How to Have a Great Meeting with Your Sponsor
When’s the last time you met with your sponsor to tell them how things are going?
If you’ve been keeping them updated regularly, congratulations. That puts you in a great position to build trust with your sponsor, get the most from the relationship and advance your career.
But if you’re like most people, you haven’t updated your sponsor in a while.
Maybe you’re busy. Maybe you’ve set the bar so high that you’d have to win the Nobel Prize before going to your sponsor to tell them about it. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed to talk to them until you’ve done something with the advice they gave you last time you met.
Whatever your reason for holding back, remember that your sponsor wants to know how you’re doing. In fact, they need to know in order be a great sponsor for you.
As a sponsor, it gave me a sense of pride when my proteges took action and got results. Hearing their updates allowed me to give timely advice so they could avoid pitfalls that would make them (and me!) look bad. Most importantly, those updates gave me ammunition to advocate for them behind closed doors.
Whether you’re about to have that meeting or need the confidence to know what to say before setting it up, here are three things you need to do to make the most of the time with your sponsor.
1. Identify Your Goals
As Steven Covey says, “start with the end in mind”. In this case, that means getting clear on what success would be from the meeting. What do you want to accomplish? What would feel like a “win” for you and your sponsor when you walk out of the room?
I like to think of the goals in three categories:
- What you want to convey
- What you want to discover, and
- What you want to put in motion as a follow up
There are two aspects to what you want to convey.
The first is the content. What are the three main points you want to make?
For example, thanking them for the opportunity they gave you, letting them know what you did with it, and sharing your plans are for building on that success. Or it could be updates on the three key projects you’ve worked on.
The second is how you show up and the impression you want to leave them with.
Are you trying to be more strategic? Do you want to show that you have aspirations beyond your current role? Or come across as calm, cool and confident?
Being clear in your own mind on how you want to show up will help you align what you say, how you say it, and how you behave in the most powerful way.
What information or feedback would you want to learn from your sponsor?
Perhaps it’s feedback on what they’ve been hearing about your efforts, which would help you improve. Or what trends they see in the business and the organization, which could inform your next moves. Or what’s going on with them so you know how you can support them.
Put in Motion
What next step or steps would you like to have happen?
If you have an “ask” then get clear on what that is and how you want to phrase it. If there isn’t anything specific you want as a follow up, it could be just to pay attention during the meeting to anything that emerges as a possibility. And it could be simply getting agreement on when it makes sense to touch base again.
As an example, if you’re meeting with your sponsor ahead of a promotion, your content would include a “thank you” for their support and a succinct summary of what you accomplished, what you learned from the key projects you’ve had the privilege to lead, and your aspiration to get to the next level in the organization.
And focus the how you show up as being someone who has the desire, confidence and poise to operate at that next level.
What you’ll want to discover are the next steps you should take to put yourself in a position to be seen as a strong candidate for promotion. For example, you could ask, “if you were in my shoes, what are the next steps you would take?” or “what would you recommend in terms of next steps?” And if you’re not sure about how the process works or need feedback on how you’re doing, this is the time to ask about that too.
Your sponsor’s views on next steps can inform what you put in motion. But in case they don’t offer helpful action steps, make sure you have some of your own. Like asking them for an introduction to someone they say you should meet or inviting you to a meeting where key decision-makers will be present.
2. Handle the Meeting Like a Pro
Whether you’re talking to your sponsor about something specific like your promotion or having a general catch up, there are five things you can do during the meeting to make it a success.
Thank and Share
When it comes to your sponsor, it’s useful to show gratitude. After all, they’re putting their reputation on the line when they advocate for you. I like to start by thanking them for whatever the specific thing is they’ve done to help me.
It’s equally important to keep them updated on how you’re doing so they can feel comfortable that the investment they’re making in you is one that is paying off. That’s about sharing a succinct update of whatever you want to convey.
