The competition for leadership positions and promotions can be maddening. It’s rarely enough to do a good, or even excellent, job and be promoted based on talent or work ethic alone. Instead, ambitious employees seek out mentors to give them career advice and champions to open doors for them.
The idea of a mentor is common in business, but champions are rarely heard of. Mentors can provide advice and point their mentees to skill building opportunities, but they aren’t invested in the mentee’s success. Champions, however, will go out of their way to introduce you to people and suggest positions that can further help your career. While a mentee can and should have several mentors throughout their professional years, champions are much rarer and involve a more focused give and take relationship. They pick those they wish to work with from the best and brightest of employees. Those same employees can actively “audition” for a champion in the hopes their interests and values will align.
Champions are of particular importance to women, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities. Where their accomplishments might go unnoticed through their singular efforts, champions actively seek out these potential high performers with a desire to magnify their successes for all to see. The 2016 book “Championing Women Leaders: Beyond Sponsorship” reported being championed was a deciding factor in gaining leadership roles for over 60 women in 52 countries.
So, how is it that people find champions? The answer is usually that a champion finds the protégé themselves. But if you’re interested in “auditioning” for a champion, keep in mind the things they are looking for and why. Protégés have to be carefully picked and cultivated since the champion’s reputation, their personal brand, is on the line should the protégé not perform well. However, if they are successful, it reflects favorably on the champion and increases their reputation as cultivators of outstanding talent. So, when picking a protégé, they seek out those who display credibility, confidence, consistency, and connection:
- Credibility – Is the person not just competent but able to meet high standards for their work? Is the candidate investment worthy?
- Confidence – For confidence to build in an individual, they must be provided with opportunities which take them out of their comfort zones and offer new challenges. How has the candidate performed in such situations before?
- Consistency – Does the potential protégé regularly provide high quality work and maintain professional behavior?
- Connecting – Do the champion and protégé’s values and outlook align? Is the candidate willing to be transparent and honest with themselves and the champion?
Know that the search for a champion won’t happen overnight. It takes time to research, reach out, and begin to know someone to see if it’s the right fit. Should you be fortunate enough to form a partnership with a champion, return the favor when you succeed. The cycle of champion and protégé can only make businesses stronger by furthering the careers of exceptional talent.
Katherine Taylor’s grandmother prophesied her becoming a writer. Kate’s work has appeared in Bright Wall Dark Room, Very Local Nola, and StarTrek.com among others. You can read more of Kate’s work at Storyhunter.