Finding the right person to highlight your accomplishments and push you to the top is a hard task, but it’s necessary if you want to break out of the “permanent lieutenant” doldrums. Just doing good work isn’t enough. Take the first step and make yourself not only a hard worker, but an emerging leader worthy of a sponsor. -By Philippe Mora
[Thank You HBR | By Ann Hewlett | 02.06.14]
“I’ve always given 110%,” says Maggie. “Whoever I worked for, I gave them my all, every day, 10 hours a day, weekends and holidays, whatever it took. That endeared me to a lot of powerful men.”
That dedication and loyalty should have made Maggie a star. Yet, although she rose in the organization, because she wasn’t strategic about whom she gave her 110% to, she squandered her gifts on leaders who didn’t invest in her. Without a sponsor to spotlight her attributes, offer her opportunities, and kick her career into high gear for years, she found herself stuck in what she calls “permanent lieutenant syndrome.”
Maggie eventually was fortunate enough to find a sponsor and today is an executive at a global financial advisory firm with 22,000 people reporting to her. But there are thousands of Maggies out there — hardworking, devoted, consistent performers toiling in relative obscurity. How can you break out of the pack and attract a sponsor?
Rather than hoping for a lucky break, focus your energies by making yourself sponsor-worthy. To begin with, you must come through on two obvious fronts: performance and loyalty.
When asked how she had built great relationships with three different sponsors, Sian McIntyre, head of Legal at Lloyd’s Banking Group, says simply, “I’ve delivered.” She hit her targets and deadlines, executed brilliantly on her assignments, and produced outstanding bottom-line results. “They all felt the benefit of that,” McIntyre notes, “and wanted me on board for subsequent projects.”
Loyalty manifests in many different ways: trust that’s earned through repeated demonstration of a dedicated work ethic, commitment to a shared mission, and allegiance to the firm. Winning a sponsor’s trust doesn’t require becoming a toady. On the contrary, showing that you can ultimately be entrusted with a leadership position depends on demonstrating that you will stand up to him or her when necessary.
Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO of Genpact, attributes his success to the bond he cultivated with Pramod Bhasin, his boss and sponsor for 17 years. Because of a deep trust built on shared values, Bhasin would listen when Tiger pushed back. “I’d say, ‘Here’s my logic on this,’ and show him that I understood his logic but also show him why it wouldn’t work. He was amenable to that as long as I kept it private,” Tiger recalls. “We had very different styles, and sometimes we simply agreed to disagree. But in the end, I think that what he valued in me was the very thing that complemented him.”
But performance and loyalty are not enough to get a sponsor’s notice, let alone convince him to invest in you. You’ll need to differentiate yourself from your peers. You’ll need to develop and deploy a personal brand. You’ll need to do something or be someone who can extend a sponsor’s reach and influence by adding distinct value.
What do you bring to the table?
Some protégés add value through their technical expertise or social media savvy. Others derive an enduring identity through fluency in another language or culture. Consider acquiring skills that your job doesn’t require but which set you apart — and make you a stronger contributor to a team. For example, Tiger Tyagarajan had a special ability to build teams from scratch and coach raw talent — an invaluable asset that was key as the firm transitioned from a start-up into a multinational info-tech giant. One 25-year-old sales rep, noting her potential sponsor “wasn’t exactly current in terms of the internet,” took pains to brief her on job candidates whose resumes bristled with technical jargon and references to social media innovation that she simply couldn’t understand, let along assess for relevance. “I just helped educate her so she didn’t come off as some kind of dinosaur,” says the rep, whose tactful teaching gained her a powerful promoter.
Lastly, don’t be shy about your successes. Alert potential sponsors to your valuable assets. Since it can be difficult to toot your own horn, work with peers to sing each other’s praises. A VP at Merrill Lynch described how she and three other women, all high-potential leaders in different divisions of the firm, would meet monthly for lunch to update each other on their projects and accomplishments. The idea was to be ready to talk each other up, should an occasion arise. “So if my boss were to complain about some problem he’s struggling to solve, I could say, ‘You know, you should talk to Lisa in global equities, because she’s had a lot of experience with that,’” this VP explained. “It turned out to be a really effective tactic, because we could be quite compelling about each other’s accomplishments.” In short order, all four women acquired sponsors and were promoted.
Finding the right person to highlight your accomplishments and push you to the top is a hard task, but it’s necessary if you want to break out of the “permanent lieutenant” doldrums. Just doing good work isn’t enough. Take the first step and make yourself not only a hard worker, but an emerging leader worthy of a sponsor.
[Read More: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/02/make-yourself-sponsor-worthy/]
SYLVIA ANN HEWLETT
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is Chairman and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation. She is the author of 10 books, including Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at@sahewlett.