Just how important protégés are to a powerful person was made clear to me by this question, told to me by a Fortune 100 CEO. When choosing his direct reports, he asks: “How many blazing talents have you developed over the years and put in top positions across the company, so that if I asked you to pull off a deal that involved liaising across seven geographies and five functions, you’d have the bench strength — the people who ‘owe you one’ — to get it done?”
In earlier research, CTI measured the “sponsor effect,” the quantifiable boost to pay, promotion, career satisfaction, and retention that sponsorship endows on protégés. It turns out that there’s also a “protégé effect” leveraging career traction for leaders. White male leaders with a posse of protégés are 11% more satisfied with their own rate of advancement than leaders who haven’t invested in up-and-comers. Leaders of colour who have developed young talent are overall 24% more satisfied with their career progress than those who haven’t built that base of support.
Although the role of sponsors and mentors are often conflated, the fact is, sponsors do much more. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, whose intensive study of sponsorship has appeared in research reports, HBR articles and blogs, and will be published in my upcoming book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, sponsorship isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s also a smart career move.
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 afterwards 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.
In short, sponsorship is about taking calculated risks. Why do it? Because the payoff is priceless.
In today’s complex organizational matrix, no one person can maintain both breadth and depth of knowledge across fields and functions. But she can put together a posse whose expertise is a quick IM away. Some sponsees add value through their technical expertise or social media savvy. Others contribute fluency in another language or culture. Still others may help you advance the organization’s goals through their ability to build teams from scratch and coach raw talent. Building a loyal cadre of effective performers can extend your reach, realize your vision, build your legacy, and burnish your reputation.
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.
One protégée described herself as “the eyes and ears on the ground” for her sponsor. “I’d tell her that there was someone on her team who wasn’t performing the way they should. It wasn’t in an insidious, tattle-tale vein but from the vantage point of what would be helpful for the department. If we’re to deliver against certain strategic objectives and someone is displaying behaviors that aren’t helpful, then you’re serving the organization as well as your sponsor by informing about that behavior.”
And let’s not forget, too, that the higher you climb, the more exposed you will be. The more protégés you have, the stronger and wider your safety net will be. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, protégés who prospered under your sponsorship and moved on and up can thank you by doing for you exactly what you once did for them.
Ann Hewlett. Harvard Business Review