I recently read an article on how social media is changing mentorship. I then remembered this article on mentorship from the Harvard Business Review. I have been fortunate to have had some great mentors throughout my career who have played an invaluable role in helping me achieve success in my career. I would categorize them as being of the more of the traditional elk – someone who was senior to me, often my immediate boss. But it is clear that organizations and the workforce is no longer the same and that it seems to me that mentors are not as available as they once used to be (I have no empirical evidence of this – just some intuition and casual observation). I believe that the combination of a changing workforce and the influence of social media has indeed changed the nature of mentorship. For example, if I need feedback on a decision I am planning to make for which I do not have internal data handy, I can and sometimes do pose the question to my network – whether on LinkedIn, Twitter or other online groups. I have found this to be very fruitful and quick. The interesting part is that this often involves interacting with complete strangers. Rather than being suspicious of advice offered from people I have no easy way of verifying their level of expertise, I have found myself finding their perspective as non-biased and refreshing.
This is fine for crowd-sourcing answers to specific questions but what about long-term mentorship? This can be critical to building one’s career. The HBR article demystifies that having one or a small number of mentors is the only way. In fact, having many mentors is a positive thing that can provide many different and informative perspectives that can help you guide your career growth. The article also talks about how mentorship does not have to be a long-term relationship. A good mentoring experience could be as short as 1-hour. While I believe that, for me, several longer term mentors who knew me and tailored their advice based on their understanding of my strengths, weaknesses and objectives was the best format I can certainly see how using social media can be a perfectly good alternative to traditional mentors. In fact, a couple of months ago I was in San Francisco learning about my good friend’s new startup he became involved with. It focuses on facilitating matching mentors and mentees through an online network. It’s called Everwise and I think it will go places.
Even though I have a busy work schedule and home life, I always make time to do information interviews with people who want to know how to get into the industry or progress, spend time nurturing members of my team and generally being open to discussing career growth questions. I benefitted from smart people who were generous with their time and insight and I enjoy being able to give some of this back wherever I can.