Going from newbie to experienced pro to top-level leader takes "a village" -- many helping hands, and the data are showing us specifically the most effective form of that help: Sponsorship.
Maybe you've heard the term "marzipan layer"; I was reminded of it when I saw a slide I had to use yesterday for facilitating a workshop. It's the sweet top of the cake right below the icing. For organizations, it's the leadership layer right below the top job.
What was driven home to me in two experiences over the last two weeks is how sticky that marzipan layer tends to be. The data from Sylvia Hewlett's recent research (more about that below) show that beyond simple executive coaching and mentoring, sponsorship -- active advocacy -- is needed to help the most capable, ambitious, and excellent of us unstick and gain the jobs at the top.
Getting unglued from the marzipan layer is particularly challenging for women and people of color. Women comprise half the US workforce, 34% of the marzipan layer, and 5% or less of CEO's worldwide. People of color compose 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO's, according to the Center for American Progress.
This was all evident to me running our (Goodstone Group) first-ever "Get Your Gravitas On" video practice workshop for a leadership team at a large SV technology company last week, followed immediately by facilitating several sessions this week at a Women's enterprise resource group of a global health care company.
My big take-away from both experiences was that WE MUST HELP EACH OTHER's CAREERS by being painfully and kindly candid with each other, supporting each other's dreams and ambitions, and actively pounding the table on behalf of the best and brightest.
You know this to be true. Look at every step of your career -- particularly the ones that made a difference for you, and someone was there helping you, advocating for you, mentoring you, coaching you, and/or advising you. Think back. It's true. And it's incumbent on all of us to "pay it forward" and do the same for others.
While the women's ERG workshop was based on FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg's worthwhile book, Lean In, we were essentially using the data and conclusions of a much more compelling and more recent book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett: Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor. An important read for women -- and all of us.
In short, a mentor gives you advice, while a sponsor will pound the table on your behalf, expending their political capital to help you get to your next step. All you have to be is ambitious, excellent, and willing to "seek and speak your truth" - and find a sponsor, and tap others to be YOUR proteges.
Let's all commit to help each other in our careers. Tell our truths to each other, and meanwhile, I can't thank my clients enough for both experiences, and look forward to helping you and seeing your careers continue to play out, whether on the ladder, or jungle gym of the work world.