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3 Ways to Pick the Perfect Protégé

Mentoring a promising, young leader is good for you and your business. But picking the right person is the crucial first step.
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There are lots of reasons why CEOs decide to develop protégés. For one thing, sponsoring promising, rising leaders is good for the future of your company.

But helping a brilliant, young professional is good for you, too, says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, prolific author and chairman and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and Hewlett Chivée Partners. Protégés can help an older CEO through what she calls the "protégé effect."

"[Protégés] extend your capacity and influence. Consider how much more effective--and less overworked--you are as a leader if you have an A-team to turn to whenever a crisis looms, a deadline threatens, or a massive opportunity knocks," Hewlett writes in the Harvard Business Review. "A network of protégés makes the impossible possible."

Ed Gadsden, former chief diversity officer at Pfizer, told Hewlett that being a sponsor gives him much-needed perspective: "They make sure I'm never blindsided," he says.

Of course, for all of this to work, you need to pick the right person to sponsor. Here are Hewlett's tips on how to find the right protégé:

Find loyal, high-functioning producers.

You need someone you can count on to bring you unbiased facts from the "front lines" of the company. "Performance is the critical first deliverable. Not surprisingly, what marks an individual as 'high potential' is typically his or her ability to deliver superior results consistently, no matter the challenges or circumstances," Hewlett writes. According to her research, a third of U.S. and U.K. managers says they want to sponsor a "producer." Loyalty ranks even higher on the list of essential qualities.

No "mini-me" allowed.

Hewlett's research found that 58 percent of women and 54 percent of men sponsor individuals who mirror their race and cultural background. But in an increasingly global marketplace, hiring a "mini-me" could be disastrous. "The more diverse your team, the more likely you'll have the toolkits necessary to solve the challenges outside your experience--and the less prone you'll be to the perils of groupthink," she says. Remember, protégés should give you a different perspective, not reinforce your own.

Sponsor what you lack.

Just as you should sponsor someone who doesn't resemble your background, you shouldn't have a protégé who mirrors your strengths and weaknesses either. Instead, look for someone who will "fill in your gaps" Hewlett says. "Some proteges bolster your brand through their technical expertise or social media savvy, valuable skills in today's ever more connected world," she writes. "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."

Last updated: Nov 13, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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