By Andrew Forrester
In high school and college, you didn’t just have one teacher, so why should the workplace be different? It’s time to consider how you might surround yourself with mentors, plural. Read below to learn about the benefits that come with seeking multiple advisors.
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life.”
Denzel Washington Jr., American actor and filmmaker
If you google “business mentor,” you’ll get about 2 million results. The top hits come from sources ranging from the United States Chamber of Commerce to this very blog, and the message is clear: mentorship is good. And judging by the dozens of ads for services that help potential mentees find a match, the mentors themselves are in high demand. If you’re someone who’s already found your own business guru, you should count yourself lucky. But you shouldn’t stop there.
It’s time to move from thinking about finding a mentor, and instead consider how you might surround yourself with mentors, plural. You probably didn’t go through high school with only one teacher, and you certainly didn’t study with just a single professor at college—our professional and personal development should be no different. Here are some benefits that come with seeking out multiple trusted advisors.
A Broader Range of Experiences and Perspectives
When you have only one mentor, you get just that: one source of wisdom. One personal history, one angle from which the world is viewed. This one perspective can be invaluable, of course, but to expand the spectrum of available insight does not minimize the worth of one mentor’s offering, but rather expands it. By putting one person’s thoughts, opinions and offerings in conversation with those of someone else, you open yourself to the nuances and complexities of the world in which we live and make it easier to find ideas and solutions that feel correct under any circumstance.
Think of it like a European vacation: a trip to one city cannot tell you all there is to know about the French culture, French language and French people. When it comes to having an immersive French experience, an excursion spent solely in Paris—however wonderful it may be—will never compare to time spent adventuring across Provence, Nice, Bourdeaux, Lyon, Marseilles, Saint-Tropez. The same is true in your career. Why limit yourself to one source when you could survey the landscape and encounter all there is to see?
The Good Tension of Disagreement
If you think about the benefits of having a mentor, the first one that comes to mind most likely has to do with advice. Being a mentee means always having somewhere to go with your questions and dilemmas. But when you limit yourself to a sole mentor, whether intentionally or inadvertently, you are also essentially limiting yourself to one arbiter of best practices, which means only one possible answer to any given question.
Imagine, instead, that you take a question to two, maybe even three people, and walk away with several different answers. Initially, this may make you feel uncomfortable, or even tense, but there is a beauty in that tension that can lead to greater wisdom. Sometimes advice is less about finding the right answer and more about landing on your right answer. That answer may rest upon the foundation of others’ experiences and viewpoints, but remember, you’re the one doing the building, and it’s up to you to construct the solution that works for you, right now, in this particular circumstance.
A Team of Advisors
When it comes to a more formal relationship, there is a significant personal cost to the act of mentoring. It means that individuals are giving up time that could be spent with family or at work or—can you imagine?—doing something life-giving and joy-bringing for themselves. It means they are willingly engaging in the mental and sometimes emotional labor of listening, advising and modeling.
These are lovely and noble sacrifices to be made, but they can also be guilt-inducing for mentees. Sometimes, you need help now but are hesitant to ask because it means bothering your advisor yet again. With multiple mentors in the picture, however, you provide yourself with options and allow yourself to be more sensitive to people’s schedules, priorities and even just their psychological bandwidth. It’s as if you’re building a team of support systems, rather than just relying on your star player and crossing your fingers that they don’t run themselves ragged.
An Ever-Expanding Network
There are endless “soft” benefits to be gained from a mentorship, starting with the unquantifiable wisdom gained from rubbing shoulders with people who are smarter, older or just more experienced than ourselves. But one practical, tangible benefit is that your network of contacts necessarily expands. No longer do you have to rely on who you know: now you can tap into who those people know as well.
This LinkedIn article suggests that users should be making up to 700 new connections on the website each month, and of course, there are undeniable advantages to building your online reach in such a way. But nothing compares to real-world, human touchpoints—particularly when those touchpoints are found with people further along in their careers. When you surround yourself with multiple mentors, your network grows exponentially in both size and caliber. No one expects an associate-level employee to know dozens of C-suite execs on a first-name basis, but there’s a really good chance your mentors do. As your web of contacts grows, your chances of making that particular connection that takes you exactly where you need to be will grow, too.
And Why Not?
It may be simple or trite, but in this case, more really is just more. There is no downside to surrounding yourself with sage advisors, whether they’re wizened specialists in the field, people who are simply a little further along in their careers or just individuals who happen to have a different expertise than you. If we take ourselves out of the one-mentor mindset, we also open ourselves to more and more kinds of mentoring relationships, including both formal and informal connections. The world is full of helpful people with so much to offer, and really, who are we to deny ourselves such a meaningful gift?
Andrew Forrester is a writer whose work has appeared in Parents Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Andrew also teaches English and creative writing in Austin, Texas, and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Southern Methodist University.
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