The One Relationship You Need To Get Right

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By Sylvia Ann-Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura SherbinKatharine, a senior HR executive at a global financial services firm, takes pride in developing rising stars. After a vice president on one of her teams consistently impressed her, she recommended him for a more challenging role in another part of the company. Months later Katharine heard through the grapevine that he was struggling in the job. She asked to meet with him. “You know we’re in this together, right?” she said. “I put my reputation on the line, but I have no idea how you’re performing and whether you need help or air cover.” He promised to keep her in the loop, but communication dropped off again. Katharine realised that his commitment to the firm, and to her, had waned. She met with him once more and told him she could no longer be his sponsor.

When Maria, a manager at a U.S. health care firm, was invited to join a mentoring program for high potential women, she anticipated getting guidance that would help her advance. But her assigned mentor, a physician and vice president, took little interest in Maria’s career; instead she lectured to the group about her own path and gave direct advice only to the participants who were also MDs. In the end Maria turned to existing allies for career support. “Not everyone in leadership knows how to be an advocate,” she reflects.

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