Why I Mentor…

The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.

Marcus Aurelius

How frequently should you change jobs? Google that one and get equal results preaching career advancing benefits of job hopping, or interview advice on how to explain your lack of loyalty. What a Goldilocks dilemma, too little or too much?

Ahh… but were it so simple! In fact, the choice is increasingly outside worker control. Technology is disrupting the employment market and for good or bad, the days of long-term, much less lifetime employment are gone. It can be mind-numbing to analyze employment data (I’ve tried!), but there are clear trends pointing to more job changes and contingent employment relationships throughout a career.

As a lifelong talent scout I’ve sat through thousands of interviews, hiring individuals for a broad range of management functions. I’ve seen more than my share of people who’ve come from jobs where the business model or industry changed, and increasingly people with shorter job durations driven by multiple rounds of business consolidation. These individuals are experiencing personal development gaps, and I believe a lack of mentorship, whether formal or informal, is to blame.

That formal mentoring is slipping has been academically documented. Practiced heavily in professional service firms with a tradition of lifetime employment, formal mentoring has often been a highly-organized affair. Yet a 2008 study of such firms by Harvard Business School professor Thomas DeLong and colleagues discovered an emerging generational divide. Extensive employee surveys revealed that people over the age of 40 could name mentors, but few under that age could do so. Bottom line pressures and professional work loads had eroded the practice of mentorship of younger associates.

A decline in informal mentoring is potentially more ominous. Informal, or mentoring by choice, is what most people experience in their careers. It arises from individual choice and spontaneity in an environment that allows such relationships to flourish. Time and organizational health are key nourishing ingredients because workers need to have a sense of psychological safety with their colleagues and potential mentors. Frequent reorganizations, consolidations, mergers, etc. eat away at psychological safety and promote dysfunctional levels of self-centrism. Google discovered elements of this in their quest to build perfect teams, a 3-year study on the subject concluding psychological safety was the key ingredient for superior teamwork.

Few would argue that mentorship isn’t valuable and necessary. It’s impossible to get through life without guidance, and successful people often thank the efforts of many mentors. The 2nd century roman emperor Marcus Aurelius recognized no fewer than 17 in his “Meditations”, writings considered to be among the greatest works of philosophy. His self-inventory of skills learned from each mentor has been an inspiration to generations of world leaders.

Supply and demand for mentors is high, but in a fragmented workforce the market for matching mentors to protégés is inefficient. Thankfully, innovative solutions are filling the void, one of which is a professional digital platform called Everwise. (www.geteverwise.com). A small company with a noble ambition, Everwise uses clever algorithms to match protégés with mentors, while also providing a learning platform full of useful and practical curated content. Companies buy the subscription based service and make it available for their employees, and Everwise matches the employees with mentors, typically for an initial 6-month assignment.

I’m an Everwise mentor and like my colleagues, I work on a volunteer basis. A few years back I was intrigued enough to click through a display ad on LinkedIn. I completed a detailed survey and application, and a month later commenced my first assignment. I’m now on my third assignment and am loving the challenge and the opportunity to contribute.

Mentoring is mutually beneficial, you learn as much as you give. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to experience a diversity of jobs all with the same employer, and can count numerous mentors who helped me at key stages. I encourage my colleagues to join me in mentoring. Outside of career oriented programs like Everwise, you can find a host of volunteer assignments including early stage academic and even more for disadvantaged youth. Sign up, you’ll be glad you did!

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