Instead of a mentor find a sponsor

(c) alles-schlumpf

An article from the Harvard Business Review laying out a key distinction that I hadn’t considered before –  that between having a sponsor and having a mentor.   Bottom line, leaders should have proteges. 

The main benefit outlined here is that proteges spread across a company will form a powerful “go to” team for you to get something key done.  More than the quid pro quo element of such a relationship though, I appreciated the exploration of how a sponsor and employee would foster an ongoing relationship, deeper than a mentorship relationship and with more powerful positive consequences for the organization.

In particular, a sponsor would take ongoing responsibility for professional development and best of all in my books, would stand behind their protege when they stumble.

“Think of a sponsor as a talent scout. He’ll get his protégé in front of directors to audition for a key role. He’ll nudge them to choose her. He’ll coach her on her performance so that she proves to other what an excellent choice he made. He’ll train a spotlight on his protégé so that other directors take note of her abilities and he’ll make introductions afterward so that she can follow up with them to bring her talent to a wider audience. Should she stumble, or should any of those other directors turn hostile, the sponsor will come to her aid – because now that your brands are linked, it’s in the sponsor’s best interests to ensure his protégé succeeds.”

What’s more, they are an embedded source of reliable intelligence in the organization.

“But protégés do more than enhance your brand and extend your influence; they protect you. As leaders move up the ladder, they’re increasingly removed from the action on the front lines of the organization. They need loyal lieutenants to bridge the distance and deliver a clear, unbiased and timely report of what’s going on.”

While the lingo saying that you should consider that proteges are linked to your “brand” didn’t work especially well for me, I loved the overall approach.  Essentially, a sponsor would say, I believe in you and your talent, I’ll stand behind you as a strong resource for the organization if you falter.  In exchange, I’ll appreciate your honest information on what is going on and look forward to your collaboration when it’s needed.

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