Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (highlights)


“This is a breakthrough book. Sylvia Ann Hewlett is challenging the entrenched orthodoxy that still prevents women and minority talent from scaling the heights. She argues convincingly that progress is more often a product of partnership than a solo success and tells us exactly how to make it happen. This study assembles hard evidence, compelling stories, and persuasive analysis and is invaluable to anyone who wants to get beyond ‘do-gooding’ to get the most of their diverse talent.”

–Trevor Phillips, former Chair, UK Equality and Human Rights Commission

“A powerful and urgent book. Sylvia Ann Hewlett demonstrates the heft of sponsors and shows how women and people of color can win sponsorship and take their place at decision-making tables. Heterogeneity at the top is not fair, it unleashes creativity and the ‘power of difference.'”

–Cornet West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice,

Union Theological Seminary

Sylvia’s Story

Raised up by a working-class father, in the 1960s in Britain where unemployment rate was at 28 percent, Sylvia went to a third-rate school, in which she had no hope on being admitted into her dream college. However, from her father’s unwitting encouragement, his contagious belief in hard work, she got herself into Oxbridge. While years in her studies at the school, her english professor, Miss Gwen Jones, helped her with her heart and soul in perfecting her writing, which in the got her admitted into Cambridge university.

During her years at Cambridge, she was under the wing of a remarkable economist, Dr. Jean Grove, who chose Sylvia as her research assistant and invited her to accompany her on a research trip to Africa. Then, after she earned her PhD at Harvard and London University, graciously landed a first job as an assistant professor at Girton College, Columbia University where she did extraordinary well and was confident that she will be promoted.

In retrospect, only after when she lost her job did she realized that her hard work only was not enough to support her in climbing the career ladder. She realized that what she lacked was a sponsor, even though she was an expert at friendships and had a lot of mentors who had boosted her confidence during the time. Without a sponsor having her back, she was invincible to the committees of the University, no one knew of her when it comes to offering tenure.

The lost was eye-opening that she set out and searched for what she needed, and that’s when it comes to her that she actually knew someone who could help her out on this front, who was her colleague. She turned up at his office and asked him to help her find a job. AND THAT’S HOW SHE GOT ONE!


“Mentors matter, but they’re not your ticket to the top.”

If you’re interested in fast-tracking your career, in getting that hot assignment, you need sponsors, in particular, you need people who:

  • Believe in you and your potential, and will go out of their way on your behalf
  • Are influential, who would help you get a pay raise or a promotion when you deserve it
  • Will give you air cover so that you can take risk. Making it safe for you to fail.

Mentorship versus Sponsorship

Mentors: Take interest in you because they like you, will listen to your issues offer advice and review which problem-solving can taken or discarded. Mentors expect very little in return. The energy is flowing one way: toward you.

Sponsors: Take interest in you and your career, they see helping you as an investment to further their own career, organization or vision. Would advice and develop you into a leader. In contrast, they expect a great deal from you (excellent performance and loyalty) Your role is to earn their investment in you. Throughout the relationship, you’re delivering outstanding results, building their brand or legacy, and generally make them look good. Sponsorship, done right, is transactional. It ensures you get what you worked for and deserve.

Sponsors can be role models but they don’t have to be.

What’s important in sponsorship is trust, not inspiration. You don’t have to like or want to be like your sponsor. In sponsorship, each party gains from helping each other.

With that in mind, supporters are not to be kicked to the curb either. Role models inspire and drive you to shape your ambition. Mentors help you find yourself and suggest what step will get you there. A good mentor will decode the unwritten rules, demystify the way things work, and offer you tips on navigating the organization. But, despite their attention and guidance, neither mentors nor role models can give you real career traction.

What gives credit to sponsors is how they affect three things:

  • Pay raises
  • High-profile assignments
  • Promotions

Sponsorship is the mechanism by which people of vision obtain their goals, which is why no one make or female, millennial or boomer, start-up employee or multi-national manager– can afford to dismiss it or miss out on it.

What a sponsor does:

On top of delivering high-octane advocacy, a sponsor is a senior leader who, at a minimum:

  • Believes in you and go out on a limb on your behalf
  • Advocates for your next promotion
  • Provides “air cover” so you can take risks

And comes through on at least two of the following fronts:

  • Expands your perception of what you can do
  • Makes connections to senior leader
  • Promotes your visibility
  • Provides stretch opportunities
  • Gives advice on “presentation of self”
  • Makes connections to clients/customers
  • Gives honest/critical feedback on skill gaps

They will get you in front of directors to audition for a key role. They would also nudge the director to choose you. But their investments in you don’t stop there. They will coach you on your performance so that you prove to others what an excellent choice they made. They will make you the center of attention of everyone in the room, so that you can showcase your talents. Should the others turn against you, your sponsors will have your back, as their reputation is now linked with you, it is in their best interest to make sure you reach your goal.

