I was enthusiastic to learn about the publication of Sylvia 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.