Owning our own Career

We live and work in highly connected ways and now, more than ever, we truly can ‘own’ our own careers. But in a world where we freely give away our most personal details to any bot that comes along (so often disguised as a retailer’s loyalty card or a random FaceBook survey) how can we use our connectedness better, and for the stuff that really matters? Like career development?

You’ve heard the expression ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Building a career isn’t so different.

And part of ‘owning’ our career is knowing when to reach out to people who can help give our development a serious shot in the arm or add something really worthwhile to our list of opportunities.

And that’s what called Sponsorship

Ask any successful leader how they got to where they are and most will call out a person who, at some point in their story, gave them a critical opportunity, perhaps long before they were ready, that changed the whole game.

The reason they were given those really impactful opportunities to grow – like working on that super challenging project, or being promoted into that higher profile role – was because someone more senior in their business, or close to the people with the decision-making power over who the opportunity went to, spotted them and had the power to make things happen.

That person was their Sponsor. There may have only been one critical sponsor through their career, or more likely there has been a few. In the same organisation, or different ones. It may have happened organically, or quite deliberately. But somebody with social or political (or both) capital was able to insert their name into the right conversation at the right time and help them step up – and good luck to them. That’s awesome!


Now, what if you were to reflect on your own development pathway.

Have you ever looked around and thought ‘Wow – some people seem to get all the career breaks. How do they do it? Is it just luck or is there more to it?’

Perhaps you want to find opportunities that will challenge you to step up, learn something new, test you in an unfamiliar environment? You may be looking to move to a different part of your organisation where you can learn a new business stream or build a technical skill set that seems to be critical to the success others are having. Even spread your wings outside the company to broaden your portfolio.

You could wait for the next company development program, or for your manager to suggest a new role, or for a vacancy that may or may not appear, and that may well work most of the time. That said, it is a little like waiting for a train that may or may not come down the track you’re standing on.

What if you could add a lever to the set you’re already working on. You’re working hard, you’re doing well, you’re forming great relationships, you’re building capability and experience, and you’re demonstrating initiative and leadership.

Let’s add sponsor, or even sponsors, to that list.

Sponsorship isn’t new, it’s been happening for hundreds of years, mostly for people who were born in the right swim lane and assumed old connections would work well. Lately though, leaders are appreciating difference and diversity, and they’re seeking to sponsor people with perspectives, lived experience and backgrounds quite different to their own. These are your sponsors and the data tells us they are critically important to career success.

As a point of clarity, sponsoring is often used in the same sentence as coaching and mentoring – but they’re all a little different and the nuances are important. Put simply:

  • Coaching is your manager’s role, and a good manager gives on the spot coaching around how to do your job better;
  • A mentor is a trusted advisor who talks with you, gives you perspectives, and helps you skill up;
  • A sponsor talks about you, gives you opportunities, and helps you move up, even when you’re not in the room.

For some people, Sponsoring happens naturally through work relationships or networks, but there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t approach someone to be your Sponsor. Earn their respect through your work, or by letting them know about your work, or if feels more comfortable (as it does for most of us), having others tell them about your work and your potential.

Why would a leader be interested in Sponsoring you?



Because every really great leader knows that finding the right talent, and giving the best opportunities at the right time, changes lives, and great leaders completely appreciate, and thrive, on their role in positively impacting others.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Know what you’re asking for – don’t go to a Sponsor without any ideas of the opportunities you’re seeking. Go to them with a clear plan for what you want, eg a promotion to ‘x’ job, experience working on ‘y’ project to get z skill – and know why that matters and have the credentials and attributes to back up your plan. Be open to them improving or challenging your thinking, but having a baseline plan is a good place to start the conversation.
  • Look internally and externally – The reality is that sponsors cross companies. They don’t need to just be in your current employee. Instead, they may know people in your current company, and can suggest from outside. In large organisations this could mean nationally or globally within the business, as opposed to in your home office. Don’t be afraid to take your search for a Sponsor outside your organisation – if you’re valuable externally, you’re often more valuable to your boss!
  • Tap into your network – to find potential Sponsors and ask for introductions. Don’t be shy – your social networking skills will come in really handy here!
  • Approach a few different Sponsors – if you ask for three introductions you might get one. Be prepared to work at it.
  • Time is a factor – invest time in finding the right Sponsor. Take time to cultivate the relationship and build their trust in you. Also, timing is a factor – finding a Sponsor might not be the thing for you right now – but perhaps you want to put some ground work in for the future.
  • Be patient – collect a few sponsors and continue to build the stable as your career progresses. Never burn a sponsor relationship, but rather cultivate a chorus of people who speak well of you.

If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable about asking for what you might see as a ‘favour’, just remember this: People who are successful, are often really happy to help others succeed.

Sponsoring doesn’t take a huge time commitment from a Sponsor, all they need is to know you and what you’re about well enough to know when to call out your name, and to make sure their understanding of you is up to date.

Good luck with finding a Sponsor, and once you have one, start finding the second.

For more information about Sponsoring, have a look at these mwah. guides:

Leadership – What is Sponsoring?


Leadership – What is the difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsoring?


Article written by Rosie Cartwright

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