Do you have a champion in your corner?

Apr 06, 2023
Do you have a champion in your corner?

Find Your Superpower newsletter 008

Read time: 5 minutes

Topics covered: Mentorship, sponsorship, career allies


 

I was recently rejected for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Some of you may know that I am the founder and CEO of Wildtype Media Group, and so I am not referring to a job or a promotion. (After being my own boss for such a long time, it is highly unlikely that I will seek employment in the near future.)

After enough time had passed, I did a post-mortem and reflected on what this episode had taught me.

Objectively, I could have been very disappointed. Instead, I felt extremely empowered, loved and supported. Strangely, I felt more confident after this episode. Why?

You see, until this day, I didn’t know that:

  1. I had such a huge champion in my corner: a senior individual had spent their social capital and placed their reputation on the line to put my name forward for this rarified opportunity.
  2. I had two allies in my corner: one ally had tried to set up an appointment for me to connect with an advisor, and another ally with knowledge of the matter offered to provide me with any advice I needed.
  3. I had many more cheerleaders in my corner: even my dad did some homework and sent me tips and ideas.

I may have lost out on an opportunity, but there’ll always be other opportunities ahead. I had won because I learnt that I had a champion in my corner, who championed ME.

 

What is a champion?

I’d like to cite the definition of a champion by Cindy Gallop and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in this 2021 Harvard Business Review article:

A champion is a committed sponsor who has the agency to influence people at the top and will use it to help you, someone who will be your loyal brand ambassador and push for you to get ahead — even if it means jeopardizing their reputation by disrupting the status quo.

Sure, young women are taught to find mentors early in their career, and I was told the same. But women are generally over-mentored and under-sponsored during their career. We are over "talked to" and under "talked about."

In some cases, just having a cup of coffee with a stressed-out startup founder or doe-eyed fresh graduate is enough to earn someone the right to add the title “mentor” to their LinkedIn profile.

Something didn’t feel right to me about the dynamics of the mentor-mentee relationship. It seemed to me that these folks had very little skin in the game.

Not only that, it could even end up a dominance play, an ego trip for a much more senior person to exert control and ownership over a younger person. To feel like they’re charitable people, to enrich their own public image. And in extreme cases, to hit on the unsuspecting young person. I think this is the dark side of mentorship people seldom discuss.

I acknowledge that mentors do invest time in us by showing up and listening to our issues, but could they do more than talk to us?

That’s why all of us need champions, because champions combine words with action. Some also refer to them as sponsors, allies or evangelists.

🚀 A champion is someone who will expend their social capital and reputation on us

🚀 A champion is someone who will help wrangle us an interview or a slot to pitch to their VC golf buddy

🚀 A champion is someone who will tell key people in their powerful networks about our products and services and even buy from us

 

The world is run by informal networks

The first thing that is worth mentioning is, informal networks really do exist and it is these networks that run the world, financially, politically and socially.

When I was accepted into the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2015, I started attending their events in ASEAN, Japan, China, Switzerland and the United States.

I got to move in some of these social circles, and it really blew my mind as to how these deep, informal networks operate. It is incredible to see someone ask for a connection to a world leader on Telegram, and for another person to respond nonchalantly and say, "Sure, I can help."

Another thing I learnt is, the best opportunities out there are not visible or available to the average Joe. These opportunities are certainly NOT posted on LinkedIn’s talent portal, which means that for those of you job hunting right now, you’ll never see these jobs appear, nor will you be considered for them.

Unless….

Unless you are championed by someone who has knowledge about the role.

I can vouch for the crucial role of a champion in a person’s career. Champions have helped me open doors, find clients, and quietly hype me up in senior circles (often without my knowledge and without asking for anything in return).

 

So, how do we find ourselves a champion?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I attended a virtual Harvard Kennedy School of Government executive education module co-organized with the World Economic Forum.

A VIP guest speaker was asked how someone could find themselves a mentor. He said that despite getting numerous invitations to be a mentor, his future mentees typically show up as highly fascinating individuals that he can’t help but offer to mentor.

For young people looking for mentors, here’s what you can do:

  1. Attend industry events and stay visible at work. Surprise and delight everyone around you by your sheer potential
  2. When you talk with senior folks in your industry, impress them with what excites you about your work right now
  3. Ask for their consent to connect by email or LinkedIn
  4. Stay in touch with them. You will find that it is much easier at this point to ask them to mentor you

I think mentors turn into champions after they’ve known us for a long time and become comfortable vouching for us and speaking about us. Champions emerge from mentors after they have developed a stronger bond with us.

 

You are still your best champion

This may sound a little corny, but I would like to remind all of us that we are ultimately our best champion. Because after everything is said and done, we still need to speak for ourselves and demonstrate this high potential that everyone seems to be talking about.

Which is what this newsletter is all about, finding our superpower.

By showing up as leaders in a crisis, by demonstrating our tremendous learning capacity, by communicating clearly our value proposition, and by playing up our strengths instead of our weaknesses, we can be our best champions at work.

Finally, I wish all of you the priceless gift of having a champion in your corner. 

See you next week.


 

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