Since sponsorship sounds like a miraculous career enhancement tool, there must be a catch.  Anecdotally the catch for many lawyers seems to be the necessity that they proactively and strategically identify one or more sponsors and intentionally develop a relationship.  To many lawyers this sounds calculating, perhaps even manipulative, certainly not natural.

For example, many lawyers have had colleagues who from day one identified lawyers with their name in lights, or those who were soon to be, and went to lunch only with them.  They were thought of as gunners or worse and disliked for it.  Yet look at their subsequent career track and consider the role of sponsors in it.  Many experienced lawyers know sponsored lawyers who were elected partners in stark contrast to their unsponsored peers with equal or better skills and statistics.  Similarly, they have seen the protection sponsors provide from missteps and layoffs.

So take Hewlett’s advice as well as pages from those “gunners’” playbooks and rewrite them for your style of play.

  • First, identify what you would like a sponsor or sponsors to help you get.
  • Second, scan the horizon for potential sponsors.  Look for those with real influence and, if possible, sponsor tendencies.  Look beyond your boss, mentor and immediate supervisors.  As Hewlett says, choose efficacy over affinity.
  • Third, get in front of would be sponsors.  Ask a supervisor for an assignment in the sponsor’s area.  Request a meeting with the target sponsor for career advice.  Attend networking events and other gatherings where you can approach the person and introduce yourself.
  • Fourth, offer to co-author an article, collaborate on a project of interest to the person or share an idea or feedback on something important to him or her.  When possible, let the person see you in action.   As you get to know the person, share your goals appropriately.  You may even propose a quid pro quo.
  • Fifth, minimize your risk by developing more than one sponsor at work and developing a sponsor relationship outside of work as well.
  • Sixth, consistently deliver outstanding performance and make your sponsors look good.  Be relentlessly loyal.
  • Last, be strategic and patient.  Like all relationships, sponsorships take time and trust.

For those of you who do not need or desire a sponsor, turn the concept upside down to consider who you could sponsor and how being a sponsor might benefit you.

Finally, regardless of where you are in your career, you might have clout you can wield in some circle to benefit someone else.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start building a cadre of protégés for yourself?

If you would like help identifying sponsors and developing sponsor relationships, please contact me.