This is the second in a four-part series of articles about how a sponsor can help you get what you want from your career or practice.
In my last post, How Mentors and Sponsors are Different (and Why It Matters), I explained the benefits for lawyers of having a sponsor and described why a sponsor would want to take on that role.
In this article, I am going to dig into the nitty gritty of the lawyer/sponsor relationship and provide more information about how it works. Why? Because if you want to find a sponsor (and I highly recommend that you do), you need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you make that leap.
Let’s whet your appetite with some of the things your sponsor can do for you:
- Go out on a limb for you, perhaps by making you the senior lawyer on an important case or transaction
- Introduce you (and talk you up) to those who make hiring decisions at prospective clients
- Make you more visible to senior leaders, both internally and externally
- Speak about you in glowing terms to other heavy-hitters, even (and especially) when you’ve made a mistake or others are saying negative things about you
- Run interference for you so you can more comfortably take risks that will showcase your capabilities
- Give honest feedback on both your skill gaps and how you can present yourself more effectively (professional presence)
- “Pound the table” and advocate for you when decisions are being made about whether you will make partner, sit on an important committee, take the helm of a critical matter, or receive more compensation (in other words, get you to the head of the line in a potentially crowded field)
- Take you aside and give you information you need to know (but wouldn’t otherwise have access to) to navigate politics or tricky situations.
Now you know that having a sponsor in your corner smoothing your path to greater things can be a game-changer. But sponsors don’t give away their clout for free. So, what is your role in all of this? What will your sponsor expect you to deliver?
At a bare minimum, your sponsor will be looking for:
- Superlative performance. Another lawyer will only act as your sponsor and link his future to yours if you have already demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate, that you outperform the competition. You need to be a producer and deliver results.
- Unwavering Loyalty. Your performance may get you the sponsor, but your loyalty and commitment to your sponsor will ensure that you keep him and that he continues to care about your success. That means being as protective of your sponsor as he is of you when it comes to gossip you hear or obstacles you can clear out of his way.
- Distinguishing characteristics. Protégés must provide something that the sponsor values highly but may lack, whether it’s a certain skill set, type of experience, or personality type. When you can fill in important blanks for the sponsor, you will have the opportunity to shine in your own right and not just become a permanent second lieutenant.
Other ways you can support your sponsor?
- Promote his legacy
- Build his team to be the very best
- Watch his back
- Be trustworthy and discreet
- Go the extra mile by over-delivering and being there when he needs you, even if it’s not always convenient.
As Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, explains, it’s not just about riding someone’s coattails to the top. The quality of the relationship you develop with a sponsor is all about what you put into it. While your skills and can-do attitude may get the attention of higher ups who may be willing to develop you to an extent, your investment in them is what makes them blaze a real trail for you, with all the hard work and political capital that entails.
Are you ready to find a sponsor and commit to his success as well as your own?
Don’t miss out on next week’s post, which will be about how to identify the right sponsor for you.
To your success,
Elise Holtzman, JD, ACC
The Lawyer’s Success Coach