Here’s a guide to alternatives.
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When great leaders reflect on their careers, many attribute their success to the same key decision: finding a mentor. That’s because mentorships, when done well, help mentees both develop personally and advance professionally. In a recent Quartz survey conducted on behalf of JPMorgan Chase, 83 percent of people said that having a mentor helped them move up in their career.
Yet despite the near-universal praise for mentoring, it’s clear that the classic mentor model is far from a one-size-fits-all.
Let’s explore five mentorship models you might not have considered before:
1. Find a sponsor, not just a mentor
While mentorships can take people far, sponsorships can take them further. Rather than simply offer advice and guidance, the best sponsors double as advocates, connecting protégés to key people, jobs, and assignments. Alicia Glen, New York City’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development advocates, said that these “real, needle-moving actions,” are an effective way to make a tangible difference in mentees’ careers.
Because sponsors put their own reputations on the line when they advocate for protégés, it’s vital that they chose wisely. This, in turn, raises the bar for protégés looking to get noticed. Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Melinda Marshall of Harvard Business Review offered one effective way for proteges to help their cause.“Leaders will give their time, attention, and relationship capital only to people who perform exceptionally well,” they write. In other words, proactively seek opportunities, accept challenging assignments, and, in general, stand out from the crowd.
Some of the nation’s biggest companies are instituting programs to help sponsors connect with the next generation of superstars. For example, JPMorgan Chase has developed an initiative they call 30-5-1 to support rising stars who are women. Spend 30 minutes a week having coffee with a talented up and coming woman. Spend 5 minutes a week congratulating a female colleague on a win or success. Spend 1 minute a week talking up the woman who had that win to other colleagues around the firm.
2. Create a personal board of directors
Classic one-on-one mentorships presuppose that a single mentor can provide all the support and expertise that a mentee needs. That’s probably not realistic. Not only is today’s business environment more complex than ever, but the very idea of a “traditional” career track has become passé.
The solution: Instead of looking to one mentor for advice, seek out several. In essence, create your own “personal board of directors,” an informal group of six to eight people who can provide different perspectives and take on different roles. While there’s no universally accepted board makeup that career experts suggest, recommended personas include fans (who will support you unconditionally), sponsors (who can advocate for you), and even critics (who will speak candidly about your weak spots and hold you accountable). Some experts even recommend including a mentee, who can teach you how to be an effective mentee yourself.
Another feature of this system is that its makeup can, and should, change over time, reflecting both your personal evolution and career goals.
3. Embrace reverse-mentoring
Traditional mentoring is inherently top-down, with senior-ranking leaders offering career advice to their junior employees. With the reverse-mentoring model, that idea is flipped on its head, putting those senior-ranking leaders in the mentee’s chair.
While the idea of reverse-mentoring isn’t new (former General Electric CEO Jack Welch helped popularize it in the 1990s) the pace of change in business and technology has made the idea increasingly vital for decision makers looking for ways to stay informed about latest trends. Likewise, the model has some real benefits for young talent. They not only elevate themselves by creating relationships with senior executives, but they also create a culture that values what all generations bring to the table.
4. Join a mastermind group (or start your own)
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” If mastermind groups had an official slogan, that would be it. Masterminds, a concept introduced in the 1930s, are built on the idea that, with skills, coaching, and support, a person’s peers can have as much to offer as their boss does. The structure of mastermind groups is straightforward, but effective. A group of three to seven people, representing different industries and backgrounds, meet once a month (or even once a week) to talk career goals, growth, and workplace challenges. One part support system, one part professional network, the groups are designed to help members workshop issues, share candid advice, and open up professional opportunities.
Unless you’re personally invited to one, it can be a challenge to find a mastermind group to join. Instead, consider starting your own. The first step is to look around your personal network, selecting like-minded, driven people who are willing to meet regularly and participate openly.
Then, agree on the time, place, and format of the meetings. Initial questions could include: “What do you need help with? What’s a big problem you’ve recently solved? What are your goals?"
Don’t have the bandwidth to join or start a group? Seek out podcasts, content, or shows that discuss challenging situations in the workplace. The more you learn, the more valuable you are.
5. Give your mentorships an expiration date
A great mentorship, regardless of its structure, doesn’t have to last a lifetime. In fact, knowing that a relationship has a specific endpoint can often inspire a mentor and mentee to be more efficient at solving the mentee’s challenges. Thus, the idea of short-term “micro-mentorships,” which are built around reaching clearly defined, actionable goals, such as learning specific skills (such as managing a team for the first time) or solving specific challenges (such as getting a promotion).
An added bonus: Limiting a mentorship to one or two months can improve the odds that a busy would-be mentor will help out.