by Allison E. McWilliams
Great mentoring relationships are a gift. Effective mentors pour into our lives with wisdom, with opportunities, with feedback on our strengths and weaknesses, and they give us dedicated, safe space to take risks and to reflect on key learning moments. The truth is, none of us can be successful alone. We all need a support system to push us when needed, to lift us up when we inevitably stumble, and to cheer us on as we succeed. And, we don’t just need one mentor to do all of this for us, but a network of mentors, a team of people in our corner.
Why a network? Several reasons. First, effective mentors perform two critical functions. The first type of mentor performs career-related functions. These mentors help with socialization to a new organization or job function, give feedback on professional skill development, and help with career planning. The second type of mentor is the psychosocial mentor. This person helps the individual explore his or her identify, values, beliefs and how he or she is creating meaning in his or her life. As you can see, these are very different functions that easily could require multiple mentors. You might get lucky and find one person who can perform all of these roles, but it’s not likely.
As well, careers have changed, and it’s no longer common to stay at one organization for thirty years (or more) until retirement. Individuals are expected to take a more entrepreneurial mindset towards their own careers, seeking out developmental opportunities where they can. A diverse set of mentors will create more opportunities than a singular mentor can do alone. Additionally, a more diverse set of mentors provides a more diverse world view, creating greater opportunities for learning and for growth. Finally, a truly effective mentoring relationship is a deep investment of time and emotional resources. Having more than one mentor ensures that no one individual must carry the weight of that investment, alone.
So where, and how, does one build his or her mentoring network? There are several key steps in this process:
Don’t get caught up in finding the “perfect” mentor; no such thing exists. The number one, hands-down, best qualification of someone to be your mentor is someone who is willing and able to invest the time in you. That’s it.
Finally, as a mentee, you build great mentoring relationships by doing several simple, but important things:
Developing great mentoring relationships is one of the most valuable steps we can take on our journey of occupational well-being. It is an investment in ourselves and others. It is, truly, a gift both given and received.