In our professional lives, we make many different types of contacts. We develop a network of peers and colleagues. These are people at our same level of experience and position that we learn with and grow with. We seek out mentors, those who have more experience than us and who teach us. Mentors are key to our development as professionals. We find champions (or advocates or sponsors). Champions are established and influential leaders who leverage their prominence within the profession for our advancement. Champions recognize potential for future leadership and push us forward, advocating for our involvement in different groups or recommending us for higher levels of leadership.
“My own champion story starts with my work with Julie Todaro in the Texas Library Association,” said Mary Jo Venetis, co-lead for the Champion Connections project. “Julie became my champion when she advocated for my participation at the next level of leadership in 2009-2010 ALA President Camila Alire’s Family Literacy Focus Presidential Initiative. With that single recommendation, Julie set me on a new path to leadership within the association.”
Champions may not be by your side every step of the way—like peers or even mentors—but when they swoop in and offer their support, they can catapult you to the next level.
Finding Your Champion
Most champion relationships are formed through your own networks, encounters with leaders, or by nature of where you work or what events you attend. The key is to be strategic and to take decisive action. You have to work to develop a relationship with a Champion. As you prepare to find a champion, take some time to develop:
- The specific goals you want your champion to help you with. Is your goal to chair a committee? Is it to be president of a division? Is it to be elected to Council? Is it to be president of the association? Be specific. “I want to be more involved,” is not a specific goal. Champions can help you, but only if you help them understand how you want to be helped.
- Your professional story. Champions will connect with you based on shared interests. Be prepared to talk succinctly about your career history, your past involvement in member groups (think state associations, divisions, round tables, etc.), and even the particular challenges or stumbling blocks you have faced. Champions need to connect with you on a personal level and they need ideas for how they can help your future growth.
There are several key things to look for in a potential Champion:
- Someone who is where you want to be—not in one or two steps, but in five, six or ten steps. Think about presidents of member groups, members of executive boards, major award winners.
- Someone in your area of interest. Champions have influence—and you want to make sure their area of influence includes the area you want to be involved in (children’s services, academic libraries, public libraries, state library associations, etc.).
- Someone who has an interest in you. You need a connection—something to spark their interest. “You’re from Texas? So am I!” “You went to UCLA? So did I.” “You started out in children’s services? So did I!” Do some research and find potential Champions that you can break the ice with.
As you work to find a champion, always remember that you are not interviewing for a new job. This isn’t the time to bring your resume or to talk about how you want/need a new job, or asking about any potential openings. Job searching is a different process completely. Keep them separate.
Keeping the Connection
Making the connection can be tough. Keeping the connection can also be tough. It’s important to remember not to force it. If you had a good experience talking with a potential champion, make sure to follow-up with an e-mail. Remind them of who you are and where you met them, maybe re-introduce that one thing you both connected on, and ask if they might have a chance to talk with you again. If there wasn’t a real connection, then follow-up with a nice e-mail, but keep in mind that this just might not be a good fit.
If you feel a connection, then make a point to try and keep your Champion informed—keep providing them with information that will help them help you. If you applied to serve on a committee, let them know. If you are considering running for an elected position, let them know. If you changed jobs, let them know. If you are attending a conference, let them know—and invite them to try to find a time to meet with you. It’s up to you to keep them informed of your interests and movements so that they can continue to help you.
The most important part of keeping the connection may be to make your Champion proud. Remember that by advocating for you, Champions are putting their reputations on the line. You need to make them proud.
- If they have an opportunity to get you involved, be honest about your interest in the opportunity and your ability to take it on. Don’t take on something that you don’t want to do or won’t be good at.
- If you take an opportunity that they have made available, make every effort to go the extra mile in your service.
- Make sure to recognize the help of your Champion and to acknowledge their role in your success. The relationship should be mutually beneficial—most Champions feel a sense of accomplishment from helping others achieve new levels.