Sponsorship and Career Risk

“Am I the only one who cares about this?”

That is the question.

Make sure you are never the only one who cares, whether it’s about your career or your work. Always ask yourself, “Who else cares about this?”

If there is no one at an equal or higher level than your boss who actively cares about what you are doing, there is too much risk.

When leaders fail to invest in building broader support for what they are doing, it is usually for one of three reasons.

1. I don’t want to waste time doing executive communications

2. Executive communications seems self promoting. The work is more important and speaks for itself

2. My strategy is so good, I assume everyone still supports it

All of these issues stem from not understanding the power base in the company, and what it wants, but the causes and effects are different. I’ll deal with these two together as they are closely related:

1. I don’t want to waste time

2. I don’t want to be self promoting

Some leaders are comfortable building bridges and securing sponsorship and others are not.

I’ve worked with executives who see no value in communicating outside their organization at all.

They think it’s a political game, without value, and even somehow morally wrong to focus on communicating instead of working. But they’ll say, “I don’t want to waste time”.

In my book RISE, I talked about the need to CONNECT Better and the fact that successful people are the ones who have the most support.

When I watch the careers of these communication-avoiders progress, well…they don’t progress. They get stuck or side-railed. Sponsorship is SO important.

They claim to be staying on the high ground and say, “I don’t play politics. I believe that my results will speak for themselves.”

It’s not about Politics

To me this is never about politics. It’s about effectiveness. And it’s about insurance.

And it’s about the harsh reality that:

Your results seldom ever speak for themselves without some shepherding of the communication about them from you.

If you don’t invest the time and effort to build sponsorship, as soon as your initiative gets attacked, YOU by definition are personally under attack because there is no one standing with you.

In that moment you will not have high credibility because your strategy, what you alone are doing is called into question.

At that point the powers that be will be looking for others to validate your strategy.

If there is no one eagerly stepping up to validate what you are doing — you lose.

If you continue to believe that it’s not important to communicate, build support and gain sponsorship, and therefore not secure sponsorship, you will not come out on top in a disagreement or a restructuring.

I recommend a change in thinking to, “I must create sponsors” instead of  “I don’t want to be self-promoting” or “I don’t have time”.

3. I believe everyone still supports my strategy

The other situation I see is that a leader will be brought in to drive a transformation, and they initially are on a great path to lead a wonderful improvement in the business. They assume that their peers, all the executives and the board of directors are supporting the transformation because that is what they were hired to do, and in the beginning that might have even been true.

But once they get into into “The Middle” as I describe in my book MOVE, they don’t continue to provide updates and actively recruit sponsors for their work among these other groups above and around them.
They focus solely on their team and their transformation —  which feels sensible because in itself it’s a huge job.

I got the green light at the beginning, so there is no need to keep getting approval, right?

Sadly, this thinking is wrong.

I have seen executives who are doing a great job leading a transformation that they were hired to do, but there are factions who do not like it.

If these factions (usually long time incumbents who hate change) have more sponsorship (old relationships) than the busy new executive, the dissenters start becoming very powerful.

Again if you don’t invest in sponsorship along the way, because you think you already or still have it, you will put your initiative and your career at grave risk. Sponsorship requires care and feeding throughout the whole Middle.

Want some help?

This month, the topic in my Executive Mentoring Group is Mentors and Sponsorship.

Next month we are starting on Executive Presence. If you’d like to watch a free webinar on Executive Presence here.

If you become a member of the group you can begin the Playbook on Executive Presence with other members when it kicks off next week, as well as get access to Mentors and Sponsors and other key topics for your professional advancement. I’d love to help!

What do you think?

What do you think about these ideas? What would you add? Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

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You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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