It is recommended you know that the feedback provided from sponsors are not as kind as the ones from mentors. It is to steer you toward a targeted trajectory, when they discuss your strengths and weaknesses. They will point out, regardless on how you receive it, your shortcomings, failures and things that you need to work on.

You’re an extension of them, they have to keep you on track. Only by seeing you finish the line can they protect their own reputation.

What a protégé does:

What protégés do, in a word, is DELIVER.

They come through with both stellar performance and die-hard loyalty. Star performers are very likely to attract sponsors, and loyal performers are very likely to keep them.

Nevertheless, they need to distiguish themselves from the other, less they want to run the risk of becoming permanently second, lieutenants who never make captain.

To be at the top of the ladder, protégés must have the skillset that leaders reward for, but lack: gender smarts or cultural fluency on a team that lacks diversity; quantitative skills or technical savvy on a team that is deficient in hard expertise; people skills on a team, whatever you have.

A protégé is a high-potential employee who, at a minimum:

  • Outperforms – contributes 110%
  • Is loyal to the sponsor and organization
  • Contributes a distinct personal brand

And comes through on at least two of the following fronts:

  • Is trustworthy and discreet
  • Covers the sponsor’s back
  • Promotes his/her legacy
  • Brings “value added”- different perspective/ skill sets
  • Leads with a yes
  • Burnishes his/her brand across the organization
  • Builds an A team

In this sense, loyalty also means looking out for your sponsor as protectively as your sponsor looks out for you. Protégés can provide insights about what’s happening lower down in the or, because when you’re at a senior level, you’re less likely to get those messages about what people think of you and your strategy. They make sure you’re never blindsided. Just as your sponsor is whom who support you when you’re not in the room so you must you prefect him or her from employees’ gossip from harsh outsider opinion even from collegial criticism.

A loyal comrade-in-arms who, if your turn your back, guns for you, not at you.




1. Build the castle first:

Have a vision, a clear picture of your career destination. The majesty and beauty of this vision works wonders enhancing your performance. A vision is so powerful that people will work miracles to bring it to life.

Reaching a career goal is nothing easy. You need a vision that inspires you.

Design your own castle by considering the following questions:

  • What place would feel magical? What kind of room or space do you want to inhibit? What is the view when you look out the window?
  • Whom do you want to meet with? Who intrigues you or excites you? What sort of convo do you wish you could have with them?
  • What transformation do you most want to drive? What sort of large-scale change do you wish you could be part of?


  • Look for role models. Read about people whose achievement inspire you. Put them in your sight.
  • Envisage yourself at age fifty with twenty five productive years ahead of you . its never too lated to focus on a goal and go after it.
  • Consult with a mentor, role model, or personal development coach who can help you see the big picture. Brainstorm a professional target list. Write down your aspirations, however modest or fabulous and figure out how to hold yourself accountable.


2. Do A Diagnostic:

Catalog your skills.

Restrain yourself from catalogging the skills you don’t have. Be truthful, be real. It’s essential you answer the following questions:

  • What do you do exceptionally well?
  • What is your currency, what sets you apart?
  • What experiences distinguish you?
  • What inherent or acquired difference brand or value added that others may not bring to the table?
  • Or what accomplishment has given you joy ? What gives you satisfaction so you want to do more of it?
  • How does the mission or mandate or your organization overlap with your own values and goals?

With this self assessment, your mentor can help you with this. Classes, seminars or lectures are other good opportunities to hold a mirror to yourself or discover what you didn’t know what you abilities.

3. Scan the Horizon for Potential Sponsors

Once you spot your potential sponsor who qualifies with the points above. Share with him/her the long-range plan, sketch it out for him, and proposed a quid pro quo.

Don’t approach your sponsor with, ‘Oh, would you sponsor me,’ but more along the lines of, ‘if i turn down these options and do a great job for you on your project, would you commit to helping me?

4. Turbocharging Support Into Sponsorship

Some supporters, including mentors can be converted into effective sponsors. It’s a matter of taking an existing relationship and making it instrumental.

Start by identifying would-be sponsors among your supporters. Good bets will be leaders who:

  • Are already aware of your skills and strengths
  • Stand to benefit from your help and
  • Have the clout to move you toward your goal, what ever that may be. Consider who knows you and knows of your work, or has heard about you and your work.

