other faculty members.
As all sponsors do, Orlando took a calculated risk. In the process, we’ve built a mutual respect and appreciation for the other’s work and a true partnership that I think he would agree has benefited us both. Not every sponsor has the vision or the commitment to create meaningful change that Orlando has. But if you want to increase your odds of finding and developing a great sponsor, here are five ways you can do so. While luck has its place, you might not want to rely on it when it comes to developing great sponsors.
We recently sat down with Anja Bolbjerg of Athlete Story, a business focused on helping athletes transition from sports to new careers.
Pam was joined by former elite squash player Katherine Johnson (who we were honored to speak with at the Miami EY Women Athletes Business Network), and discussed the art of story telling and transitions: what should you do next?
It’s targeted to athletes, but has advice anyone looking to make a transition in careers can follow. Check it out!
I met a woman recently who happened to be part of a team I’d led years ago. Our conversation brought me back to the experience of walking into that job. I’d joined as the beloved prior leader, who had been there for many years, was moving onto a different role in the company. Within weeks of my arrival, I got a new boss who was under the gun to improve our team’s efficiency. The next two years involved an overhaul of our team’s processes, job descriptions, structure and how we measured success. Plenty of people wondered aloud – loudly – how I and all of the changes that came with me could possibly represent progress. I made plenty of mistakes.
I met with two good friends in the past month who were both struggling to get into a regular exercise routine. I happily offered to support them however I could – because while I’ll fully admit there are plenty of good habits I’ve yet to create, getting to the gym is one I can put in the win column. In the process, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself that applies well beyond. Continue reading
As a newly minted entrepreneur, I’m learning a lot. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about myself is that when under stress, I have a tendency to do rather than think about the best way to get things done. Unfortunately this is the kiss of death in my new world. The more I try to tackle, the less I get accomplished, and the worse the ultimate result. So one of my areas of growth is to reach out and get help on the things that are new to me. Continue reading
Our picture perfect day yesterday inspired me to get out for a bike ride. As I headed up the hill and downshifted, it took a few clicks for the gears to respond. I realized I was long overdue for taking my bike in for service. Were I so remiss with teeth cleaning I’m quite sure I’d have some lovely false teeth by now. Continue reading
Have you seen firsthand the powerful impact of women leaders? At Journeous we’re two driven women raising daughters and are committed to raising self-sufficient and confident young women. But when we look at our own amazingly capable female entrepreneurial colleagues, the data is both depressing and encouraging. While women-led ventures got only 2% of all venture capital dollars last year (compared to male-led ventures’ 79%), their performance is impressive (more below on a few of these ventures we think you’d like to know about). Continue reading
On Friday night I went to a barbecue for our elementary school principal who’s retiring at the end of next week. Having been in her role for 10 years, she’s the only principal any of the current parents knew. In the vast majority of conversations with parents Friday evening, it was clear that most were mourning the transition. Many had also met the new principal. Despite generally positive feedback, most still wished the change wasn’t happening. It reminded me once again that change, and the disruption that typically precedes it, is hard. Continue reading
LinkedIn was out last week with its list of top companies to work for. It’s a list of 50 companies, nearly all of which will be familiar names. When trying to figure out your first move, or your next move, these lists can seem an easy go to as the best place to start. However, while I’m a fan and avid user of LinkedIn, I’d recommend giving this approach a second thought.
Recommended as a cheat sheet if you’re ‘looking to make a job move’ or ‘thinking about a new career’, their methodology is actually something of a popularity contest: gauging the LinkedIn community’s interest in a company’s jobs, employees or corporate information and as best as can be told from the accuracy of one’s personal updates, how long their employees stay at that company.
Last week I hosted a book club at our house – a group I look forward to seeing month after month at least in part because there’s no judgment when I’ve not yet started, or only half completed the book by the time we get together. I asked my husband to grill our dinner – and my daughters appeared to want a role too. So they proposed one: they would be in charge of name tags.
This is NOT a group that needs name tags. In total we’re roughly 25, and while who attends each month varies somewhat, not only do we know each others’ names, work situations and addresses, many of us know which colleges each others’ kids are applying to, their sports and extracurriculars and so on.