Don’t just look for a Mentor: Develop your Personal Board of Advisors!
“You need a mentor.”
If you’re like most working professionals, this is one of the first pieces of advice you heard around college graduation or upon landing your first job. (Stressed out at work? Get a mentor. Not sure how to navigate office politics? Get a mentor. Want to know whether going to grad school or switching careers is the right option for you? Get a mentor. Ad nauseum.)
But whether you received this advice from one of your professors, your mom, your neighbor, or a co-worker, finding a mentor is a lot easier said than done. (It’s not only hard to locate someone with the professional chops and time to help you out, it can be even harder for some people to ask for help in the first place.) And how do you know whether the mentor you do eventually hook up with is the right person to help you with your current challenges, let alone professional issues you encounter five or ten years from now?
Here’s the thing — you don’t.
The reality is that we need more than one mentor throughout our careers. We need many different mentors for many different things. We not only need different mentors over time as our careers grow and change, we also need different mentors at the same time.
Again, easier said than done, right? Well, not if you play your cards right.
You probably aren’t close friends with the all the people you spent every weekend with in high school anymore. Why not? Because you’ve changed a lot since high school, that’s why — you have an adult life with adult responsibilities. And just like you’ve moved on from several of your old high school friends, the close confidants you have at your current job or career stage may not be able to relate to you a decade down the road when you’re navigating the complex issues a top manager or executive faces, either.
Mentors are human — they have their own strengths and weaknesses, just like you do. They grow and change, just like you do. And the people you look up to as role models now might not be the role model you want a decade or even a year from now. Or you may find yourself needing help in a pinch for a unique business or personal situation that your current mentor has no concept of.
You Need a Team
This is where having a team of mentors, rather than just one, can come in handy. Take it from me — I once relied on only one professional mentor. But I soon found I needed more than that. So I eventually evolved past having just one mentor to having what I like to call a Personal Board of Advisors.
My advisors come from many different walks of life. Some are young — even students — while some are my age or older. Some work in my field, and some come from other fields. Some are still working, and some are retired. In all cases, though, they have a certain type of expertise or experience that I’m lacking — whether it’s a deep trove of professional contacts, financial acumen, the ability to speak frankly about difficult topics, or wisdom gained from many years of experience. (Or in the cases of my young/student advisors, it’s often youthful energy and a better understanding of new technologies like Snapchat, Periscope, or other emerging social-media platforms.) This allows me to have a variety of people I can choose from when I need specific advice about different topics at different times.
In this way, my personal board of advisors is similar to the boards of directors that advise CEOs at major corporations. Corporations make a point to build advisory boards where each member contributes according to a different specialty or strength. Why not have the same kind of board for your professional and personal development?
As my own personal board of advisors illustrates, not all mentors are gray-haired businessmen in drab suits. They are young and old, male and female, working and retired, in your industry and outside it.
Your own Personal Board of Advisors is out there, waiting to help you. You just need to go out and find them, and build those relationships. (Be prepared to mentor them in return, too — a big part of relationship-building is reciprocity.)