How to Find the Person Who Can Help You Get Ahead at Work: Carla Harris (Transcript)

So that means it has that measure of subjectivity. There is a measure of subjectivity in who is presenting your case. There is a measure of subjectivity in what they say and how they interpret any objective data that you might have.

There is a measure of subjectivity in how they say what they’re going to say to influence the outcome. So therefore, you need to make sure that that person who is speaking, that sponsor, has your best interests at heart and has the power to get it, whatever it is for you, to get it done behind closed doors.

Now, I’m asked all the time, “How do you get one?” Well, frankly, nirvana is when someone sees you in an environment and decides, “I’m going to make it happen for you. I’m going to make sure that you are successful.”

But for many of us in this room, we know it doesn’t really happen that way. So let me introduce this concept of currency and talk to you about how it impacts your ability to get a sponsor.

There are two types of currency in any environment: performance currency and relationship currency.


And performance currency is the currency that is generated by your delivering that which was asked of you and a little bit extra. Every time you deliver upon an assignment above people’s expectations, you generate performance currency. It works exactly like the stock market.

Any time a company says to the street that they will deliver $0.25 a share and that company delivers $0.40 a share, that stock goes up, and so will yours.

Performance currency is valuable for three reasons.

Number one, it will get you noticed. It will create a reputation for you.

Number two, it will also get you paid and promoted very early on in your career and very early on in any environment.

And number three, it may attract a sponsor. Why? Because strong performance currency raises your level of visibility in the environment, as I said earlier, such that a sponsor may be attracted to you.

Why? Because everybody loves a star. But if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a sponsor, here’s the good news. Remember that you can exercise your power and ask for one.


But here’s where the other currency is now most important. That is the relationship currency, and relationship currency is the currency that is generated by the investments that you make in the people in your environment, the investments that you make in the people in your environment.

You cannot ask someone to use their hard-earned personal influential currency on your behalf if you’ve never had any interaction with them. It is not going to happen. So it is important that you invest the time to connect, to engage and to get to know the people that are in your environment, and more importantly to give them the opportunity to know you.

Because once they know you, there’s a higher probability that when you approach them to ask them to be your sponsor, they will in fact answer in the affirmative.

Now, if you’re with me and you agree that you have to have a sponsor, let’s talk about how you identify a sponsor.


Well, if you’re looking for a sponsor, they need to have three primary characteristics.

Number one, they need to have a seat at the decision-making table, they need to have exposure to your work in order to have credibility behind closed doors, and they need to have some juice, or let me say it differently, they’d better have some power.

It’s really important that they have those three things. And then once you have identified the person, how do you ask for one? The script goes like this “Jim, I’m really interested in getting promoted this year. I’ve had an amazing year and I cannot show this organization anything else to prove my worthiness or my readiness for this promotion, but I am aware that somebody has to be behind closed doors arguing on my behalf and pounding the table. You know me, you know my work and you are aware of the client feedback, and I hope that you will feel comfortable arguing on my behalf.”

If Jim knows you and you have any kind of a relationship, there’s a very high probability that he will answer yes, and if he says yes, he will endeavor to get it done for you.

But there’s also a shot that Jim might say no, and if he says no, in my opinion, there’s only three reasons that he would tell you no.

The first is he doesn’t think that he has enough exposure to your work to have real credibility behind closed doors to be impactful and effective on your behalf.

The second reason he may tell you no is that you think he has the juice to get it done, but he knows that he does not have the power to do it and he is not going to admit that in that conversation with you.

And the third reason that he would tell you no, he doesn’t like you. He doesn’t like you. And that’s something that could happen.

But even that will be valuable information for you that will help to inform your next conversation with a sponsor that might make it a little bit more impactful.

I cannot tell you how important it is to have a sponsor. It is the critical relationship in your career. A mentor, frankly, is a nice to have, but you can survive a long time in your career without a mentor, but you are not going to ascend in any organization without a sponsor.

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