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Authors: Helene Lerner

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BOOK: The Confidence Myth
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Yes, excelling at our day-to-day tasks is important, and you may be recognized for the excellence of your work, but will that lead to access to higher-ups who can put your name on a slate when a job opens up? Possibly, but don't assume that will happen. Take every opportunity to meet the power players. Get out of your familiar surroundings, and seek out opportunities to mix with those calling the shots.

In the last several years, a lot of buzz has been circulating about sponsors and what they can do to help women
advance. In
Smart Women Take Risks
I wrote, “Opportunities happen when someone in charge believes in you and takes a chance on your behalf by opening a door.”
That someone in charge is a sponsor.

The main difference between mentors and sponsors is that the sponsor relationship is transactional, according to Sylvia Hewlett, author of
Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponso
r. She writes, “A sponsor sees furthering your career as an important investment in his or her
career, organization, or vision. Sponsors may advise or steer you, but their chief role is to develop you as a leader. Your role is to earn their investment in you.”

Men have had the benefit of others bringing them along more than women have, partly because of our late entry into the workforce. But there is another reason why we may not have attracted these valuable supporters. As women, we are drawn toward people we like; however, the people who can best sponsor us are not necessarily going to be people we like or who are anything like us. As Hewlett explains, what matters in sponsorship is “trust, not affinity.”

Michelle Gadsden-Williams, managing director and global head of diversity and inclusion at Credit Suisse, believes that “finding a sponsor whose path or background is different from yours is an excellent learning opportunity. They'll do what's expected—talk you up at meetings when a position becomes available—but they can also give you a different perspective that you might not have had access to otherwise. And you will have something to teach them as well.”

We must create strategic alliances with sponsors—whether we like them or not—and show them our loyalty as well as our ability to produce results. These people can catapult our careers. This chapter offers concrete ways for women to cultivate these important alliances.

How to stand out? Deliver!

Produce results by doing your job with energy and enthusiasm. Walk around and get to know people. In meetings, bring your innovative ideas to the table. Take these actions and you will likely get noticed.

The benefits of speaking up and delivering are numerous, and they feed on each other to build your career and your confidence. Producing results increases your chances of getting noticed. What's more, according to 86 percent of the survey respondents who reported feeling confident in the workplace, “using my skills and making an impact” had enhanced their confidence in their own abilities. Then when your achievements are acknowledged and you are singled out for more responsibility, you get another confidence boost. About 70 percent of question respondents said that “acknowledgment from my peers, direct reports, and leaders” also increased their confidence.

As you make your mark, people will likely start paying attention. Several of the women I interviewed attracted sponsors as a result of excellent performance.

“The best relationships come from people who take an interest in you because they see what you are doing and want to help,” shared Sandra Dewey of Turner Entertainment and Cartoon Network. She got the attention of Linda Yaccarino when Linda was at Turner (Linda is now president of advertising sales at NBCUniversal). Sandra explained, “She saw my honest efforts to grow and became invested in me.”

Another excellent performer was Kim Lubel, now CEO of CST Brands, who took on the general counsel role at Valero Energy when her sponsor, Bill Klesse, moved up to CEO. Around that time, an article was published about how companies that have women in high-level positions are more
successful. Kim told me, “I asked Bill if he saw the article, and he looked at me sternly and remarked, ‘Do you think I don't know that? Why do you think you're in the role you're in?'”

Being trustworthy, loyal, and dependable are qualities potential sponsors will respect. In addition, accepting assignments that are not on your trajectory show flexibility and a willingness to do what is needed. All of these qualities are what made Jill Campbell stand out at Cox Communications.

Jill caught the eye of Pat Esser, now president of Cox Communications, when she was a general manager and he was in advertising sales. He became a big fan of hers. Like Sandra, Jill credits her ability to produce results as the reason why she stood out among her peers.

“The industry was male dominated and senior leaders saw that I was willing to go where I was needed, and my performance was strong,” she told me. “Pat has been one of my sponsors. When he took over the COO role, he had to fill his job and I was promoted to senior vice president of field operations. As he climbed, so did I—he ultimately promoted me to the job I'm in now.”

When I got my first “real” job at the
New York Times
as a sales rep, I was so excited about my life. I had a new job, I had just gotten married, and we were living in a dream apartment. I set outrageous goals for myself at work, and my managers were amazed because I reached them. In fact, no one in my department had ever reached the sales goals I achieved. My reputation spread, and I got the attention of the vice president of the division. He would single me out at office functions, make sure he was up to date on my latest accomplishments, and invite me to departmental meetings. I was off to a great start.

After the vice president left, a new group of power players came on board. One of the men took me under his wing.
I was a good listener and ambitious, and I wanted to learn the business. Shortly after, I was promoted. He knew if he needed something done, he could count on me.

Self-promote in a subtle way

An unfortunate workplace truth is that many men self-promote and are respected for doing so, while women sometimes keep quiet about their accomplishments, concerned that they will sound pretentious. However, a big part of standing out and attracting sponsors is letting people know your value.

