Imagine for a moment that you are looking through a one-way mirror into a comfortable executive boardroom. Next, imagine that seated around the table are all of the people from your own life who have cheered you on and offered encouragement and guidance at essential moments and crossroads. Now, imagine that everyone seated at the table is happily engaged in an animated conversation—about you! They are enjoying themselves as they share stories and describe what they most admire about you. Think about these important mentors in your own life. Now, imagine how things might have gone differently for you if only one of these individuals had crossed your path.
Although most discussions of mentoring tend to focus exclusively on the traditional model of a single wise mentor providing for all of a mentee’s developmental needs, the reality is that most of us require more than one helping relationship during important periods in our lives—and certainly throughout our careers (Johnson, 2007). What are the chances that a single mentor, even a really good one, can be all things to all mentees? Slim! Yes, having a primary mentor is often critical during graduate school or during the all-important early-career phase, especially in one’s first job, but most of us benefit from a wider constellation of helping connections. Described as developmental networks, composite mentoring, and my favorite, mentoring constellations, evidence from many career fields suggests that those among us who enjoy a collection of helpful relationships and connections—multiple sources of mentoring—are more productive, successful, and content with our careers than those without such a rich constellation (Johnson & Ridley, 2008).
Whether you are a college student, just getting started in your career, or a more senior professional contemplating those pivotal “next steps,” the data suggests that you would be wise to deliberately construct a cluster of relationships with people who take an active interest in and action to advance both your professional opportunities and personal wellbeing. Recently, some colleagues and I have proposed that a mentoring constellation will be strongest and most effective when the mentee is intentional about forming the constellation and when the constellation contains good diversity (e.g., traditional primary mentor, various mentors-of-the-moment, peer mentors, online support communities, and a host of supportive colleagues with whom one has less frequent contact) (Johnson, Barnett, Elman, Forrest & Kaslow, 2013).
If you are a mentor, here are a few key recommendations: first, introduce your mentees to the concept of mentoring constellations and explain why they are so important; second, help your mentees begin constructing an effective constellation by making referrals to other professionals and groups and encouraging mentees to take initiative for forming a network of professional connections; third—and possibly most important—check your attitude when your favorite mentees find additional mentors. When it comes to effective mentorship, there is no room for jealousy or territoriality.
Written by Brad Johnson
Originally posted on http://blog.soderquist.org/mentoring-make-it-a-constellation