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Book Club: Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor

Alexandra Mannix, MD |

Forget the Mentor, Find a Sponsor book - sponsorshipOne of the most common themes in advice for career advancement is “find a mentor.” But we are rarely told HOW to find a mentor, WHY we need mentors, or WHAT ROLE mentors are supposed to play in our careers. In addition to the lack of direction regarding mentorship, when you start to research “what is mentorship,” it becomes clear that there are several limitations to the benefits of this popularized mentor-mentee relationship. To see results, the key may be more than mentorship and the answer is likely sponsorship.

Why this book?

Whether you are looking to lead an initiative, attain a leadership position, or drive change within your institution, “Forget the Mentor, Find a Sponsor: the New Way to Fast-Track Your Career” by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the perfect addition to everyone’s tool box to help you forge the relationships that truly have the power to deliver you to your destination. This book lays out a 7-step road map to help you find a sponsor and fulfill your life goals.

The following are chapter summaries:

Part 1: Importance of sponsorship

  1. What is sponsorship?
    • Mentors provide advice, contribute to self-esteem, and serve as a sounding board during difficult times. While mentors can inspire and motivate as role models, they fall short on impacting career advancement.
    • Sponsors invest in your successes and create career traction. “Mentors give, whereas sponsors invest.” In addition to advice and guidance, sponsors link their reputation with your performance, advocate for you from their role as a senior member, and provide protection that allows you risk-taking. They take an interest in your career successes as an opportunity to further their own legacy. Sponsorship is not favoritism; it represents a transactional relationship in which sponsors receive a return on their investment as you deliver positive results.
  2. How sponsorship works: Sponsors go the extra mile to clear a path for your success as it is an extension of theirs. Sponsors impact careers by expanding perceptions of your ability, connecting you with leaders and promoting your visibility, providing challenges and stretch opportunities, and identifying gaps in your skill-set. Sponsorship is extraordinarily reciprocal. As the recipient of this relationship, the protégé must deliver a superior product, be innovative, and distinguish themselves by contributing desired traits. A protégé should not stagnate as a junior role to the sponsor, making sure that he or she stands out for promotion by contributing skills that the leadership desires but lacks.

Part 2: The 7-step road map for protégés

  1. Embrace your dream and do a diagnostic. Building a successful career requires a vision. Beyond goal setting, there needs to be a dream and inspiration. Sponsors are dream-enablers and allow you to dream big. Running a diagnostic of the skillsets currently held will allow you to determine your ability to reach this dream.
  2. Scan the horizon for potential sponsors. Look to your current supporters or mentors, identify leaders who are already aware of your strengths and stand to benefit from your help, and can actually move you toward your goals. Who asked you to give a talk at a national conference or assigned you to oversee implementation of a new clinical pathway? People who see your potential are more likely to be effective sponsors.Then, instead of asking for sponsorship, spell out clearly what the mutual benefit of the relationship would be. Remember, friends do not always make the best sponsors-rather, value efficacy in reaching your goal rather than affinity for the sponsor to ensure your success.
  3. Distribute your risk. The “2+1 rule” demonstrates the ideal sponsor network of 2 sponsors within your organization (one in your division and one outside) and at least 1 sponsor outside of your organization. For example, after participating in a national simulation study, colleagues were able to leverage their new network connections and increase potential sponsors and job opportunities. Increase your visibility in networks outside of your hospital, for example, by taking on a national committee role or volunteering to be a mentor.
  4. Understand that it’s not all about you. The mentee mindset is one of a follower, whereas a sponsored mindset is reciprocal. You represent your sponsor in some way. The sponsor wants you to succeed because ultimately, your success reflects on him/her. Mentees often passively wait to be guided or to be given an opportunity or “gift” instead of actively seeking opportunities and viewing them as debts. Proactively look to help your sponsor be successful when they don’t ask for it, and they’ll see that you are committed to the reciprocity of the relationship.
  5. Come through on 2 obvious fronts. Sponsors won’t just hand you opportunities. You have to earn them. Thus, you have to come through on 2 fronts: performance and loyalty. When it comes to performance, you must deliver outstanding results, hit all targets and deadlines, and display an impressive work ethic and availability. Arm your sponsor with the evidence to convince anyone that you are the best candidate for your next job or project. When it comes to loyalty, you must demonstrate trustworthiness, discretion, and that you have your sponsor’s back. You must be all about growing your sponsor’s legacy. They see your potential, but they must also see your ability to carry on his/her legacy.
  6. Develop and deploy your currency. How might you stand out? What is your distinct “value add” to your department or team? What do you bring to the table that makes you the best choice for your next job or project? You need to figure out your special currency – what differentiates you from the others. You will need this to leverage sponsorship or you will wind up fulfilling your sponsor’s ambitions instead of your own!
  7. Lean in and lead with a yes. We often discuss knowing when to say no. In sponsorship, just say yes! You can save the caveats for after you have gotten the job or grant or additional responsibility. Save “yes” for your sponsor. You can’t say yes to everyone or you will be spread too thin, but you should say yes to your sponsor. And when you get to the negotiation phase, present solutions rather than problems. Think through how you can make the opportunity work best for you. Lead with this solution when negotiating next steps.

Part 3: Pitfalls and trip wires

  1. Sex: Experts agree that females in any profession will need to have sponsorship from their male superiors and that women in roles of power and influence should seek out aspiring women and sponsor them. There are a few rules to live by when seeking sponsorship from a member of the opposite sex. You want to have a close relationship with your sponsor, but don’t have an intimate sexual relationship with your sponsor- everyone loses and women lose most. Ways to help this NOT happen is to introduce your significant other to your sponsor, set clear upfront goals of your relationship, meet in public, and send clear messages with every communication.
  2. Distrust: Trust is key in any work relationship. Distrust is a 2-way street and can sometimes be the biggest hurdle we face in both finding and giving sponsorship. Some common ways to move beyond distrust in finding a sponsor are simple. First, realize that people will question your motives of why you choose your sponsor (whether due to race, sex, etc.) but choosing dependable people trumps those concerns and questions. Propose a project where you are able to move into the spotlight as a problem solver or as a key player in communication. Be willing to ask for help in a situation where you feel lost. this is basically you asking for sponsorship to solve your own problem. Doing these should lead to increased trust, increased visibility, and promotion.
  3. Executive Presence: Executive presence is that aura of confidence and competence that convinces others that you deserve to be in charge. It is a mix of how you act, how you speak, and how you look. A few simple fixes to the aforementioned to make a big difference and how you’re viewed in a boardroom, and executive meeting or in a leadership team. Although the 3 above-mentioned traits arche even more important is making sure that we have someone who can act as our feedback  provider, someone who can tell us when we’ve acted, spoke, or dressed inappropriately for a meeting or situation.

Take home points

  1. Mentorship and sponsorship are fundamentally different. Sponsorship is vital to career success– both in and out of medicine.
  2. Follow the 7-step road map for protégés.
  3. Be aware of pitfalls and trip wires”.

Read more book reviews: Book Club, TLDR Series, The Leader’s Library

Author information

Alexandra Mannix, MD

Alexandra Mannix, MD

Assistant Professor
Assistant Residency Director, Assistant Clerkship Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of Florida – Jacksonville

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