And if things have changed or a project isn’t going as planned, you need to let them know what’s going on and what you’re doing about it. Communication builds trust, which makes your sponsor more likely to keep supporting you.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to ask for their wise counsel. It could be asking for feedback on how you’re doing and how you could improve, recommendations on what a good next step would be if they were in your shoes, or challenges the organization is facing that you could help out on.
You could also ask about what’s on your sponsor’s plate and find ways to support them in their efforts.
A vastly undervalued skill is listening. And when you’re nervous, it’s all too easy to keep talking to fill the silence.
After you ask a question, pause and listen. Resist the urge to fill the silence or change your question. Then pay close attention to what your sponsor says. This allows you to ask follow-on questions to clarify and get a deeper understanding.
To make room for listening to the wise words of your sponsor, make sure you keep your comments concise and to-the-point.
Toward the end of the meeting, take a moment to summarize your takeaways and get clear on next steps. Often, there will be a natural moment when it makes sense to summarize and bring the meeting to a conclusion. But it’s your job to keep your eye on the time and start wrapping things up when there’s 3-5 minutes left to go.
Don’t feel like you have to use up all the time if it’s not needed. Your sponsor will always appreciate getting some time back, and they’ll be happier to meet with you again if you keep to schedule.
It’s in your interest to create an opportunity to follow up with your sponsor, mostly so you won’t feel funny about reaching out to them again.
It could be a tangible action item like sending them the article you mentioned or meeting with someone they recommended you get to know. Or it could be simply getting permission to come back and update them again in three months.
Whatever you’ve agreed to do, make sure you do it.
3. Avoid the Meeting Pitfalls
Sometimes, despite your best intentions, things can go badly in a meeting with your sponsor. Some will be caused by things outside your control, like your sponsor turning up 15 minutes late to your 20-minute meeting or an emergency that distracts them from paying full attention.
But most of the issues are caused by things that you may not be aware of. That’s why I’m including this list of what not to do or say to your sponsor.
Don’t Be Arrogant
Unless your sponsor is arrogant and regards that as an attractive trait, you’re best off being what I call “real”. That means having your feet firmly on the ground about who you are and what you bring, and not having a sense of entitlement.
Don’t Be Too Humble
The opposite is also a problem. Being too humble to talk about what you’ve done and accomplished means your sponsor won’t know enough to advocate for you effectively.
Don’t Put Them on the Spot
Be careful not to ask for help in a way that backs your sponsor into a corner and makes them (and you) feel awkward… like issuing an ultimatum (“give me X or I’ll quit”) or making a big ask and expecting an answer on the spot.
Don’t Do All the Talking
Make sure you’re doing your share of the listening because your sponsor should be the wiser, more experienced of the two! And when you’re talking…
Respect their time by getting to the point. Tell them just the amount of information they need to know (not the “gory details”). Don’t repeat yourself. Above all, don’t feel like you need to fill the entire time slot.
You’re there to achieve your goals, not to be right or score points in a debate. It’s fine to clarify any misunderstandings and explore what they mean by certain statements. But arguing every point takes up precious time and creates negative energy, neither of which is helpful to your sponsor relationship.
Your sponsor meeting is not a therapy session or a place to vent your frustrations. If you have to talk about negatives, challenge yourself to turn those complaints into opportunities. Stay positive and as my father likes to say, see if you can “use only positive words”.
Cultivate Your Sponsor Relationship
Sponsors are like gold dust. You’ll be fortunate to have one at any given point in your career. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate those relationships with great care and attention.
If you have a sponsor, treat them with respect when you meet. And when you find potential candidates, approach your meetings with them as though they already are your sponsor.
Remember to set your goals before each meeting, focus on the five things to do in the meeting and steer clear of the pitfalls.
But most important of all, go and have the meeting with your sponsor! It’s a key part of building and maintaining your relationship.
When it comes to meeting with your sponsor (whether current or potential), which of these strategies would most help you make it the success you want it to be?
Leave a comment and let me know.