Newsletter #544 – Forget about Mentors, Find a Sponsor

I was enthusiastic to learn about the publication of Find-a-SponsorSylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Forget a Mentor: Find a Sponsor. I pre-ordered the book and started reading when it arrived after its publication in late August. Quickly I discovered that the book is not suggesting that sponsors are “the new mentors” as Fast Company erroneously reported in a blog last week. Instead, Hewlett sees mentoring and sponsorship as two valuable but different channels to success in our lives and careers, and in the lives of those we seek to help. What’s the difference between mentors and sponsors?

Mentors are encouragers and role models. They have experience, knowledge and the ability to guide protégés and give them advice and direction. Mentoring mostly is a one-way relationship in which the experienced person offers help, empathy, support and sometimes spiritual direction but expects little in return. Mentors are needed and often very helpful.

Sponsors can be helpful too but their role is different. Like mentors, sponsors advise and encourage. But sponsors believe in their protégés, so much that the sponsor sometimes will give brutally honest feedback to help the protégé improve or make a better impression. The sponsor takes risks to promote the protégé, vouch for his or her capabilities and be an active advocate for the protégé’s capabilities and potential. In business terms the protégé carries the sponsor’s brand. In turn, the protégé is expected to live up to the endorsement and demonstrate high performance. If the sponsor advocates and the protégé performs then everybody wins.

Hewlett bases her conclusions on extensive research in business communities around the world. She notes that mentors are more plentiful than sponsors but sponsors ultimately can be more influential because they help protégés, including women and minority people, to advance where they might never go without help. The best mentors have influence in places where the protégé wants to go.

At times, this can sound like somewhat driven business practices that have little relevance to those outside of corporations. But the principles apply broadly, into academia and ministries, for example. If you want to reach your goals try to find a mentor. Meantime, please leave a comment.



  1. I guess I am just not knowledgeable in this area. I always assumed that being a good mentor INCLUDED trying to open doors for the person you are trying to help. I thought that “sponsoring” or “promoting” a person was part of the mentor’s job description. In my book, if I am not actively sponsoring a person, trying to promote them to more responsibility, then I really am not much of a mentor. Now, in some cases, I may not be ABLE to open any doors for a person. Then all I can do is give advice. That is a different situation. But if I have the opportunity to open doors, and don’t do it, then I don’t think I’m much of a mentor. Just my thoughts.


  2. Added thought. Maybe the author is addressing people who have found a mentor who CANNOT help “sponsor” them. In that situation, they should look for a person who CAN sponsor them, in addition to their current mentor. That is just good common sense advice that I have given to some people whom I have mentored, but whom I have not been in a place to sponsor. However, whenever I have found myself in that situation, I usually have been able to actively “sell” my mentee to an acquaintance who is in a better position to sponsor them. That is what networking is all about. Again, my comments are just something to chew on.


    1. Hi DH. Your two posts are more than just comments to chew on. You get to the core of what the book I reviewed and my post were attempting to describe. The author would agree with what you wrote. Mentors should be promoters. But she thinks of sponsors as people who have power and influence that the mentee cannot access.
      Here is an example. I have a friend who is a musician. He sees me as a mentor who encourages him and challenges his thinking. I can do that well. But today I asked him how he could take the music he recorded and get it heard by am decision maker at a record company who probably gets tens of thousands of unsolicited submissions every year. I can encourage my friend but I don’t know anybody in that industry. I asked if he knows somebody who is well connected in the music industry and could be an advocate for my friend and be his sponsor-advocate. This kind of sponsor does not step out on a limb like that unless the sponsor is willing to risk his or her reputation to promote the young musician.
      Same is true in the publishing industry. I know people in that field but if I have a book that I want to get published I go to my agent. He evaluates my manuscript and if he likes it he goes to top people in the industry that he knows and promotes my idea. That is a sponsor.


  3. In the 100+, rapid, church-planting movements going on in the non-western world, the role of “sponsor” remains quite evident. Competent mentors make a real difference in effectiveness, whilst sponsors, who know how to employ funding without creating dependence, steer ministry leaders into making sound, strategic choices. Clearly, both matter.


    1. Thanks Galen. Good comments. But I think sponsors do more than help people make sound decisions. Sponsors go to people in power (sometimes without the mentee’s knowledge) and actively promote the mentee/protege’s work or cause. I have a psychologist friend who missed the deadline when he applied to graduate school. I went to the chairman of the admission’s committee (a person I know) and pushed to have my friend’s application considered and I gave my reasons why. That is sponsorship. I guess a lot here depends on who we know. Unfair? Probably. But often that is how the system works. BTW my friend was accepted and has gone on to become an outstanding professional.


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