Research demonstrates that when looking at career mentoring in terms of objective career success, better mentoring resulted in greater compensation, greater salary growth and more promotions. Other studies have found that people gained more clarity about their ‘‘professional identity,’’ meaning their unique talents and contributions at work as well as in their personal values, strengths and weaknesses.
So why do so few of us actually invest time in building relationships with mentors or coaches? When looking for advice, people most often go to the most convenient sources, but not necessarily the right ones. They haven’t developed their own networks, so they ask for advice from whoever is right in front of them. Perhaps it’s their boss, or colleagues at their company. Often it’s their spouses, parents or friends. Is this really the best way?
Friends are great supporters, but do they really know how you can best leverage your skill set to advance in a changing industry — an industry that is different from theirs? Your mother might know you best and be your biggest fan, but does she really know how much you are worth in the marketplace?
And mentors at work? The way mentoring is approached inside companies is somewhat misguided. Mentoring takes place too infrequently, only once or twice a year, and at specified times, such as during performance reviews. Most people don’t feel receptive and open at a time when their basic economic needs are at stake. It’s best to discuss development and future goals in a different zone, when people are thinking about the future as opposed to being judged for the past.
Everywhere I go, every company and group where I speak, I ask how many people have had significant coaching. Most hands go up.
Then I ask if they think that corporate America does mentoring well. You know how many hands generally go up? Zero.
I can’t fault companies for doing a bad job of this. With reduced employee tenure and company longevity, there’s no longer an opportunity to receive years of coaching from one boss. Now, a shift away from internal coaching is happening, exacerbated by the fact that location matters less and less as more people work remotely. More workers are turning to entrepreneurship (either starting their own companies or becoming freelancers). Also, mentoring seldom exists at under-resourced, fast-paced startups.
We must acknowledge that in the age of entrepreneurship, the onus of personal and professional development is on the individual, not on the company.
I believe so strongly in the power of mentoring, but also know how hard it is to find mentors. This is actually why I co-founded Everwise, which uses data, software and people to help match mentors and protégés. In the future, mentoring relationships will not develop in the office; they will come from a network culled from a variety of areas. That’s an upgrade: You gain access to the best and brightest minds that have the most experience specifically relevant to you and your dreams. This external board of advisers can offer insight and direction while providing introductions.
These mentors can have a tremendous impact on your career — and on your life.