Consider not whom you report to, but whom your boss reports to. In a large organization, look for someone two bandwidths away. Seize on some someone who’s go the principal’s ear but doesn’t stand between you and your goal.

What transform a supporter into an advocate relies on how you make yourself a good investment. It is on you to put your cards on the table and play them right. Spell out the mutual benefits, and not demands.


  • In choosing your target, put efficacy over affinity. Role models are great but they don’t always make effective sponsors. Don’t be put off by leadership styles.
  • Friends don’t make the best sponsors
  • The would-be sponsors ideally two levels above you, with line of sight into your performance and your career.


5. THE 1+2 RULE

You can’t hold one person responsible for you climbing the ladder. She or he might be spread too thin to give the protection you need. She might take a better offer elsewhere or get fired even. She might decide to quit and launch her own firm. In brief, she could be too caught up in her own business.

The solution is to cultivate more than one sponsor. You’re best served by having one or two sponsors outside the firm as well as in it, in the same industry.

The ideal recipe consists of 3 sponsors: 2 within your organization-1 in your line of sight and 1 in a different department or division and 1 outside your firm.

The “2+1 rule” holds true for every career stage. The strategy is to diversify your sponsor portfolio, which means your sponsors should be independent of one another, if one goes down, the others won’t go down with him or her.

The 2 + 1 rule ensures you’ll survive a direct hit to your department, a systemic threat to your division, even a catastrophic blow to your firm or industry. It ensures you’ll survive the loss of a prime sponsor.


  • Increase your internal visibility
    • Lead a network
    • Spearhead a project (a philanthropic project, cultural event or company sports team)
    • Ask for mentorship. Create a circle of mentors from different divisions or departments with whom you might consult on strategic shifts in your industry or career
    • Ask your boss to introduce you to his or her boss
  • Increase your external visibility
    • Join a nonprofit board relevant to your industry
    • Run for office in your professional association
    • Attend conference, figure out how to be a speaker
    • Create a personal board of directors or circle of mentors external to your company to get a bid picture insights
  • Figure the lever of power and work them
    • Timing is everything. Be proactive: as soon as you see the handwriting on the wall, mobilize your external as well as internal champions
    • Change firms if need be.

6. Understand That It’s Not All About You

You’re a blazing talent. You’re on everyone’s shortlist. You’ve got the sponsor and all system goes. But remember a sponsor put his or her reputation on the line when they vouch for you, therefore never fail to reciprocate. It requires you to acknowledge the pact with your sponsors.

It fundementally requires you to:

  • Communicate
    • Recognize when you need help and ask for it before you get in trouble
    • Update whats happening in your career, your wins and losses, triumphs and struggles, so that they can offer guidance or even intervention
  • Signal that you’ll be a contributor
    • Deliver outside your job description
    • Give whats needed without being asked. What is your sponsor working on? Whats near and dear to her heart that you can help make happen? What can you take off her plate? What info do you have that she needs?
  • Make small gesture. Commit random acts of everyday thoughtfulness.


7. Come Through On Two Obvious Fronts

What a protégé must do to win and keep the sponsors in your corner is to come through on two obvious fronts:


  • Delivering outstanding bottomline results
  • Hitting targets and deadlines
  • Displaying an impressive work ethic and availability
  • Exceed expectations
  • Able to recite – make sure your boss can cite – your accomplishments in terms of what your firm values. It may be the scale of projects you’re overseeing. It could be the number of clients you’ve won or retained. But know how they stack up against your peers. Evidence!
  • Get the word out about your success, let others talk about you by letting your peers colleagues know what you did. And also talk positively about your colleague, it’s all about reciprocating each other.


  • Demonstrate trustworthiness and discretion
  • Burnishing your sponsor’s legacy
  • Growing her sponsor’s legacy


8. Lean In and Lead With a Yes


Attitude is everything. Just say yes, hold back on sharing your reservations until you’re in a position to negotiate. Don’t ever lead with an explanation of why you’re not going to be able to step up to the plate. When the opportunity is gleaming on the table, show your eagerness to grab hold of that offer.

Say yes even if you know it’s a qualified NO.

You need to have the ‘go-getterness’, to outshine the other contenders. Though still, be selective about whom you say yes to: you can’t say yes to everybody or you’ll be spread too thin to ace any one assignment. All the while, also propose solutions rather than presenting problems, think through how you can make the opportunity work best for you. Lead with this solution when negotiating next steps.


10. Pitfalls And Trip Wires

Finally you’re home in your dream. You can see your destination, shimmering there on the horizon. You finally got the roadmap that you transport you there.

But the possible hazard that could come along with it are best not overlooked.

