Micro-Mentoring: Why One Mentor Isn’t Enough

Many of us used to equate the ideal mentor to a gray haired, senior executive in the corner office.  This expert had all the answers and knew the rules.  We have heard our entire career that having a mentor is essential for success. I just attended a client meeting where new graduates were reminded to “find a mentor if you want to succeed”.  And, we know it works.

I have seen firsthand the impact of having the right mentor at the right time. Even in the movies, who can debate the impact of Dumbledore for Harry Potter or the problem mentor, Gordon Gekko, from “Wall Street”? Can Robin deny that he wouldn’t have been Robin without Batman?

But, in today’s changing world, chances are, it will take more than one. Micro-mentoring is a connected web of mentoring relationships designed to start and stop ‘just in time’ as needed.

Reconsider finding just one mentor and develop out your own portfolio of expert mentors. Develop mentoring relationships by need and for only as long as needed.   These relationships must be meaningful and ones you can go back to in the future. Yet, the timeframe of true mentoring can be shorter and more focused, yet just as important.

A changing workplace and personalized careers has redefined mentoring needs.

Careers are as unique as we are. We are no longer limited by the organization chart of the company where we work today.

The average worker stays at a job 4.4 years, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, the expected tenure of the youngest employees in the workforce is about half of that time. The ‘one size fits all’ career path is in the rearview mirror. As a result, mentors must be tailored to unique interests and not the opportunities or limitations of one organization. Because odds are that your career will take you to new places.

Also, today’s careers aren’t always built on the premise of advancement. Developing the right capabilities to do interesting work that matters may be the only goal. And, mentors can help with this too – not just how to reach the next level.

When careers are so personal and organizations so fluid, it takes more than one all-knowing mentor to offer the wise guidance needed.

New roles and opportunities are emerging and graduates interview for jobs that weren’t there when they were college freshman.  Almost every successful organization has restructured, re-engineered, reframed or redefined itself in the last five years to stay viable.

In the midst of all that change, nothing can replace connections with experts who can share insights and guidance on what you most need to know.

One person can’t know everything you need to know.

Leaders today need to know how to grow a profitable business, lead globally, build influence, and create trusted client relationships. And, this only scratches the surface. This is more than just building a new skill, but how to take that knowledge and build your career your way.

I started my own consulting business after almost 16 years at Accenture. Coming from a large, global business, I had absolutely no idea how much I had to learn.

Over time, I learned that multiple, targeted mentors were essential to growing my career and my business. I had a mentor who helped me think creatively about building a flexible and profitable business, a mentor who helped me learn business development my way – through relationships and sharing knowledge, a mentor who has taught me about how to build a brand, and a reverse mentoring experience to fully integrate social media in my business.  Not one mentor knew all that I needed to know to be successful.

Create your own personalized mentoring network.

The one to one mentoring concept so prevalent for many years seems inadequate by today’s standards. The new picture of mentoring is networked and targeted – and designed to start and stop as needed.

The implications are:

Being a Mentor – coach counselees to create relationships that can offer what you can’t. If your counselee wants to move into account management and you’ve never done it, encourage building a relationship with someone who has that knowledge and insight.

Finding a mentor – list your knowledge gaps and identify those that are best filled by wise counsel.  Look for multiple relationships to help you expand your knowledge. As an example, if your goal is to start your own business in the future, seek out entrepreneurial mentors outside your current organization to prepare, in addition to your current mentors.

Creating a mentoring program– reconsider the one-to-one mentoring programs of the past.  Let counselees personally select mentors by expertise area and background via an online tool. Include external mentors in areas that may not reside inside the organization. As an example, if you are encouraging the most senior technical architects to build their brand and share in industry forums, they may require an external branding mentor to make that shift.

We can keep mentoring a vital part of building capability by updating our approach. Encourage meaningful relationships that are shorter, focused by need, and networked. No one person can do it all – even if they are in the corner office.  And, who knows, maybe even Batman could use some help.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults and can be followed on twitter @pattibjohnson or her company @people_results.