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You may not immediately associate the notion of a sponsor with advancing your career; however, there is at least one career expert out there who genuinely believes that the current employment market is bound to witness a trend in which career sponsors replace mentors. It’s already been reported by prestigious business magazine Forbes and it all comes from acclaimed economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Hewlett has recently published a book titled “(Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career”. We’ve been investigating Hewlett’s theory and are here to tell you all about how career sponsors replace mentors when it comes to advancing one’s career.
Career sponsors replace mentors in terms of training
Both sponsors and mentors have the personal development of the employee as their core responsibility. However, the difference between one and the other is that sponsors are leadership-oriented. Like mentors they will provide career advice and guidance, but their main goal is to turn one into a leader. The key difference (as well as the main argument to prove that career sponsors replace mentors in today’s professional environment) is that, unlike mentors, sponsors are not there to provide advice – but to help one harbor the right attitude toward fast-tracking their career. As Hewlett puts it, “mentors advise, while sponsors act”. Sponsors can promote a potential job candidate to the key decision makers within their desired organization. They are the movers, shakers, and connectors of the business world, who always have talent lined up, eager to work their way to the top of their chosen career track. To boot, they also stick around for a long duration of one’s professional career; they don’t simply open one door for the professional hopeful, but oversee their ascent to power and influence.
The benefits of sponsorship witnessed first-hand
Sylvia Ann Hewlett bases her theory, that career sponsors replace mentors and outweigh them in terms of importance, on her own professional experience. The economist has certainly seen a rapid ascent to a comfortable and enviable career position. She now runs her own think tank, called the Center for Talent Innovation, and is a graduate of Cambridge University, one of the world’s most prestigious higher learning institutions. She managed to achieve all this with the aid of sponsors – she originally hails from a modest environment, in the mining areas of Wales, Great Britain. She was educated in the spirit of hard work and meritocracy but came to realize that they have their limits, when it comes to building the best life possible for oneself. So she sought out a sponsor.
How does one attract the right career sponsor?
According to Hewlett’s advice, when selecting the right career sponsor, efficacy should take precedence before affinity. In other words, she says, don’t simply go with someone whom you like and who likes you back, or even a potential sponsor with whom you share passions, interests, or a background. The deciding aspect is how efficient your sponsor is in promoting their protégés. Selecting a sponsor needs to be done with tact, discretion, and an underlying strategy, which will turn a career sponsor into a long-term ally. She also explains that the sponsor and the sponsored needn’t become one and the same person. It can happen that you do not want to become the type of leader your career sponsor is – this is immaterial in the process of selection. You will want to benefit from your sponsor’s influence, not seek to emulate their style or replicate their career path.
It may very well happen that career sponsors replace mentors in the coming decade – after all, networking and liaising is gaining grounds in today’s professional environment, in the face of training. However, it’s important to note that a career sponsor is someone whose trust one earns in time, by proving their determination, professional skills and dedication to benefiting from all the advantages one has at their disposal. A good career sponsor has a keen eye for excellence and will be quick to reward it. On the flipside, they will also steer clear of any protégés that they feel might put their name and reputation on the line. After all, since being a sponsor has a lot to do with clout, no one would want to risk damaging their clout for the sake of a promise not delivered on.