Pay It Forward

Annmarie Neal, the chief talent officer at Cisco finds sponsoring protégé to be gratifying, “Paying it forward is my way of paying back the people who helped me get where I am today.”  Leaders will give to those exceptional performers there time, attention, and relationship capital.  Sponsors also look for those employees who are hungry for backing and those standouts that catch their attention. Cynthia Rivera, a senior diversity specialist at Freddie Mac observes, “They’ve got to show me they’re going to make the most of what I have to give.”

So how do sponsors and protégé’s find each other?  As a leader, be on the lookout for those employees who are standouts on a project or team, who have the trust of their peers, and are hungry to do and learn more.  Many sponsors also seek protégés who balance their own strengths and weaknesses while still holding in common some similar values or backgrounds.  This leverages the relationship to serve both of you well.

Protégés should be just as selective and take a proactive approach.  Many workers are still in the ladder mindset of “keep your head down, do a good job, and you’ll get noticed.”  However, they desire and excel in a lattice organizational structure and must pursue and cultivate sponsors.  In fact, while searching for those leaders who embody their values and desired strengths, a protégé might have multiple sponsors along their career path.

Target those leaders that you can add some beneficial skills or perspectives, while those who are attractive leaders already.  Ask for that guidance, feedback, and for those stretch assignments.  Unfortunately, women seem reluctant to be so proactive.  Hewlett, Marshall and Sherbin found a senior vice president at Freddie Mac with a different strategy – Ms. Subha Barry.   She invited three female peers who reported to different executives to meet monthly over lunch to discuss their careers and one another’s work.  They agreed to promote the others within their own circles and each of those colleagues progressed to C-level positions within and outside the firm as a result.

Some other strategies:  lead with a yes, be enthusiastic when offered challenging assignments, bring in new business, keep potential sponsors informed and develop your skills and service offerings.

In our next blog we will take a look at how to maintain this relationship for increased collaboration across organizational divisions.  Then, we will move into what a collaborative workforce looks like as a whole in our October blog series The Collaborative Workforce.


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