Smart Leaders Have Protégés

Smart Leaders Have Protégés

by Sylvia Ann Hewlett  |   9:00 AM August 9, 2013

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 percent more satisfied with their own rate of advancement than leaders who haven’t invested in up-and-comers. Leaders of color 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 afterward 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.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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