How a Protégé Can Make You A Better Manager

Coaching and mentoring have proven pivotal to success, but what of the coach? In the business world, there’s no giant cooler of gatorade for when your protégé makes a great sale--if there was one, it’d probably be full of office coffee, and that just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Mentoring done well takes a lot of time and energy, but it is definitely worthwhile for the success and productivity of your team. There may be days where you don’t see the results you want, and certainly not results that benefit you in particular. The long-term nature of the process can be discouraging when you don’t reap the rewards, or at least not right away. This is why many managers don’t coach like they should.

Somehow the traditional mentoring relationship, especially in business, has the reputation of a deposit rather than a transaction. Over time, that deposit may gain interest that benefits the entire account in the long run, but you’re not receiving noticeable returns on it. Or are you?

The Sponsor Effect

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and CEO of Hewlett Consulting Partners, suggests that “when a manager or executive sponsors someone more junior,” they’re not only providing “guidance, advocacy, and support.” The relationship is in fact mutually beneficial, as “data shows the sponsor also gains enormous value from the relationship.”

This is part of The Sponsor Effect, which is the title of Hewletts most recent book about “how to be a leader by investing in others.” In surveys conducted for the book, Hewlett found that senior-level managers with protégé are 53% more likely to report receiving a promotion in the previous two years, while entry-level managers are more likely to receive stretch assignments.

Meanwhile, the survey participants with protégé also reported being “more satisfied with their professional legacy,” which is an extremely valuable sentiment as baby boomers continue to retire and leave legacies to the burgeoning millennial workforce. 

What Does It Mean To Be A protégé?

The term protégé comes from the French and Latin words for protection. It denotes a sense of responsibility distinct from mentorship or just plain coaching. Hewlett agrees that “sponsor” is a better title for someone in relationship to protégé. She explains that while a mentor may give advice once in a while, “sponsor and protégé, on the other hand, are both actively and publicly working for each other’s success.”

A protégé is not only someone trustworthy to delegate tasks to, or that intern you can rely on to remember your coffee order. A protégé is someone you hand-select coach and advocate for, and perhaps more importantly, to fill in your professional gaps so that you can have a more holistic perspective of your business.

The Possibilities of protégé

For example, there may be tasks that you don’t have time for, but then there are also tasks that you don’t have the inclination or knowledge for. Rather than “faking it til you make it,” these tasks can be passed on to a protégé who shows promise in those areas. 

However, a protégé is also not just a work-horse, but a force for innovation. Hewlett writes that a protégé doesn’t have to be a young, fresh face to qualify. Instead, the protégé need only “work effectively and loyally for you,” and “have the ability to expand your worldview or skill set.”

Often when we imagine protégé, they are simply a younger or more inexperienced version of ourselves. But the truth of the matter is that it’s important for you to choose a protégé that differs from you to provide perspectives and skills you may not otherwise have access to. For example, Hewlett reports to have seen “sponsors gain access to new markets” thanks to protégé with better knowledge of topics like women’s health issues, Latin American culture, and LGBTQ concerns. 

Essentially, you’re not only opening up a protégé to a world of resources by sponsoring them, but they are also offering their resources to you. And those resources are often more ample than one initially realizes. Thus, the protégé-sponsor relationship often encourages diversity and innovation that in some cases, may be overdue. 

Finding Fresh Perspective

It’s often said that we each see the world through different lenses. Maybe you’re one of those with “rose colored glasses,” or maybe you can’t help but notice all of the gritty details.

A protégé isn’t just someone that you hand off your glasses to--your prescription won’t work the same for them. However, their lenses may allow them to see some opportunities that your lenses didn’t catch. In the meantime, instead of trying to wear 12 different pairs of glasses to keep up with shifting industries, you can focus on what is crystal clear to you. 

So if you’re stuck in a productivity rut, or you need a fresh perspective a ééé may be just what you need.