Sponsor or career champion

by Professor David Clutterbuck

Sponsor or career champion : which is most helpful?

Having a helping hand in one’s career is usually beneficial. Boasting about your own achievements can easily backfire – it is far better, when someone else is promoting your cause for you! One option is to find a sponsor, but this comes with several drawbacks:

  • Sponsors tend to have their own agendas and push you towards what they think you should do, or what’s good for the organization, rather than work to your agenda
  • Having a sponsor means handing over some of the control over your career to someone else – it may lead to disempowerment and dependency
  • It’s hard to be totally honest with a sponsor – you want them to see you in the best possible light, if they are to be your advocate
  • It’s harder to refuse requests from a sponsor than from more senior colleagues generally. (This can be particularly difficult when the sponsor and your boss don’t see eye to eye!)
  • Sponsorship tends to be a monogamous, proprietary relationship – the sponsor may be reluctant to share “their” protégé with peers
  • When sponsors get fired, their protégés often become collateral damage – the more closely associated with the sponsor, the more at risk they are of losing their jobs, too.

An alternative, somewhere between mentor and sponsor, is to seek to build a network of Career Champions – people, who know and appreciate your work and will be advocates for you without any expectations of loyalty. Among the benefits of having Career Champions:

  • You build the relationship mainly by doing a good job and being helpful
  • You can be your authentic self – you don’t need to engage in reputation management with them
  • You can have lots of them, without any sense of rivalry between them – so losing some of them is less of a problem
  • You can reciprocate, so you feel less obligated
  • Networks of career champions often become recognised “talent clusters” – members gain recognition when they recommend people, who deliver the goods

How to find Career Champions

  • Identify people, who you think are both good at what they do and willing to share the credit for their successes and achievements
  • Show that you respect and like them – they are more likely to reciprocate, if they feel a genuine connection
  • Look for ways, in which you can add value to what they do – little things, such as offering information they may not have access to do, can make a big difference
  • Be responsive, helpful and competent – treat them as customers, giving more than the minimum expected
  • Be generous in what you give them; sparing what you ask from them
  • When they do promote your cause, be sure to thank them!