Those who are mentored outperform and out earn those who are not (Eby, et al, 2008). They get promoted more often and report lower burnout rates. However, having just one mentor is limiting. Having a team of mentors puts you in charge of your future.
Women in particular benefit from strategic mentoring teams (Gotian, 2019) that have their best interest at heart (Johnson & Smith, 2016). The challenge is that there are few women in leadership roles. As such, the development of a mentoring team for women needs to be purposeful.
Unlike having a single mentor, an entire team offers diversity of perspectives and skills, and increases your network. The reach and impact of your team is directly proportional to its breadth and depth. This is critical for women, as there is a limited number of female leaders in any particular industry.
By having a broad range of mentors, you could leverage the types of skills you learn and people you meet. Imagine having a mentoring team with a lawyer who can provide negotiation tips, a salesperson who will help you optimize your networking, a public speaker who can help you hone your speaking skills, an editor who could help you with your writing, an educator who can help you improve your teaching skills, and a marketing expert who could help you develop your brand. You are the common denominator among your team. While you can reach out to any and all members on the team, they don’t all need to meet together.
Just because someone has an impressive title, doesn’t mean they should be a mentor (Gotian, 2016). A five-step process can help you strategically consider who should be on your mentoring team.
Step 1: Name your goal. What is your immediate goal? Is it to get promoted to Associate Professor or Senior Vice President? It’s important to identify and name your attainable short-term goal. Labeling what you hope to achieve will help identify a path forward.
Step 2: Devise your plan. Naming your goal is a pivotal first step. In order to prevent your goal from becoming a fantasy, identify what you need to accomplish in order to achieve your goal. Do you need to publish in a major journal or build a new curriculum? Be very explicit about what the next steps are. Once you’ve pinpointed your next steps, you can start constructing your mentoring team. This intentionally selected group of people will aid you in actualizing your plan, provide insight, and introduce you to the right people. Envision a bullseye, with three circles, one inside the other.
Step 3: Identify your inner circle. Who are the people who know you best, even when you are not at your finest? Consider your partner, family, friends, or even your children. These people will tell you the unfiltered truth, even if it hurts. They know the personal you.
Step 4: Identify your middle circle. The next circle includes your closest work colleagues. They know your work ethic and reputation. They might be at any level of the organization. They know the professional you.
Step 5: Identify your outer circle. The final circle takes the most effort. It includes people in or outside of your field. You may not know them directly, but you know of them. This includes those you’ve heard speak or whose work, position, or reputation you admire. If appropriate, ask for introductions to your outer circle.
The circles are permeable as the role of a mentor is not a life sentence. Add and subtract names of mentors as circumstances change. Over time, those in the outer circle will transition toward the middle circle, and new names will become part of the outer circle as you advance.
If strategically constructed, your mentoring team will help you ascend and achieve your goal.
Dr. Gotian is a leadership and executive coach, keynote speaker, and author. She is the former assistant dean for mentoring and executive director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine and the current chief learning officer in its department of anesthesiology where she is also an assistant professor of education. She studies, teaches, and writes about optimizing success, leadership, and networking based on her work and interviews with the most successful people of our generation including Nobel laureates, Olympians, and astronauts. She is a contributor to Forbes, has a doctorate in adult learning and leadership from Columbia University, and has been hailed as a leadership expert by Nature and Columbia University.
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Eby, L.T., Allen, T.D., Evan, S.C., Ng, T. & DuBois, D. (2008) Does mentoring matter? A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2007.04.005
Gotian R. (2016) Mentoring the mentors: Just because you have the title doesn't mean you know what you are doing. College Student Journal, 50(1). https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/prin/csj/2016/00000050/00000001/art00001
Gotian R. (2019) Why you need a support team. Nature, 568. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-00992-3
Johnson W.B. & Smith D. (2016) Athena rising: How and why men should mentor women. Taylor and Francis Group.