The powerful, one-on-one mentoring relationship once transpired only in face-to-face meetings. But mentoring is evolving, thanks to a proliferation of communication tools and increasing social media activity.
The future of mentoring is open and unstructured. It is no longer limited to the prix fixe menu; it is an all-you-can-eat buffet of varying levels of quality. (There is no human resources department running the future of mentoring for you, and there is no internal quality assurance process other than your own.)
How are you defining success in your career and what will it take to get there? Think about the job you’d like to have and what skills or abilities you might need to enhance to get it. Someone out there has this job, is doing it well, and could potentially help teach you from a distance.
Whom you seek out is entirely up to you, but how you proceed is your first exercise in collaboration.
What does the future of mentoring mean for you, exactly?
- You are no longer limited by geography. Much like remote work, remote mentoring allows people to connect across time zones. You don’t need to locate someone in your part of the state or province, or even country, for that matter. Your mentor could be a leading executive in an Asia-Pacific firm who might have just launched a satellite office in Europe. Or a potential mentor could be a frequent traveler whom you might meet face-to-face on occasion. If you want to have a more global perspective, think internationally when it comes to mentors.
- You can (and should) think outside your industry. Want to know more about customer happiness? Read blogs and articles to find out which companies have not only made this a priority but are excelling at it, and reach out to those who are heading up their efforts. (I’ve found that Twitter is a great medium for this.) Even if they’re in a completely different industry, the majority of the skills they’re putting to work are likely transferable to your own. Set up regular Skype chats if both of your schedules allow, or consider a one-off session to answer a burning question.
- Your rockstars are reachable. You read that right. You can connect with leading startup founders and industry luminaries. Think of people like Rand Fishkin, the founder and “wizard” of Moz. Although folks at this level typically have very full schedules, they’re also likely to be generating a lot of thought leadership in their fields. So check out Fishkin’s latest “Whiteboard Friday” video, for example, and drop a note or a tweet saying why it was helpful. Some argue that you can learn a lot with “virtual mentors,” even without feedback or reciprocation.
- Your specific questions can be answered. As mentioned earlier, you can engage in a one-on-one mentoring relationship or simply pose a question to a professional who is willing and able to offer you advice on an ad hoc basis. This involves less of a time commitment, as it falls into the “just-in-time” learning category. Maybe you’re building a pitch deck that could use a few serious pointers from a venture capitalist or successful founder, or perhaps you’ve got a nagging issue with selecting the right service provider. Be sure to give some advance notice, and you’ll get an answer.
- You can work with several mentors. If your professional growth concerns aren’t met by a single mentor, have no fear: it’s perfectly acceptable and, in many cases, even expected for you to have more than one mentor. After all, those who can advise typically have specialized knowledge in a few areas. If you’re in need of guidance in disciplines outside of theirs, you can seek out other mentors to supplement your knowledge. Also, don’t forget your initial mentor’s sphere of influence: he or she can possibly introduce you to members of their inner circle or those they trust to offer helpful advice.
- You can be both student and teacher. Your mentor isn’t the only one giving in this scenario; you have insights to offer as well. Perhaps you can lend your voice to a new project they have in beta mode, or you can share insights on an advertising campaign as a member of a different culture or minority group. Regardless of which medium you’re using to interact, both you and your mentor can derive value from exchanging your ideas, experiences, and lessons learned.