In a previous post, I talked about how one of my goals for the month of January was to lock in a promotion that my boss had promised me in the summer of last year. I didn’t achieve that goal then, but I’m happy to report that I did accomplish it in February! I got promoted to Senior Technical Program Manager, which came with added responsibility and a nice pay raise.
This is my second promotion at the company I’ve been at for less than two and a half years. Working hard and truly caring about what I do has definitely contributed to this, but what I’ve learned to be the single most important thing to getting promoted is having champions.
What is a champion?
A champion is someone who has your back and willingly praises your name and work even when you’re not around. A great article from Entrepreneur says, “They are actively seeing that you get the good projects at work, that you receive the proper recognition for your job, and they provide you with timely feedback so that you are constantly improving… A champion is your voice when you are not around.”
A champion is different from a mentor. Mentors are great–they give you advice, provide you with feedback, and answer questions you might have, but like the Entrepreneur article states, mentors typically pay a more passive role in your career. A champion, on the other hand, actively promotes you around your workplace because they’ve seen the work you’ve done and, most importantly, they believe in your potential.
What makes a great champion?
I’ve been really blessed to have multiple champions over the course of my career. These have included bosses, which is of course important, but I’ve found that the best champions are the ones you don’t report directly to. Why? Because their opinion will count for more since they won’t be seen as being biased towards a direct report.
For example, one of the best champions I have currently, whom we’ll call Fred, is a senior director of a department that I support but don’t work directly for. He has been a fan of my work mostly because I make an effort to collaborate and cooperate with his department. I try to do this consistently and, as a result, I’ve always had Fred on my side.
Check out this conversation with Fred from nine months ago that pretty much got me where I am today:
What’s crazy is that I don’t think my own boss was even considering me for this position. If I didn’t have Fred looking out for me and believing in me, I wouldn’t even have had the chance at the opportunity.
How do you find a champion?
Finding a champion is not nearly as straightforward as finding a mentor. I wish I had a series of steps I could identify to help you secure a champion for your career, but I don’t. Instead, here are some general pointers:
- Don’t force the issue. Champions will come naturally as a result of hard work and showing respect and professionalism to everyone around you.
- Follow through on your commitments. If you sign up for something, see it through to the end. Become a dependable person.
- Develop personal relationships. I am not close friends with Fred at all, but I did have a key breakthrough with him that allowed us to get to see each other as normal people as opposed to just being colleagues. This happened while I was part of this career development program and we were tasked to interview managers we looked up to. This interview with Fred allowed him to realize that I respected him and he really opened up to me in that interview. Since then, I’ve learned that having face-to-face, one-on-one conversations is really valuable.
- Always show gratitude. Take time to thank people for their contributions to your projects and successes.
Champions are not just for promotions
While champions are great for helping you get promoted, I don’t want to cheapen the importance of these key people in your lives. Don’t see these relationships as a means to an end and take your champions for granted. More than promotions and career growth, champions challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone because they know what you’re capable of. Oftentimes, like in Fred’s case, they even believe in you more than you believe in yourself.