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Your career needs many mentors, not just one

by Dorie Clark

January 20, 2017 | 11:40 am
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These days everyone knows that finding a mentor is valuable. But it’s increasingly rare that we actually have one. Job turnover, layoffs and increased bottom-line pressures have made it unlikely that professionals under 40 can name a mentor. The answer, however, isn’t to give up on finding a mentor — it’s to broaden our search.

Informal but curated arrangements of multiple mentors — sometimes called a “mentor board of directors” — can also be effective.

The chief distinction between finding “a mentor” and creating a “mentor board of directors” is that there is less pressure to find one person who represents your ideal future self. You can diversify your search criteria and learn from a variety of people. This also allows you to look beyond the classic notion of a mentor as someone who is older and wiser than you.

To form your own mentor board of directors, keep these questions in mind.

— WHAT, SPECIFICALLY, DO YOU WANT TO LEARN? The first step in developing your board is a rigorous self-assessment. Where are you headed professionally, and what skills do you need to get there? If you’re planning to shift functional roles, you may want to seek out a mentor with experience in your desired field. And don’t forget about personal qualities in addition to tactical skills. Perhaps you need to cultivate more patience or humility; you can seek out role models in these areas as well.

— WHOM DO YOU RESPECT MOST? Once you’ve developed your list of skills, write down the people you know and respect who possess them. Think broadly — they could be peers, senior leaders, or even interns or junior employees.

— HOW CAN YOU ARRANGE TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEM? Identifying your mentor board of directors is great, but it’s all hypothetical unless you actually make an effort to spend more time learning from them. For each person, think through how and when you’ll create time to connect. Could you invite them for a monthly lunch? Call them periodically to check in during your drive home? Make a list and write down specific strategies.

— HOW CAN YOU MAKE THE RELATIONSHIP RECIPROCAL? As with any mentor or sponsor relationship, you need to make yourself valuable in return. For each person on your list, think about what skills or qualities you bring to the table and may be able to offer. For these relationships to endure, it’s important to make sure they’re reciprocal.

Professional success requires more skills, knowledge and abilities than we could ever hope to learn on our own. That’s why mentors who can help us improve are so critical. Archetypal mentors — beneficent, all-knowing senior professionals — are in short supply these days. By updating our notions of mentorship and building a mentor board of directors, we can benefit from the knowledge of talented colleagues all around us.


by Dorie Clark

January 20, 2017 | 11:40 am
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