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.
It is so critical that you should ask yourself regularly, “Who’s carrying my paper into the room? Who is carrying my paper into the room?” And if you can’t answer who is carrying your paper into the room, then I will tell you to divert some of your hardworking energies into investing in a sponsor relationship, because it will be critical to your success.
And as I close, let me give a word to the would-be sponsors that are in the room.
If you have been invited into the room, know that you have a seat at that table, and if you have a seat at the table, you have a responsibility to speak. Don’t waste your power worrying about what people are going to say and whether or not they think you might be supporting someone just because they look like you.
If somebody is worthy of your currency, spend it. One thing I have learned after several decades on Wall Street is the way to grow your power is to give it away, and your voice is at the heart — and your voice is at the heart of your power. Use it.
Thank you very much.