A lot has been said about toxic workmates - bullies, jerks, fre-nemies and perpetrators of a toxic office culture. In a modern workplace that’s replete with competition and one-upmanship, it can often feel as if peers are the last people you would look to uplift each other.
Not all workmates are a negative influence though. In fact, according to research that was done in 2015 around satisfaction and engagement, it is possible to have co-workers around you that will play a part in your rise up the corporate ladder.
But you do need to be deliberate in deciding who to engage with, depending on what kind of doors you want opened.
So, who should you be looking to incorporate into your support system?
People in business will understand this concept very well. Gatekeepers are people who have the kind of access that outsiders would not get. They take the shape of executive assistants, receptionists and administrators.
Executive assistants and personal assistants, who have, over time, taken the place of secretaries, know a lot more about what is going on with the organisation’s executives than anyone else.
Gatekeepers organise meetings, schedule travel, take minutes and are aware of changes or new projects that may be in the pipeline.
More importantly, they are very trusted by the executives that they work with and would be able to get you an appointment that you have been seeking for a long time, or insights about some changes expected in the near future.
Getting them on your side is as simple as paying them some attention and showing them appreciation, something they sometimes are not used to receiving.
2. The advocate
You are very lucky if your workplace has an advocate. He/ she is the person who is continuously looking out for the underdog, or intervening for fair treatment in the workplace.
The advocate likes to have a cause that they can champion, and will fight to ensure resources are allocated to certain projects. The also tend to have some influence with higher-ups and understand how to effectively negotiate.
They are driven by fairness and doing right by their colleagues so if you can identify a cause you can work on together you have an ally in them.
3. The networker
The networker is not one in the traditional sense - they are more of a connector or a bridge. They tend to have very good networks in the workplace, both in senior and junior levels.
By virtue of these networks, they also have a wide range of information and can be a knowledge powerhouse. They are perfect if you have a new project or initiative that you are thinking through and need insights from someone who is not biased by having one-sided knowledge.
4. The sponsor
We know all about the mentor and how important it is to have one whether you are navigating employment or running your own gig. The sponsor is a mentor taken one step further - someone with influence and who can use that influence to help you further your career.
Sponsors can open up doors for you or make introductions to people who you need to be in front of as you seek visibility. They also have the ability to endorse your skills and competencies when a senior member of the team is looking into internal talent for promotions.
How, though, do you recruit a sponsor? Keep in mind that for someone to vouch for you, they will be putting their own name and reputation on the line.
It is important that the person you are considering as a sponsor knows you beyond the usual superficial-ness in the workplace.
If you have someone who has always been interested in your professional development or who pushes you out of your comfort zone, then this is someone who is invested enough to have a conversation with.
If you don’t have this, then you need to look around your workplace for who would be a good fit and start to build a relationship before you ask them to be a mentor/sponsor.