This is the fourth and final article in a series about how a sponsor can help you get what you want from your career or practice.
If you have been following along with the Get Yourself a Sponsor series, you now know:
- The differences between mentors and sponsors (Part 1)
- How sponsorship actually works (Part 2), and
- How to start identifying the right sponsor(s) for you (Part 3).
Take The Plunge. Now it’s time to actually go ahead and discuss sponsorship with the lawyer you’ve identified. If your stomach is churning at the thought of having a conversation with your prospective sponsor, there’s good news. There are as many ways to go about having the conversation as there are attorneys who are potential sponsors. You can custom-tailor your approach to your sponsor’s position and personality, the culture of your law firm or company, and your own personality, goals and values.
Dos and Don’ts. Here are some guideposts to help you prepare for your conversation. We’ll take the Don’ts first:
- Don’t explicitly ask for sponsorship. Not only is it a bit awkward to ask “will you be my sponsor?,” but the question is inherently vague. Without an explanation of the benefits that will flow in each direction, your target may not adequately understand the nature of the relationship being agreed to. You are not asking for just a mentor, and that needs to be clear.
- Don’t forget that you’re not vying to be someone’s permanent second lieutenant. You’re not doing the sponsor a favor or asking to be the sponsor’s gofer; rather, you’re proposing a mutually beneficial relationship that will eventually put you in an independent leadership position.
- On the flip side, don’t get squeamish and talk yourself out of having the conversation because you feel that you are asking your sponsor for a favor or for something you don’t deserve. The sponsor relationship is a two-way street – remember that your sponsor will benefit tremendously.
So what can you do instead?
- Since a potential sponsor may well not be the senior lawyer you work with on a daily basis but a level or two above, find ways to get on his or her radar screen. For example, ask to work on a case or transaction with that person or for one of that lawyer’s clients.
- For a target you don’t know particularly well, you might also start out by asking him to meet with you for career development advice or volunteer for a committee she chairs so you can get to know her.
- If appropriate, thank the person for opportunities he or she has given you in the past and explain how those opportunities were helpful to you (what you learned, experiences you had, people you met).
- Describe what you can offer to the sponsor specifically or to the sponsor’s department, team, cases or transactions. What makes you worth sponsoring?
- Make it clear that you want to help the sponsor achieve his or her goals and that, at the same time, working with the sponsor will enable you to achieve your goals. In other words, what are you willing to do for the sponsor and what would you like the sponsor to do in return?
But, it’s so … obvious. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor, points out,
“If this sounds blatantly transactional, okay, it is. But remember, truly powerful people simply don’t have the time to divine what makes you tick or what will make you happy. You owe it to both of you to cut to the chase, not in making demands, but in spelling out the mutual benefits.”
If having the sponsorship conversation still sounds a bit daunting, consider the consequences of not doing so. You don’t want to be kicking yourself down the line because you squandered the opportunity to advance your career as a lawyer and do the work you really want to do. The time to ask is NOW.