Remember my disappointing story from Part I of this post? Well, I have an uplifting story from the same meeting. A different colleague from a different training program came to the conference with a different group of mentors. Every time I bumped into her at the meeting, she was being introduced to leaders in her field at a variety of institutions by her mentors/sponsors. She left that meeting with many more contacts, opportunities, and potential future bosses than she had going in. Now, she had not asked for her sponsors to recommend her to these people, nor had she even asked these mentors to be her “sponsors.” She was a hard-worker who always delivered consistently on her projects, and those that mentored her felt proud to be recommending her to their colleagues, because they knew that she would be reliable and reflect positively on them.
Similarly, I’ve been very lucky to have been surrounded by mentors who were often very natural sponsors. As I’ve grown in my career, they’ve stayed in touch and have been eager to recommend me for committees or projects that I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to become involved in. But in thinking about many of my friends and colleagues who are not lucky enough to have these people in their lives, I wanted to put together a list of things that may improve one’s chances of getting sponsored:
- EARN IT – Unlike mentors, who may be assigned to you or whom you can choose based on mutual interests and/or a similar research, sponsors are not assigned, and you cannot simply ask someone to be your sponsor – if you have a good mentor, and you show them loyalty and build your trust/credibility with them, they will likely want to be your sponsor.
- DEPENDABILITY PAYS OFF – When you make yourself visible within your own organization by becoming involved in projects or workgroups and by reliably getting things done on time, people will start to notice and will want you to expand your involvement. This will naturally expand the pool of leaders that you can work with and impress.
- DIVERSIFY – While you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. If you spend all your energies impressing a single mentor or leader in your institution, and they are a terrible sponsor, or they leave, or something else happens, then you’re unlikely to have them as a sponsor despite all your efforts. Have at least a couple mentors that you work well with and work hard to build trust with them.
- BE THE ONE THAT YOU WANT – Behave like the protégé that you will someday be proud to sponsor – chances are, someone will notice and will be proud to sponsor you
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK – If you want to learn more, there’s tons of books and articles out there on this topic. Take the time to read up. This article from the Harvard Business Review by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is one example.
David K. Werho, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego and a Pediatric Cardiac Intensivist at Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego. His research focuses on pediatric cardiac ICU outcomes as well as interventions and curriculum development in medical education. He tweets @DWerho and contributes to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society Newsletter as editor and contributor.