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Sponsors versus Mentors

I came across an Interesting article titled  "Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women"  in Harvard Business Review September 2010 edition. The article basically talks why high performing women need more than just well meaning mentors. 

What is interesting to Project Managers is the insight the article provides on the role of  sponsors in career advancement.

Quoting from the article "Classical mentoring" (ideal but rare) combines psychosocial and career support. Usually  though, workers get one or the other-or if they get bot h, it's from different sources.Analysis of hundreds of studies shows that people derive more satisfaction from mentoring but need sponsorship. without sponsorship, a person is likely to be overlooked for promotion, regardless of his or her competence and performance-particularly at mid-career and beyond, when competition for promotions increases".

The article also clearly differentiates the role and responsibility of  Mentors and Sponsors

  • Can sit at any level in the hierarchy
  • Provide emotional support, feedback on how to improve, and other advice
  • Serve as role models
  • Help mentees learn to navigate corporate politics
  • Strive to increase mentees' sense of competence and self-worth
  • Focus on mentees' personal and professional development
  • Must be senior managers with influence
  • Give proteges exposure to other executives who may help their careers
  • Make sure their people are considered for promising opportunities and challenging assignments
  • Protect their proteges from negative publicity or damaging contact with senior executives
  • Fight to get their people promoted

Going through the above, it is very clear that Sponsors have a very important role to play in the career advancements due to the power and authority they possess.

How to get a senior person with the right influence to sponsor you, unless your organization has a well defined policy on sponsorship, is a difficult question to answer . And getting it done in a professional manner is an even more challenging task.


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