To progress in a career in today's increasingly competitive workforce, it's not enough to simply possess relevant knowledge, skills and abilities. Mentors can make all the difference in whether a professional reaches his or her career goals.
Although the importance of mentors in professional development has long been recognized, today's mentoring has evolved beyond the traditional one-on-one, hierarchical mentor/mentee relationship into mentoring styles that embrace the increasing complexity of the IT landscape, as well as new avenues of interaction such as social networking.
Throughout my career, I've been blessed with the help of many mentors, without whom I wouldn't be where I am today. Certainly I benefited greatly from traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships with more experienced individuals in the field, but I benefited equally from other types of mentors, particularly my peers.
Traditional mentoring relationships have provided me with a number of expected benefits, such as sponsorship for promotions and greater organizational visibility to allow me to develop valuable professional relationships; however, I've also found peer mentoring invaluable. I now meet with one of my peer mentoring groups biweekly via Google+ Hangouts, which allows us to video chat as a group using standard webcams. Four or five of us in this group share a common bond in that we are first-time CIOs. Our video chats allow us to share common experiences, provide mutual support and bounce ideas off peers who don't work on the same campus.
In 2010, I had the honor of being selected as the chairwoman of the EDUCAUSE Professional Development Advisory Committee.One of our projects that year was to update the EDUCAUSE Mentoring Kit (educause.edu/careers/special-topic-programs/mentoring) to reflect new styles of mentoring that have arisen from societal changes and the adoption of new technologies in communication.
New Schools of Thought
Although traditional one-on-one mentoring is still valuable, different mentoring styles now incorporate nonhierarchical relationships between individuals, varying time commitments and a variety of mentor roles.
The "circle" style of mentoring, for instance, involves a group of peers who are co-learners and who act as both mentors and mentees, sharing knowledge with each other.
The "invisible" style of mentoring takes advantage of the rapid increase in the amount of information available electronically. A mentee may never actually meet an invisible mentor, but his or her success — and what aided it — is the subject of the mentee's intense research.
Mentoring relationships aren't always successful. A winning mentoring relationship will more likely come about when proactive steps are taken, such as creating a professional development plan to gain self-awareness, to focus on professional goals and to facilitate development of steps required to reach those goals; identifying what mentoring functions are top priorities; selecting the mentoring style or styles that best suit those functions; and setting clear expectations for how to conduct the mentoring relationship, and how each participant hopes to benefit.
Certainly those who have benefited from a mentor's help should consider paying it forward. Become a mentor and help someone else. You might end up with the most valuable takeaway of all.