A senior manager confided that she was turned off by people who were full of themselves and added little value, so she resisted telling people about her achievements. But she realized false modesty doesn't work in business, and that unlike the people with bravado, she brought a lot to the table. Her only regret was that she learned that lesson late in the game.

Subtle self-promotion can be learned. Sure, credit your team if you're a manager, but remember to slip into the conversation that it is

Kathy Waller of Coca-Cola has mastered this art. Notice how she describes one of her achievements: “Earlier in my career,
convinced senior management to institute new procedures, and
team implemented them on deadline.” Her skillful use of both “I” and “our” ensured that she as the leader was credited for getting the ball rolling with upper management as well as for her team's on-time implementation.

Michelle Pedigo, senior vice president at MetLife, gave this example: “In a prior job, I received an award as principal of the year. In my acceptance speech, I thanked my team, but it was clear to everyone that it was

When I started working at the
New York Times
, I had a male boss who, after shaking hands with a new client, would rattle off one of our team's achievements, making it clear that the team was under
direction. I saw him do this time and time again. To teach myself, I would stand in front of the mirror at home and practice. Now I can skillfully slip into a conversation an accomplishment that I am proud of.

Confidence spark

Think of one of your accomplishments within the last year. How did you take initiative? What skills did you demonstrate? Who worked with you to make it happen? With this in mind, craft a statement that accurately describes your achievement, using “I” and “we” terms. For example:

department had 25 percent growth in sales.

researched a new market and suggested
pursue it.
(Initiative, demonstrated skills)

• Then
the associates
landed the accounts.
(Credit to the people you worked with)

If you are not used to taking credit, try practicing in front of a mirror like I did. You might also try role-playing with a supportive friend.

It is important not only to speak powerfully but also to put your best foot forward in e-mails and proposals. Tara Mohr in
Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message
suggests not hitting the Send button before checking for unnecessary apologies and undermining disclaimers such as “I'm no expert in this, but . . .”

Developing sponsor relationships

The big question is, how do you attract the attention of a potential sponsor? Start by taking inventory. Who are the power players you know? Do they know what you are capable of achieving? If not, find ways to be more visible. For example, take on a stretch assignment that would catch their attention.

Who are the important people you don't know but would like to meet? Think of whom you know who can set up e-mail introductions. Check LinkedIn for any mutual connections. After you're introduced, ask for an informal meeting.

Do your research—know how your skills can be leveraged to further your potential sponsor's career and vision. When you meet, be clear about what you can offer her and what you would like in return. Remember, sponsoring is a two-way street; the relationship is built on trust and mutual benefit.

Once you have your sponsor's attention, make sure every interaction is well thought out—don't waste her time. That was how Sandra Dewey built her relationship with Linda Yaccarino. She was judicious about asking Linda for time, and when she did, she used that time wisely to get practical advice. “I came prepared and I wasn't pushy, demanding something she didn't want to offer me,” Sandra explained.

At Valero Energy, Kim Lubel would think up three things she wanted to talk about with her sponsor, then CEO Bill Klesse, when they were both in town. “I'd try to find time to sit with him in the mornings and hear what was on his mind. I'd come with a little sticky note of three things I'd wanted to get across. We'd sit and talk through them.”

Both Sandra and Kim came prepared. Because your interactions with your sponsor are time sensitive, picking your issues is important. Not everything is of equal importance.

A relationship with a sponsor can strengthen and evolve over time. When I was calling on companies for the funding of a television show, I got through to a high-level leader of a major Fortune 500 company. I researched her career path before the call, and I had a friendly conversation with her lovely assistant, who made sure our appointment was scheduled. This leader and I spoke for twenty minutes over the phone, and I was very passionate—the program I was pitching was about women advancing in the workplace. I heard a few weeks later that she was on board.

I introduced her to senior people who were advocates for diversity and kept her abreast of the latest developments and research. She in turn had me host several events at corporate headquarters. I helped create her company's first women's employee resource group. She introduced me to the CEO, and I interacted with him on several occasions. She also invited me to several external functions attended by the company's senior women leaders.

Although many of our interactions were over the phone or through e-mail, face time was important. Every few months, either she came to New York or I was at her headquarters involved in an event.

Like the other sponsor relationships I've talked about, ours was mutually beneficial and manifested a sense of loyalty and trust. That trust was built over years of working together, similar to the sponsor relationship of Kathy Waller and Gary Fayard, the former CFO of Coca-Cola.

“We've worked together for many years, and he absolutely knew if he needed something from me, he would get it,” Kathy told me. She delivered for Gary, and he in turn made sure she was considered for top jobs—including the CFO role when he retired.

Sylvia Hewlett describes sponsorships as a “long-range quid pro quo.”
Be prepared to make a time investment in these relationships. Believe me, you'll find it pays off in spades. According to research from the Center for Talent Innovation, sponsored women are more satisfied with their rate of advancement than their unsponsored peers.

BOOK: The Confidence Myth
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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