I recently held a seminar with some colleagues on mentoring. We were mainly addressing best practices around formal company-sanctioned mentoring systems. I’ve worked in companies with and without them, and firmly believe that those with them tend to cultivate greater leadership, growth and effectiveness.
While mentoring can be formalized and institutionalized, mentoring also is an act that can happen informally, spontaneously and independent of an institution. You’re lucky if you can benefit from a formal mentoring program, yet modern work and personal lives tend to be more transient, diverse and fluid. That complexity poses a huge challenge to mentoring, so ambitious people seeking mentorship opportunities must take matters into their own hands. They must embark on disciplined and self-directed mentoring paths that transcend time and change.
Most of the successful people I know have at least one strong mentor. However, I think the most successful, well-rounded people have several mentors, or a mentoring council. I’ve tried to take this latter path, and I’ll use myself to explain. I’ve outlined several attributes about myself that I believe are important and I wish to nurture. Many of them relate to my career and work life, while others relate to my personal life and family ambitions. I’ve actively recruited mentors who complement each other, and are uniquely positioned to help me work on these attributes and goals.
I view my mentors as shareholders in my growth and success. Which means periodically updating them on my status, actively seeking their counsel, and doing my best to reciprocate with more value than they bestow to me. I have five close mentors and I consider them all close friends, however there’s also a long-term, mutual understanding of the mentoring relationship. They understand their obligation as confidant and coach. Once in a great while a mentor will drop out or a new one will join. This arrangement is similar to a board of advisors that an organization might form, though the mentoring council is for individuals.
Importantly, I believe in karma — that your success with people mentoring you is dependent upon your investment in mentoring others. And whether seeking or providing mentoring opportunities, experience with one only helps your effectiveness with the other. Therefore, it’s equally important to seek out both types of roles. It’s an equilibrium.