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

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

And as I thought about the popular business terms at the time, I said, wow, this person can’t be a mentor, because a mentor’s job is to give you tailored advice, tailored specifically to you and to your career aspirations. They’re the ones who give you the good, the bad and the ugly in a no-holds-barred way.

OK. Person can’t be a champion or an advocate, because you don’t necessarily have to spend any currency to be someone’s champion. You don’t necessarily get invited to the room behind closed doors if you’re an advocate.

It was almost two years later when I realized what this person should be called. I was speaking at the University of Michigan to the MBA candidates, talking about the lessons that I had learned after my three short years on Wall Street.

And then it came to me. I said, “Oh, this person that is carrying your interest, or as I like to say, carrying your paper into the room, this person who is spending their valuable political and social capital on you, this person who is going to pound the table on your behalf, this is a sponsor. This is a sponsor.”

And then I said to myself, “Well, how do you get a sponsor? And frankly, why do you need one?” Well, you need a sponsor, frankly, because as you can see, there’s not one evaluative process that I can think of, whether it’s in academia, health care, financial services, not one that does not have a human element.

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.

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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.

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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.

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