Forget a Mentor – Find a Sponsor!

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I read an interview with Sylvia Anne Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor – Find a Sponsor  which I thought was a perfect  spin off to my last post –  Do You have a “Challenger in Chief”? .  In this interview Ms. Hewlett describes the difference between a mentor and a sponsor – “In short, mentors advise; sponsors act”.

One of the elements of the Competency Based Talent Management lifecycle is career management.   What I loved about this article is that it gave practical advice on how to manage your career.  As we noted in previous articles – YOU are responsible for managing your own career.   We often think about mentors as a way to help us navigate our climb up the corporate ladder but wouldn’t it be helpful to have someone who can actually open the door at every rung of that ladder AND see that you get to the top – that is the role of the sponsor.   Hewlett says, “If mentors help define the dream, sponsors are the dream-enablers. Sponsors deliver: They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion: They’ll see you to the threshold of power.”  Mentors can provide navigational help which will prepare you to attract a sponsor.

Ms. Hewlett’s research has shown that sponsorship can have a quantifiable impact in three areas:  pay raises, high profile assignments and promotions.  Studies show that the majority of men (67%) and women (70%) resist asking their boss for a pay raise.  With a sponsor on their side half of men and 38% of women will ask and most will succeed in getting the raise.  Her research also shows “that individuals who are most satisfied with their rate of advancement are individuals with sponsors. Fully 70 percent of sponsored men and 68 percent of sponsored women feel they are progressing through the ranks at a satisfactory pace, compared to 57 percent of their unsponsored peers. That translates into a “sponsor effect” of 23 percent for men and 19 percent for women.” 

How do you find the right sponsor?  Can you have more than one?  Here are a few tips to consider.  Look beyond your immediate circle of mentors and managers – seek out someone with real power to move your career forward.  In large organizations, potential sponsors are one to two levels above you and in smaller firms it is either the founder or CEO or his/her direct reports.  There is nothing wrong with seeking sponsorship outside your company, perhaps from a senior leader within your industry.  Having more than one person helping you propel your career is NOT a bad thing.

Just like the mentor / mentee relationship, the sponsor / protégé relationship is a two way street as well.  If a sponsor is out there working on your behalf you MUST deliver through hard work, exceptional performance, loyalty to the sponsor and the organization and a specific “value-add”.  Believe it or not, being a sponsor can advance the leaders career as well. 

I have been very fortunate in my own career that I have had numerous sponsors.  For me, my sponsors have been both internal to my organization and external.  Some of my sponsors have been tough – both in style (not one that I would replicate) and in expectations.  In all cases, I have learned, grown and been a stronger professional for having had that relationship.  The next time you are thinking about managing your career, forget the mentor find a sponsor.

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Anne Kohler
Anne has been leading consulting and financial management organizations for over 25 years. She has extensive expertise in Strategic Sourcing, change management, contracting & contract management (both the buy side and sell side) organizational design and supply chain management. Anne has a passion for collaborating and educating her clients while helping them to uncover hidden value in their organizations. In addition, Anne has been named by Supply & Demand Chain Executive as a “Top 100 Provider Pro to Know” every year since 2007 and a 2013 Top Female Supply Chain executive.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this great article. I didn’t think to much about it but had lived a couple of times experience with tough sponsors (and like you not a style that I would replicate) and I learned and grown. Once you understand that you always learn, it is much more easier to capture the lessons that are there for you. Thank you for sharing this. With my best regards, Rogério

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