With barely one month to go before the start of the new year, there's no time to lose in setting the goals you'd like to achieve in 2017. Defining those goals and finding the senior-level advocates who can help you achieve them takes time, so it's important to lay the foundation now to get a jumpstart in January. These three tactics will help you get started.

1. Define your goals

Building a successful career is a tough journey. Do you have a clear picture of your career destination? A good sense of direction and loads of drive will serve you well, but you've got to see where you're headed in order to set a course and be motivated by what you see in order to push forward.

Don't be dismayed if your vision of your future looks murky. Rather than map out one straight path, explore multiple possibilities. Look for role models whose achievements inspire you -- and don't limit yourself to those in one industry. Inspiration often emerges from the least likely sources. Keep refreshing your pool of potential paragons; it's important to have a robust sampling, lest the daily litany of stories about unrewarded struggle or unwarranted sacrifice succeed in dampening your drive.

Consult with a mentor, an existing role model, or a personal development coach who can help you see the big picture. Write down your aspirations, however modest or fabulous, and figure out how to hold yourself accountable. Brainstorm a professional target list of people who can offer advice and inspiration.

2. Do a diagnostic

Your head may be in the clouds but your feet are on the ground: Use them to take pragmatic steps in the direction of your dream. Start by assessing what you have in your kit that will help you along: What do you do exceptionally well? In which skill sets do you own a black belt? What credentials set you apart? What experiences distinguish you? What inherent or acquired differences lend you a distinctive brand or value-add that others may not bring to the table? What accomplishment has given you joy and won you accolades? What gives you satisfaction so you want to do more of it?

Having a confident handle on what you bring to your mission is half the diagnostic. The other half is assessing the context in which you'd leverage those strengths. Consider the following questions: How does the mission or mandate of your current employer overlap with your own values or goals? Is your firm hierarchical or flat? If there is a career ladder, how is it constructed and which rung do you stand on? If your organization is flat, how do you navigate its landscape? What deliverables will get you promoted? What are the notch points -- the sticky places, the dips or pitfalls -- you need to power through? Identify them now so that when you win a sponsor, you will know where to focus his or her efforts.

A mentor can help you map the organizational landscape and your place in it. As sympathetic confidants, mentors can't be beat. They listen to your issues, offer advice, and review approaches to solving problems. The whole idea of having a mentor is to discuss what you cannot or dare not bring up with your boss or colleagues.

3. Scan the horizon for sponsors

When it comes to powering your career up the corporate heights, you need a sponsor. As I explain in my book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, where a mentor might help you envision your next position, a sponsor will advocate for your promotion and open doors and opportunities for you. Research conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, my non-profit think tank, shows that sponsors, not mentors, put you on the path to power and influence by impacting three things: pay raises, special project assignments, and promotions. Fully 70 percent of sponsored men and 68 percent of sponsored women feel they are progressing through the ranks at a satisfactory pace, as compared to 57 percent of their unsponsored peers.

So how do you win sponsorship?

Sponsorship must be earned - not once but continually. There are a variety of ways to get in front of would-be sponsors: Ask for stretch assignments in your target sponsor's line of sight; request a meeting with your target sponsor for career development advice; approach a target sponsor and suggest collaborating on a project of interest to that person, emphasizing how much you can help with the legwork as well as the ideas; identify concrete ways you might help a prospective sponsor solve a looming business challenge. Just doing good work isn't enough. Take the first step and make yourself not only a hard worker, but an emerging leader worthy of a sponsor.

Having a sponsor will pay off. Kerrie Peraino, senior vice president of Global Talent Management at American Express, describes how her sponsor kept her on track during her time at American Express and provided her with the air-cover she needed to be successful at the company. When Peraino had just given birth to her second child, she considered stepping away from work for a period of time. "That's when my sponsor went to bat for me," Peraino relates. "She knew I was fully committed, not just to my team but to the firm and she offered me a part-time role rather than step away from work all together. She was determined to give me whatever support or air cover I needed to keep me on track." Peraino accepted and after three years of working part-time, she was made a vice president--a testament not only to her hard work, but also to her sponsor's committed support and advocacy. "I look back on that phase and think how my career might have played out differently were it not for that alliance."

With clearly defined goals and the right sponsor to turbocharge your journey, look for your career to take off in 2017.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.