Mentors can provide an inspiring source of personal and professional advice; serve as a sounding board for working through tough problems; and offer a safe space for sharing your aspirations and your fears.
Finding mentors can be tough, though, and when you do find them, no single mentor is likely to have the ability to help you in all aspects of your professional or personal life. That's why you should consider assembling your own personal board of advisers comprised of several different mentors.
Think of yourself as your own company with you at the helm as CEO (and COO). Like a company would appoint a board of directors, think of whom you can appoint to your personal board of advisers who can provide expertise that you lack, and, of course, who are both available and interested in serving on your "board."
In an article published in the Spring 2015 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, three academics shared their findings from three separate studies they conducted on the topic of mentors and personal boards of advisers. The first study was a series of in-depth interviews they conducted with 64 expat professionals and managers in Singapore and China. The second was an analysis of 176 speeches by successful people who had been inducted into athletic and professional halls of fame.
They then validated the findings from these two studies with a third study which included a comprehensive survey of 315 alumni of two Northeastern US universities.
Their studies of the expats and "Hall of Famers" showed that they sought professional and psychosocial support from multiple people. They found that "most of the members of these individuals' personal boards of advisers played an active role in supporting the individuals' career and personal development. However, both the expats and the Hall of Famers also mentioned the importance of people who had passed away but continued to motivate and inspire them."
From these three studies, they identified six types of personal board members based on the kind of support the person provided (career and/or psychosocial) and the nature of the interaction with the protege (the frequency and/or closeness): personal guides, personal advisers, full-service mentors, career advisers, career guides, and role models.
The researchers offer three recommendations for individuals seeking to build their own personal board of advisers:
1. Develop self-awareness.
"Creating a helpful board of advisers depends largely on an individual's accurate assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses and career and psychosocial needs and goals, along with a realistic view of how much time and effort he or she can put toward such efforts. This means that individuals should develop strong self-awareness...through journals, learning logs, and after-action reviews."
2. Broaden membership in your personal board of advisers.
"Like a diverse portfolio of investments, it is important to have a diversified network with personal advisory board members from multiple sources, since network diversity with both strong and weak ties is instrumental in accessing nonredundant information, is conducive to personal learning and identity development, and helps enhance psychological security and self-esteem."
3. Allow your network to evolve and change.
"A developmental network needs to evolve over time as one's career unfolds and one's life changes. The fit between the individual and the network is based on two drivers: (1) an accurate assessment of one's needs; (2) the ability to initiate and cultivate effective relationships with the 'right' people based on the time and effort available and the amount and depth of interaction desired."