I spoke to a group of first year law students at Emory University last weekend and the topic of mentors came up. I remember one of my first consulting managers who took me under his wings. He was tough and smart. He would always give me great advice, such as “Always ask why they’re doing what they’re doing, not just what they’re doing!” He had my back whenever I screwed up! Despite my inexperience, he gave me a chance to become a part of great teams working on really interesting projects. Here is the challenge: I got noticed and promoted to lead bigger engagements. We soon became hierarchical peers and eventually I got the nod to lead the national practice. We talked about it and he assured me that he was OK with our respective roles, but that just didn’t turn out to be the case.
You see, despite old-school advice, your immediate boss as your mentor isn’t always ideal. Office politics can compromise your loyalty, and loyalty can compromise growth opportunities and your career. What happens when your mentor is disciplined or gets fired? What happens if your mentor finds your work sub par, or even thinks of firing you? What happens if an ethical dilemma creates a conflict of interest in how your boss is measured or compensated? There are no easy answers here.

We’re living in the age of connected relationships where the knowledge and wisdom is highly distributed vs. concentrated in the “male, pale, and stale” hierarchies of the past. So I suggest a new model of mentorship:

1. Find a mentor in your company – who is not directly related to what you do, but certainly understand the challenges and opportunities in your daily functional role and realm of responsibilities.
2. Find a mentor in your industry – who understands the industry nuances, value-chain challenges, talent gap, metrics, and can serve as an objective adviser on industry-related issues.
3. Find a mentor completely outside of the realm of what you do for a living – who can listen and give you an objective perspective without being myopic about the company or the industry.

What they have to have in common is a vested interest in your personal and professional growth. Ideally, these are also people you don’t have to feel like you must impress! They need to see, hear, and experience the real you – your strengths, weaknesses, decision-making process, ability to quickly analyze situations you find yourself in, and your ability to delineate between varying options!

Bottom line, I don’t believe anyone is ever too young or old to find mentors or become one! #NeverStopGrowing!

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