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4 Tips for Maximizing Mentorship

In the good ol' days, a mentoring relationship existed exclusively between two individuals sharing knowledge, skills and experience. Trouble is, this traditional arrangement just doesn't work anymore, say professors Kathy E. Kram and Monica C. Higgins in the latest MIT Sloan Management Review. A single senior colleague can't possibly keep up with all the changes in the fast-moving world of work.

So what's the answer? You've heard it before...

It takes a village.

Kram and Higgins argue for adopting a personal board of directors--a small group of people to help you navigate the challenges of globalization and a multicultural work force while staying afloat amid rapidly changing technology.

Now, for the nuts and bolts of setting up a developmental network:

  1. Know Thyself If you don't know your own strengths, weaknesses and goals, how can you target the right people for advice and support? Dig deep to determine what you enjoy, where you want to be in two or five years, and what knowledge and skill gaps need filling.
  2. Know Your Context Now that you've done an honest self-assessment, it's time to get schooled on everything related to achieving your goal, whether it be to advance at your current job or to start a new career entirely. No matter the scenario, Higgins and Kram recommend focusing on a handful of individuals who seem to genuinely care about you and have resources or wisdom to offer. Oh, and make sure it's not a one-way street; the idea is to create mutual learning.
  3. Enlist Developers Time to build that developmental network and advance your goals! But, whom do you choose? Likely candidates may include individuals outside your organization who can help you keep learning. Grad school professors or fellow students could remind you about theories or practices useful to your current job. Contacts at professional organizations can provide insights into new technology. And don't forget potential pearls of wisdom from Uncle Fred.
  4. Regularly Reassess As you roll along life's highway, take periodic pit stops to reassess your developmental network. Those who helped significantly a few years ago may now need replacing as your situation changes. Don't think of it as putting your old allies out to pasture. Just think of them as valued friends whom you consult on occasion instead of colleagues in your inner circle of advisers, Higgins and Kram suggest. The idea is to act with intention when it comes to seeking out advice -- something relevant for everyone at every stage of their career.
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