“You are responsible for driving your own career.” It’s a refrain we have all heard before, and it may seem obvious, so why do so many people struggle to do this effectively? Often, it is because we don’t know where we want to go. We can’t picture a career path because we can’t picture the destination. What if I told you that you don’t need to know where you want to go?
Your mentors, coaches, and most of all, your sponsors can help you pick a destination.
You need to know your strengths – your unique gifts – and be able to articulate your value to help you on your journey. If you can’t describe your own value, how can you expect anyone else to promote you?
In this blog on how to SHINE and earn a sponsor, we emphasize the importance of identifying your unique gifts, articulating them to potential sponsors, and utilizing your sponsors’ broader knowledge of the business to pick the best opportunities for you and your career.
What are you passionate about?
To find out, start with this simple exercise. On a piece of paper, create a left column and a right column. Each evening, on the left side, record your highest energy moment of the day; the point where you felt like you were “on fire.” On the right side, put down the moment that drained your energy; when you felt like you were “off.”
After 30 days, see if you can discover any patterns. Your highest energy moments are good indicators of what your gifts are. What you were doing in these moments? Were you presenting in a meeting? Interviewing a potential hire? Having a coaching session? Were you playing with your child?
Armed with that knowledge, you can intentionally put more of those high-energy moments into your day, your week, and your life. When you show up in this zone, you have more energy. Your body language will show your excitement, and people WANT to be around you. What a great way to attract the attention of a potential sponsor!
How do you attract the attention of someone in a senior position?
You must articulate your gifts to potential sponsors in a way that benefits them. For example, if you are great at solving complex problems and leading a team to execute a solution, look for the chance to do this within their organization. It is a great way to match your best capabilities with their needs and shine a bright light on your potential.
Don’t underestimate how your differences can be a strategic asset. Sarah Barron, Global Head of Talent and Leadership for Arla Foods, had this realization when she first moved into the HR field:
“I always felt that I could not measure up to my colleagues because I didn’t have the 20 years of experience in the HR field like they did. I finally realized that my differences could bring a valuable perspective to our conversations because my experience base was so different. I had lots of value to add.”
If you are uncomfortable promoting or speaking up for yourself, you’re not alone. Enlist a peer to speak on your behalf. Ask them to share your major accomplishment(s) with a potential sponsor when the opportunity arises. You can then do the same for them!
Why should you be selected for that opportunity?
Performance is important, but so is the perception of your performance. One way to check how you are being perceived by others is to ask them. Solicit friends, family, former colleagues, or your current manager for feedback. The question “How am I generally perceived?” removes the personal aspect and allows the person to speak candidly. You will be surprised by the rich insight this exercise can yield. If you need to course correct, you and your sponsor can do this together.
Recognize that appointments to the top jobs are not based solely on good results. According to a Korn Ferry study focused on 57 female CEOs, “even great results need packaging.” It tells us that female executives often underestimate how much personal endorsement they need to reach the CEO office.
Your sponsor can be your promoter, but it is your responsibility to identify your unique gifts and articulate to your sponsor what those gifts are. They will have a broader view of the organization, and they can identify great opportunities that fit your unique gifts.
That is why you have a sponsor:
to aid in guiding your career toward the right destination.
Once they present the right opportunities for you, it is up to you to make them look good by delivering great results.