In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Mentor and a Mentor was good.
Harking back to days of yore (or before my time anyway) Mentoring was simple – “the developmental assistance provided by a more senior individual within a protégé’s organization – that is, a single dyadic relationship” (Higgins & Kram, 2001) or to put it in layman’s terms big cheese looked after little cheese. Little cheese benefited from advice, guidance and occasionally from influence or sponsorship, big cheese got a little benefit from insight into other parts of the organization and a different point of view…
Then, somewhere along the line, the world changed. For a number of reasons I think mentoring lost support in organizations. The reasons include flatter structures so less distance between big cheese and little cheese, the ratio of big cheeses to little cheeses decreased so the amount of available mentors decreased but probably most significantly individual tenure in an organization decreased – careers became things that involved being in several organizations and it seems organizations tacitly decided to “bugger you we’re not giving you a mentor” (I am generalising of course!)
So what happened? Did people simply exist without the additional support, counsel, guidance and G&T that a mentor provided? Simply put – NO. What happened was people built their own mentors, but rather than it being one big cheese the support came from many people – kind of DIY mentor made up of numerous people both senior & junior, both inside & outside the organization, both colleagues & friends – they built networks of support, but how are those networks of value?
There seems to be a trend in social media to keep score – Klout seems to be the most high profile and my view is largely negative due to the superficial nature of the metric but I haven’t put any near enough time or energy into really understanding any of them. Basically whichever scoring system is out there they seem to want to draw conclusions about your power and influence over other people from the metrics surrounding your social network profiles. For a more informed view you may want to check out the following blog posts from Matt Alder’s Blog and from Rob Harrison’s Blog
At the same time the academics have (of course) developed their own models of what they term “social capital” which is defined as any aspect of social structure that creates value and facilitates the actions of the individuals within the social structure and is created when the relations among people change in way that facilitate instrumental action (Coleman, 1990 in Siebert et al 2001). In terms of career development they use several models to try and “keep score”. The first (weak ties) considers the intensity, frequency and diversity of the people an individual is linked to, the second (structural holes) considers the “uniqueness” of the linked person – how discrete is one contact from another and the final one that seems popular is Social Resource Theory which builds on Weak Ties by consider the “value” of the linked person in terms of career development. But does any of this work in reality?
During a conversation with a supplier some months ago she recounted having worked directly for Stuart Rose (Sir Stuart formerly of M&S fame Rose) who she described as “the consummate networker”. In the days before Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc he ‘apparently’ had a comprehensive system for managing his network and was fanatical about keeping it updated and more specifically growing it having stated a goal to run M&S he set out to network himself to it, operating a number of rules, the primary of which was “don’t make the first contact the one where you ask for their help”. And as we all know, he got there and….well he got there!
Where does all of this leave me and you?
Likely without a formal mentor to be sure but then if you carry on waiting you’ll stay unsupported – DIY, find your own. Realise that everyone you meet and everyone you talk to is likely a source of support, advice, guidance and in the case of most of the people I speak to on Twitter opinion, but if all you do is take you are likely to find the cupboard bare fairly quickly – it has to be mutual as and when the opportunity arises but don’t be afraid to ask, the worst they can say is no and remember to be honest, if you want help of your friends ask for it – don’t dress it up or, trust me, they’ll know. Finally, whilst numbers are interesting realise that a few great people with whom you have meaningful dialogue outweigh 1000s of people who don’t know you from Adam so build relationships with care and with respect and you’ll find on the day you ask for help likely there’ll be several people more than willing to step up…
Higgins, M.C., Kram, K.E. (2001). “Reconceptualizing Mentoring at Work: A Development Network Perspective” Academy of Management Review Vol 26, 2, 264-288
Siebert, S.E, Kraimer, M.L., Liden, R.C. (2001) “A Social Capital Theory of Career Success” Academy of Management Journal, Vol 44, 2, 219-237