When you are on the outside looking in, the importance of relationships at work can seem out of balance. You don’t know anybody and the people who make decisions don’t know you. Perhaps you are saying “Around here, it’s who you know not what you know that counts”. Even people who don’t know much can be heard saying that.
Lesson One: It’s who you know AND what you know.
Lesson Two: It’s who you know, who knows you, and HOW they know you.
Let me stress technical competence. You have to do well whatever it is you are paid to do. And yes, it is still true that women and people of color have to do it better. Don’t waste a lot of time whining about that fact. But, what does it matter if you are brilliant and the people who can impact the course of your career don’t know it? You have to get out there and let people know who you are and what you can deliver for the organization!
“I don’t play golf.” What do you do? “I don’t want to socialize with those people on my personal time”. How are they to get to know you? By the way, the higher you move up, the less “personal time” you have. Your time and the company time get all snarled together. All of this above-and-beyond work stuff just gives people an opportunity to get to know you, to learn what you can do, and to become comfortable with you.
Unlike with mentors, you do not choose your sponsors. Your sponsors choose you. Sometimes you know them, other times their identity may not be obvious.
How can you get the attention of potential sponsors?
- EXCEL at the work you’ve been hired to do. Deliver Results.
- ENGAGE in organization activities and initiatives beyond “your job”. Volunteer for special projects; participate in company-sponsored community events.
- Allow others to ENVISION you performing a different job or at a higher level in the organization. Your job is to be visible – looking, acting, and interacting as if you are “ready” for the next opportunity.
Someone is always watching. The organization is always on the look-out for new talent. You control what they see.
Finally, you need more than one sponsor. No matter how powerful the sponsor, you make her or his life easier when there is support from others when your name is put forward. Equally important, if you are tied to a single sponsor, your career has the potential of rising and falling with that of your sole sponsor. Think outside of the box. Get to know people outside the organization. People outside often speak to people inside about their interactions with you. Further, strong relationships outside the organization are crucial to having options and opportunities when its time to leave.
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