Mentoring Alternatives: A New Approach to Professional Advice

Originally posted by Lindsey Pollak 19 July 2016

I’ve always been a huge fan of mentors. My own mentors have helped me shape my career. They’ve smoothed my path and taught me countless valuable lessons, large (how to structure my business) and small (the best shoes to wear as a professional speaker).

But as I reflect on the mentors who’ve made a difference, I realized that some of the most important people in my career didn’t even know they were my mentors — they were people I admired and learned from without ever having met.

That got me thinking about mentoring norms. Business moves so fast these days that I think we need to consider alternatives to the concept of traditional mentorship, which might be defined as having a monthly coffee meeting with a more experienced professional to discuss challenges, assess your progress and set goals.

If you have already established a relationship like that and find it valuable, then count your lucky stars and don’t change a thing. But if you’re finding it hard to identify a suitable and willing mentor, here are three new paradigms that represent the emerging face of mentorship.

The Board of Advisors for a Well-Rounded Approach

The perfect mentor would be able to advise you on traits ranging from the strategic, such as management skills, to the tactical, like networking ideas. But it can be hard to find that ideal combination, and even harder to get on a busy professional’s schedule for comprehensive counseling.

That’s why I like the concept of a “board of advisors.” Identify people who possess a skill or business acumen that you admire, and consult a different person for advice on each specific issue. You might have someone who can help troubleshoot your important work emails and someone else who can help you bounce back after a work fail, and even a third person who can give you high-level career path advice.

Turning to a cadre of “micro-mentors” for advice on particular situations will give you the benefit of specialized advice and ultimately offer a well-rounded view on all aspects of your career.

One-Off Mentoring When Less Can Be More

For a mentor, the idea of helping an up-and-coming professional is flattering, but might be overwhelming, too. Asking “Will you be my mentor?” implies a time-consuming commitment heavy with responsibility.

But, if someone came to me with a question on a single, specific issue, such as “How do you calm your nerves before a presentation?” I would eagerly jump in and talk them through some of my strategies. This can take place over email or even Twitter.

You might find that your potential mentor is more inclined to help out if you approach them with one specific question to start. Then, if you want to deepen or even potentially formalize the relationship, they’ll offer cues if they’re up for it.

Ask a potential mentor one specific question to start. Click To Tweet

But even if they just offer advice on the initial request you made, you are still miles ahead than if you hadn’t asked. Be sure to thank them for their advice, and let them know how the situation ultimately turns out.

Reverse Mentoring Benefits All Parties

Reverse mentoring is having a moment in the workplace today. Many people are familiar with the concept: In a nutshell, reverse mentoring is when a more experienced (usually older) professional turns to a less experienced (usually younger) person for advice. Common topics might include technology or what makes millennials tick.

Sometimes other generations may be reluctant to ask for counsel, for fear of looking behind the times, so millennials can make it seem reciprocal by asking them a question first. As you start talking, they’re more likely to open up and you can share your perspective with them – a win for all involved.

What kinds of mentors have helped you over the years? And, how do you prefer to mentor others? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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