The latest insight from my partner, Nicole Auerbach, in her monthly feature, Insights From The Corner Office (even though she voluntarily gave up her corner office for more windows and a better view):
It is commonly held that people with mentors progress faster and are more satisfied with their careers than those without mentors. It will probably come as no surprise to learn that women are less likely to be mentored in the work place than men. Perhaps this is because people are inherently drawn to those who remind them of themselves, and men still hold the majority of positions that would lend themselves to being a "mentor." Couple that with the often-unspoken issues that can arise when a more-senior man spends one-on-one time with a younger woman, and we can see why many women may never have what they would call a “true” mentor. Does that mean upward mobility is impossible? Not at all.
There is no reason why there can't be a conglomeration of people who end up serving as mentors. In fact, if we acknowledge that one person rarely exhibits all of the traits that we most want to emulate, the idea of a patchwork mentor becomes that much more appealing. Looking back, that's exactly what I had. When I was growing up as an associate in a large firm in Chicago, there were an ample number of people who could have served as my “sole” mentor, but because I worked for many different partners, that natural "we work together, so I'll mentor you" situation simply didn't arise. Instead, I learned a lot of things from a lot of people with whom I worked, and I consider them all mentors in one way or another. Early on, I learned about strong writing from Mary Ellen; client service (never wait more than an hour to return a client phone call—and that was before cell phones!) from Floyd; how to cross examine from Sheldon; general career advice from Tony; where to place a comma, and what words to omit, from Joel; and how to take a deposition from Ross. Would I have identified any of them as my sole mentor? No, but I do consider them all invaluable to my development, whether they knew it or not, and each of them made themselves available to me if I sought out their advice, which I often did. I also had what I’ll call "un-mentors." Those are the people from whom I learned the things I didn’t ever want to imitate and who, to protect the innocent, will remain nameless. Those un-mentors unwittingly contributed to my development as well.
There's Always More to Learn
Over the years, I've learned that mentoring doesn't end when you "grow up." Even though I started my own firm five years ago with others and am seemingly at the top of the proverbial food chain in that regard, our collaborative work environment (built into the alternative-fee model we created) provides me with daily opportunities to both mentor and be mentored. Rarely a day goes by when I don't receive advice or suggestions from my partners, and not a day goes by when I don't welcome that advice. Also, I am now at the age where I often call upon friends for advice and counsel. Because they can relate to me so well, this advice is incredibly helpful. Another by-product of aging is that I have lots of opportunities to get the viewpoints of those less experienced or younger than me. While that is not the traditional direction of mentoring, getting new perspectives often highlights a blind spot or bias that I otherwise would have missed, so I love the fact that mentoring can go both directions.
If you have a single mentor whom you trust, admire and who is invested in your development, consider yourself incredibly lucky. But if you don't have such a person, develop your own patchwork of mentors by drawing from the different traits of those around you. And don't hesitate to call upon those you admire for advice, they are often more than willing to help out. Like a patchwork quilt that is made from multiple pieces, the benefits you get from a patchwork mentor may be far more appealing, and enduring, in the end.