The role and impact of mentors may vary, but the generally accepted business practice is that people need a mentor. It’s time to challenge that wisdom.
The roots of mentoring came from a different era when career paths were mostly linear. Getting career advice from a sage veteran who has successfully navigated that career path made sense, as most employees sought a similar vertical path.
Today’s careers are a bit more jagged, a phrase coined by George Anders in his book The Rare Find. Career development is more of a lattice than a ladder, with employees moving vertically and laterally across organizations to gain more experience and develop their skills as well as progress their careers.
The nature of what it means to “work” is also evolving. The rise of the gig economy is well documented. By 2027 half the U.S. population will be freelancers. This is a seismic shift in the very construct of work itself and requires a different type of thinking when considering your career development.
Why you need a personal board of directors
The idea of creating a personal board of directors isn’t novel. Fast Company covered the concept way back in 2000.
But why limit ourselves to individuals in our field to support our career development?
Better to look beyond the traditional mentor relationship and build a more diverse advisory group from inside and outside of your field. These different views and perspectives should challenge your assumptions and question your drivers in ways that stretch you beyond a traditional same-industry mentor.
Here are the profiles you want in your advisory board.
The creative innovator
The creative innovator has a finger on the pulse of what’s now and what’s next – technology, trends, design, life hacks. These people will open your mind up to new ways of thinking. They’re dreamers, unencumbered by generally accepted rules and practices.
Creative innovators can help you see things in a different light. Their id-driven energy and enthusiasm may provide you with the spark you need to take career risks. Their impulsive instincts may prevent you from over-analyzing pivot points in your career.
Creative innovators can often be found in departments like design, product, and marketing.
The pragmatist is the yin to the creative innovator’s yang. They approach most areas with a healthy degree of skepticism and look for evidence to influence their perspective. They play an essential role in a personal board as they’re useful in poking holes in your plans and finding weaknesses you may not see.
For some people, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement when evaluating career moves (c’mon, who needs culinary experience to launch a food truck?) The pragmatist will bring a realist’s view to your ideas and help ensure your enthusiasm doesn’t derail your career.
Pragmatists are often found in finance, human resources, and project management roles.
The up and comer
Too often we expect our most significant professional insights to come from those in roles above us. That’s a mistake.
Reverse mentoring isn’t just for executives wanting to stay in touch with younger perspectives but rather a way of understanding your field from a perspective similar to your younger self. But a youthful perspective that’s also grounded in current realities, rather than realities at play when you were at that stage of your career.
The up and comer is usually someone with three to eight years of experience in the field. They’re often one of the more junior members of project teams who have built a reputation for fresh ideas and nimble thinking. They have a gift for seeing things in a different light and speaking up to articulate their ideas beyond what’s expected at that level.
The network node
Your network is one of the single most important factors in your career success. A robust and diversified network will open up opportunities, deepen your expertise, and broaden your perspective.
While it’s important to build and grow your network continually, it can feel like pulling teeth if it’s out of your comfort zone. Network nodes are super connectors who excel in building and maintaining relationships inside and outside of their field. They can help make introductions, as well as provide coaching and guidance that may help you develop your networking skills.
Network nodes are easy to spot. They’re often actively growing their LinkedIn networks, engaging with their field, in virtual and live events.
Your future self
It’s a standard question that recruiters and hiring managers put to jobseekers, especially early and mid-career prospects: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” While the value of this question to the role at hand may be debatable, the question prompts a thought exercise that can help you uncover a great deal about your ambitions and aspirations. And the question can also help you identify the final member of your personal board.
This is the member of your board who most closely resembles the traditional mentor. Perhaps you want to switch fields? Start your own company? Take a sabbatical? Future selves can share how they navigated those areas in their careers and also give you first-hand credible insight into whether the place they now occupy is actually all it’s cracked up to be.
The specific makeup of your advisory board will evolve and change as your career stages shift. Most importantly, your board should be a diverse mix of individuals. You want perspectives that will differ, and at times clash, with your own. Homogenous advisory boards won’t help you see your blind spots because they may share them.
A personal board of directors will add value to your career no matter your seniority. Invest in these relationships now, and they’ll provide dividends throughout your career.