Millennials – How Do You Achieve The Greatest Career Impact?

“The main thing is: Pay attention, pay attention to everything, everything you see. Notice what no one else notices, and you’ll see what no one else knows. What you get is what you get, what you do with what you get, that’s more the point.”

~City of Ember

Do you come across career dinosaurs? Managers and senior colleagues who have ‘already tried it, and it doesn’t work’?

Do you bite your lip not to say out loud the twenty painful things that are wrong with your working environment, or the tasks at hand? Do you feel you are not making an impact in what you do?

Here are a few tips that you may not know about building a career. The unspoken rules that can make or break your success.

1. Executive sponsorship.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, it just means connecting with two to three senior people in your company who take an interest in you and what you do i.e. your role and how you perform in it.

The ground rule is that sponsors are in senior positions, typically managers or executives 2–4 steps higher than your current position. They would have a motivation to help you develop your career and to influence your progress in the company. They may have been involved directly or indirectly in your hiring process.

2. Defining a sponsor.

A potential sponsor can be someone in your direct organization line, but they could also be senior managers peering your business line executives e.g. CIO, CEO or a Sales VP depending on the size of the company and your current role and position. In an international company, the sponsors are very likely to be in another country.

Your direct line managers would typically be able to connect you with a potential sponsor. You should always discuss sponsorship with your direct line managers so that they are aware and can support to prepare for the necessary introductions. Having mentors and sponsors should be part of your career planning and development path. It should never happen too soon.

To have a meaningful conversation you need to understand the big picture in your role, the business unit you are part of and its strategy. Then you need to connect the dots and come up with an innovative or renovating idea how or where things could be improved, and how you could contribute in that. The approach requires some study and dialogue with peers and your management to ensure you are on the right path.

3. Attracting a sponsor.

The challenge with gaining a management or executive sponsor is that the relationship has to evolve naturally. An exception to the rule is if you had sponsors at the senior level, to begin with, before joining the company ranks. Otherwise, it means doing your job first. And not just doing the best you can but more than you thought you could achieve. You need to aim to over-perform.

For most of the people, this approach seems tedious and time-consuming. You cannot speed this phase up because it will be building on trust. Confidence — you need to build that up in every task and program you do. Even the most seasoned professionals need to prove themselves after getting employed in a new company, and in a new role within the same company.

Your best chance of getting ‘an invitation’ is making a difference to a process, program, product, sales or another area preferably improving the customer intimacy and satisfaction directly. There is always a customer at the end. You may have to make many internal customers happy in the process of impacting the external client.

Another excellent way of making an acquaintance with a potential sponsor is to stand in for someone in your management team when they need a substitute to e.g. deliver a report, a presentation or attend a meeting. Prepare well and be factual, anticipate questions.

4. Developing your relationship with a sponsor.

Once you have identified suitable sponsors, ensure to learn more about them in their professional arena. Look into LinkedIn, articles they have published or are mentioned in (internal or external), talk to colleagues who have worked with them. Find a natural forum to connect — commenting on their publications, finding the time to say ‘hi’ in the company hallways or at special events. Use your 15 seconds of fame to a maximum when you are present in the same meetings (valuable content and commentary only!)

Look for projects and opportunities that could give you more time to learn from them. Sometimes doors open in quite unexpected routes.

5. Why is the sponsorship critical?

The business world is changing rapidly. The complexity drives organizations to optimize in everything: operations, innovations, resourcing, etc. The technology requirements alone are getting harder to meet. In times of uncertainty — people relationships become critical.

Progressing in your career means that you have a balanced competence card in both hard and soft skills. Doors will open to the ones who have been tried, tested and proven — committed and reliable professionals. And yes, patient, creative and well networked.

Good luck!

And please ensure to drop me a line if you found this useful. I would be interested to hear how you succeeded in identifying a sponsor, and is there more I could help you with.


Maria Lehtman
Maria Lehtman
MARIA has over 20 years of Sales, Marketing, and Professional Services experience from the international telecommunications and travel industry. Her achievements include successful global Transition, Transformation, and Competency programs in management roles in the the global telecommunication field. She is currently working in International Sales & Marketing department with transversal employee and executive social media engagement development programs. Maria is passionate about digital empowerment and the opportunities it can provide for people around the world. She is a dedicated photographer and digital artist engaged in several creative projects at any given time. She is a compassionate leader, and her mission is to support people in self-transformation and in embracing new skills. Her trademark is her capability to share a smile even during the most challenging circumstances and keep a 'mindfulness'-attitude. Maria’s posts and thoughts represent her own view of the world. See Maria's current publication on Maria is a contributing author to the inspiring book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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    • Thank you, Chris! Culture change is a critical step in all this. I really like listening to podcasts and videos where e.g. Mike Walsh talk about the digital natives and his emphasis how much the future generations will impact our business and cultural environment. It will be such a pivotal change.

  1. All good advice. Perhaps the very best part, however, is to work hard and have patience. Many today are more concerned with “work-life balance” and expecting it all now.

    Sometimes, if career progression is important, personal time may have to take a back seat. This is particularly true in the early stages of a career.

    Patience is essential. Don’t expect it to all come your way today, this week, or even this month. You make that point, Maria, but I don’t think it can be overemphasized.

    • Thank you, Ken! I agree with you. I also consider that working hard and working smartly is not necessarily the same thing. I fell into the trap myself during my career and it took me time to understand the difference. My perception of the next generations is that they come with the expectation of working smartly, which requires a different methodology and way to process tasks. It will require a higher level of flexiblity.

    • Working smart doesn’t necessarily relate to working fewer hours or working “less hard”. Anyone should be tuned to work smart. The option is to be dumb.

    • 🙂 something like that, I am more thinking about e.g. working more collaboratively, or transparently, being delegating more and working in shared leadership models. These are not self-evident terms or methods because businesses are also run based on cultural expectations. To find the best way to work smartly on a global basis is a learning experience itself.