Three pitfalls to watch out for:


Getting to know each other well enough to establish trust demands regular one-on-one encounters, typically in person. Though these meetings can be intentionally professional, they can often be misunderstood or misleaded when they are between a senior male and a subordinate female. Because the possible sexual relationship, women perceive sponsorships with senior males are ultimately dangerous games. This also goes a long way in explaining why most men are likely to sponsor other men rather than women.

So the question is: WHAT COULD BE DONE? 

No silver bullet. Let’s acknowledge that sexual tension in the workplace is a problem that is not going to go away ever. There are no easy fixes.

  • It is crucial that you make yourself a safe bet:
    • Don’t have an illicit affair with a superior. If you do it you lose everything, everybody loses. You lose the job you have, the job you deserve. So will legacy and reputation that you’ve built.
    • Another critical pointer. Do not send mixed messages. Flirting is a no-no, sexually loaded jokes are off the table. Be aware of what your clothing, makeup, hair style, body language and communication style convey.
    • Meet your sponsor in public. On site meetings can work well for example coffee in a conference room or in lunch in the cafeteria. Alternatively, choose a restaurant well traffic by office personnel where you can take an opportunity to wave at people you know and make it clear you have nothing to hide. Make sure the venue isn’t the place you ever go on a date. And do not order alcohol. Ideally you want to routinize the time and place of your sponsor meeting because the regularity is what ensures nothing will appear irregular about you getting together with your sponsor one-on-one.
    • Be upfront about the personal or family commitments you have. Talk about your significant others, spouse, partner, fiancé or ongoing relationship. As well as your kids, nieces and nephews.
    • Introduced your spouse or significant other to your sponsor.
    • Be clear about what you want and where you’re going.
    • When the gossip mongers identify you as a leader’s favorite. Prove you earned singling out. Make the most of your opportunities. Come prepared to wow everyone with your contribution, work ethic and devotion to the mission. Make known the kind of work you’re putting in. OWN YOUR SPECIAL STATUS, don’t act as if you don’t deserve the special attention.
    • If you’re in a freefall, the best thing you can do is acknowledge that nothing can be done and leave. Don’t wait till your reputation is in tatters. Act while you still have goodwill to leverage. Before you lost credibility and self esteem.


  • Distrust is a self for filling prophecy. Some people believe that leaders at their company isn’t interested in people of color. This goes along way toward keeping the top of the house homogeneous.
  • The most promising professionals of color can overcome distrust-distrust of white leaders, distrust of minority leaders, and distrust of each other-to win and keep the advocacy they merit.

Here are the some proven tactics:

  • MASTER THE SOCIAL BANTER: establishing a personal connection can matter as much if not more than proving you’re a top performer when you’re trying to attract sponsors across a racial divide. They tend to trust people they know, even over people whose credentials are more stellar. Yet, it’s hard to get to know someone if you’re convinced you have little in common or you’re concerned that sharing your personal life will only serve to stress how different you are. The solution is to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic participant in the small talk that occurs in the conference room or at the water cooler in the five minutes before or after a meeting.
  • PICK UP A SPORT OR JOIN A TEAM: you don’t have to become a golfer, training for a marathon or taking up a yoga class, can all be incredible connection builders. You don’t have to be good, you just need to be willing to learn something and join in.
  • DARE TO ASK FOR HELP: maybe developing trust has to start from the protégé rather than the sponsor. For people of color, it may be about overcoming the fear of being judged for needing help.


  • Appearance
    • Look to up and coming leaders in your org for clues on the unwritten rules for appearance. There is no one executive look, one size doesn’t fit all. To crack the code at your office, take your cues from those in charge.
    • No matter how casual your dress code, look pulled together.
    • Look appropriate in your environment but authentic to yourself. Be true to your personality.
    • Win yourself a seat at the table then dare to stand out
  • Communication
    • Tone it down, remove emotions from the equation and you’re less likely to be shrill.
    • Overprepare: you’ll feel more in control if you’ve spent more than enough time preparing, which will in turn keep your voice in the right register and hold the attention of your audience.
    • Less can be more. You can’t afford to be a wallflower at meetings. But she cations against speaking up just to for the sake of it.
    • Get to the point.
    • Invoke your vertical: sit up straight
    • Polish your small talk: its best not work related, but about sports or current events.
  • Gravitas
    • When you know you’re right, stick to your guns. With any ideas given by you, don’t give up to fast.
    • Show teeth.
    • Assert your integrity.


With all the key takeaways, apply them accordingly and never give up on getting your dream job! If you’re here, you got what it takes to get there!


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