Finding a mentor is all the buzz these days, especially for women in the workplace. And yes, there’s no doubt that having a mentor can be important to your development both personally and professionally, but finding that superstar mentor can also put a lot of pressure on everyone involved.
The reality is (and research shows), a single mentor can’t fulfill all your needs or have the time or capacity to be your only source of support. Experts in the field of positive psychology and mentorship suggest that instead of looking for a mentor, it helps to build a circle of support instead. I like to think of these as mentorship circles.
People in your mentorship circle are individuals who have taken an active interest in your career success–this can include friends, family, colleagues, professors, coaches, and even previous employers. Considering that we learn and develop through lots of relationships in our lives, focusing on finding one mentor limits your personal growth. By cultivating multiple relationships in your network, you can cover more ground and gain both career and psychosocial support. Career support comes from people who provide you with coaching, exposure and visibility in your field of interest, and the right amount of challenge. Psychosocial support comes from people who provide you with acceptance and confirmation, friendship, and personal counsel.
So, what does a strong mentorship circle look like? The first thing to remember is that a bigger circle is not always better; what matters is the quality of each relationship. You want to leave enough time and energy to invest in each relationship deeply and fully; otherwise, you’ll be left with a lot of surface-level relationships. The next thing to consider is how reciprocal your relationships are. It is true that the nature of a mentoring relationship often involves the older, more experienced person is the one who offers the most guidance, but there is always something that you can be offering as well. The more you are both investing into the relationship and getting from each other, the more committed you’ll both be, because the relationship then becomes mutually beneficial. Lastly, think about the diversity of your circle. Does everyone in your circle work in the same industry? If so, chances are you’ll be getting a lot of overlapping resources and redundant information. The more diverse your circle, the greater exposure you’ll have to a range of perspectives and experiences.
Here are some ways to enhance your current circle of relationships and take charge of your own development:
1. Map out your current circle
In the past year, who are two people who have taken part in your successes? Who has helped advance your career? Who has provided personal support for you? Who genuinely cares about your personal and professional development?
2. Be Proactive
Reach out to people in your circle often and broadly. This means not relying solely on yourself to get things done and seizing opportunities to learn from other people by asking for information, help, and support. Also, don’t limit yourself to people in your immediate circle of friends or in your department at work. Cross those boundaries and connect with someone you may not think you’d have anything in common with at first sight.
3. Manage Your Interactions
This refers to the importance of building trust and leaving a good impression. This may be a no-brainer, but keep in touch with the people in your circle regularly. Investing in the relationship and showing that you care cultivates a sense of trust. Even if you have no urgent reason for reaching out, it never hurts to stay in touch. Let them know how their most recent advice has been helpful, and keep them informed of your accomplishments while inquiring about theirs as well.
4. Have a Relational Attitude
This means you believe it is okay to ask for help, and see it as a strength rather than a weakness. Being comfortable with vulnerability and sharing challenges you face will only help deepen your relationships and identify what type of support you need. Enlisting others in your pursuits and asking for help will only get you closer to achieving your goals as long as you’ve attempted to solve the problem first.
5. Show Genuine Interest
Be aware of your social skills and interact mindfully, meaningfully, and maturely. Listen. Empathize. Offer suggestions. Ask questions. This leaves people wanting to continue to be a part of your journey toward success and cultivates a high-quality relationship that both people will find fulfilling and supportive.