Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and thought leader widely known as one of the world’s most influential business thinkers. We recently watched a video of Dr. Hewlett addressing a group of Google employees. What resonated with us was Google’s ongoing commitment to professional development. Here, we have a leading expert on corporate talent initiatives explaining to high-potentials at one of the largest organizations in the world, what it takes to advance.
Dr. Hewlett is often described as “cracking the code of Executive Presence,” and identifying that professionals must signal they are leadership material. Dr. Hewlett’s research clearly makes the point that presence is as critical as performance. Although widely known for her book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, she is the author of many articles and numerous books, including, (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor.
“The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career”
During her Google address, in addition to describing her personal journey from a hardscrabble coal-mining village in Wales, Dr. Hewlett discusses the importance of having a sponsor. In fact, the subtitle of her book is: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career.
The difference between mentors and sponsors
Both mentors and sponsors are to important to advance an individual’s career. The main difference is that mentors advise; sponsors act. Dr. Hewlett defines a sponsor as “a senior leader who delivers high-octane support.” Their dynamic, powerful and public endorsement validates protégés. Three specific things distinguish sponsors from mentors to provide actual traction for protégés.
- Really know the protégé, understand their value, are willing to take a bet on their merit and go out on a limb
- Publicly advocate for the protégé’s next promotion so they can demonstrate their capabilities
- Stand firmly in their protégé’s corner to make risk-taking possible
As a sidebar to this final point, Dr. Hewlett emphasizes that “nothing gets done that’s amazing in the workplace without some risk,” and therefore failure.
Deeply reciprocal relationship
A protégé needs to earn a sponsorship. Typically, they must give, before they receive. How does a person get tapped on the shoulder and chosen?
There are three keys:
- Performance is central
- Trustworthiness, incredible reliability, and loyalty to the team and leader
- Value-added personal brand, something unique that distinguishes the protégé and makes them indispensable
Sponsors scout talent and seek exceptional performance and loyalty that effectively reinforces their authority to drive their own careers further ahead.
People seeking sponsors must genuinely respect a leader. At the same time, they must never confuse a sponsorship relationship with friendship. It is a deeply productive alliance that provides mutual benefits.
- A reminder: Mentoring is fundamental to Executive Presence.
- Before taking on the role of sponsor understand the depth of commitment.