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You’ll learn more from a wider group of people. These days everyone knows that finding a mentor is valuable.
But it’s increasingly rare that we actually have one. Everyone we spoke with over age 40 could name a mentor in his or her professional life, but younger people often could not. Junior professionals joining a firm 20 years ago could count on the partners treating them like protégés.
The answer isn’t to give up on finding a mentor, however — it’s to broaden our search. Many professionals have had success with creating mastermind groups, which are a curated mix of peers who meet regularly to discuss professional challenges and hold one another accountable.
But less formal arrangements — sometimes called a mentor board of directors, a personal board of directors, or a kitchen cabinet — can also be effective. You can diversify your search criteria and learn from a variety of people.
This also allows you to look beyond the classic notion of a mentor as someone who is older and wiser than you. Mentors can even be our juniors — by decades. Take Hank Phillippi Ryan, an Emmy-winning investigative reporter I profiled in my book Reinventing You.
She launched an award-winning side career as a mystery author after being inspired by a former intern of hers who had penned a novel. If she can write a book, I can write a book. In order to form your own mentor board of directors — stocked with an assortment of talented peers, senior professionals, and junior colleagues — keep these questions in mind. What, specifically, do you want to learn?
The first step in developing your board is a rigorous self-assessment. Where are you headed professionally, and what skills do you need to get there? If you’re planning to shift functional roles — from sales to HR, for instance — you may want to seek out a mentor with HR experience.