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A mentor can a great resource to help you think through current challenges, manage a career strategy, or just vent frustrations. While research has shown those who have mentors tend to have better career-related outcomes that stem from these mentor functions, it also shows those who receive the greatest benefit have multiple mentors. Some people will have different advisors at different points in their lives, each making a unique contribution. Others, however, actively seek the counsel of more than one mentor at the same point in time. For those whose jobs have a great deal of responsibility and complexity, having multiple mentors can serve as an informal board of directors. People who have several mentors receive many benefits:
1. They get several different points of view, especially for critical decisions.
2. They have an increased likelihood that at least one mentor has faced a similar situation as the protégé is facing.
3. Their mentors have different areas of expertise for different development needs (one for career strategy, one for leadership skills, one for political savvy, etc.).
4. They have a higher probability that at least one will be available to talk at a critical time.
Dan Getman of Pfizer (see “Mentoring In Practice“, April 2004) spoke about how he sees all of his colleagues as potential mentors. He constantly seeks opportunities to learn from those around him and realizes that he is a better leader when he is open to learning. Betsy Cohen (see “Mentoring in Practice”, this issue) noted that she had mentors both inside the company and outside, providing different points of view for her career.
Some people are intimidated by the prospect of trying to find one mentor, let alone finding two. Many people report that their first mentor found them (often a boss). Those who are fortunate enough to participate in a company-sponsored mentoring program are ahead of the game. Once you have set some goals and are working with one mentor, finding a second should not be too difficult. Here are some tips to help your search:
1. Ask your current mentor for a referral. While some mentors might see it as a lack of confidence in their ability as a mentor, assure them that you are looking for complementary experience and perspectives.
2. Get in touch with old bosses and colleagues. Old partnerships can be transformed when you remove the formal reporting relationship.
3. Talk to your current boss. While a reporting relationship often makes mentoring difficult, many strong partnerships grow out of boss-subordinate pairings.
Just as when working with a single mentor, you need to lead with your goals: what do you want to accomplish? How will this mentor help? An added question to ask is, what value does this mentor add beyond my current mentor? Answering this question will help guide you as to how to best work with all of your mentors. And, effectively managing your network of mentors will deliver the best results for you and them.