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Who carries your paper into the room where decisions get made?

Priya Narasimhan
Priya Narasimhan
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Who carries your paper into the room where decisions get made?

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Priya Narasimhan
Priya Narasimhan

Who carries your paper into the room?

Today, I listened to a remarkable TED talk from Carla Harris on How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work.

There’s no question that you want to have a mentor for your professional life. A mentor tells you the good, the bad, the ugly, without pulling any punches.

A mentor and a sponsor are two different things.

A sponsor helps your career ascend. A sponsor is in the room when decisions are being made about your career. A sponsor is the person who “carries your paper into the room” when decisions (salary, promotion, opportunity) are being made about your career. A sponsor is the person who advocates for your ascendancy.

Carla Harris says that a mentor is nice, but a sponsor is essential.

So, how do you find a sponsor?

First, acquire performance currency. This is when you consistently deliver above and beyond expectations that you accrue this type of currency with every win you notch. Your stock keeps rising, and people feel it will continue to rise. People instinctively recognize a rising star in you, and people want to be your sponsor so that they can bask in your halo as you ascend. When you acquire performance currency, people will want to expend their own currency on you because of wanting to be associated with your successes.

Second, acquire relationship currency. This is where you have built such a deep relationship with someone that they feel personally invested in your career, and are willing to go to bat for you. They are willing to expend their hard-earned currency on vouching for you. This can happen only if there is a genuine relationship with a “frequency of touch,” a consistent effort to build strong personal ties that makes people want to associate their own character with yours. When you acquire relationship currency, people will want to expend their own currency on you because of personal loyalty to you.

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay.

Landing a career sponsor through performance currency is almost a given. Everyone loves a winner, everyone wants to back a winner, and everyone wants others to know that they can pick winners. People who acquire performance currency will automatically and easily attract sponsors. This kind of sponsor will stick with you as you succeed, but likely because you succeed and even more likely only when you succeed.

Landing a career sponsor through relationship currency requires work of a different kind. It requires building a deep and vulnerable relationship with a sponsor to make them want to back you through the good and the bad. It requires sponsors who exhibit an abiding personal loyalty to you and your career goals. This kind of sponsor is rarer and more valuable because the sponsor hangs in there with you through successes and failures.

I’ve benefited in my life from having sponsors through performance currency and relationship currency. I valued the latter much more because the relationship was central to my attitude.

With performance currency, I felt that my sponsor believed in my work.
With relationship currency, I felt that my sponsor believed in me.
And that made the difference.

I would rather acquire a sponsor through relationship currency. I know that I will fail, I know that things won’t always go smoothly, I know that I will fail more often than I succeed, and I want to know that my sponsor is not a fair-weather one.

Listen to Carla Harris’ talk below.