Originally inspired by an article by Glenn Leibowitz, McKinsey's Head of Communications, this post is about the value of mentorship from multiple people. Describing mentors as sources of inspiration, a “sounding board for working through tough problems” and a “safe space for sharing aspirations and fears”, Glenn says “you need to build a personal board of advisors” as if you were leading your own company.
As an actual company, Protagion has a board of advisors, and their ongoing counsel is invaluable to us. Whether offering advice from a professional perspective, sharing psychological insights, providing their thoughts on executive coaching, giving us strategic advice, or supplying marketing and technological expertise, each of our diverse advisors has helped in immeasurable ways. Similarly, many new organisations speak of how valuable a broad range of inputs can be in steering them past pitfalls, and keeping them motivated.
So, we'd like to thank publicly all of our advisors (current and past) for the major contribution you've made to our progress so far – we wouldn't be where we are without you.
Back to Glenn's views on sourcing mentors for your career: “Finding mentors can be tough... and when you do find them, no single mentor is likely to have the ability to help you in all aspects... That's why you should consider assembling your own personal board of advisors comprised of several different mentors.”
His article references a piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review “Assembling Your Personal Board of Advisors”, which concluded with three recommendations on how to do this:
1) “Develop self-awareness” for example through “journals, learning logs and after-action reviews”, “relationships with those who can act as sounding boards”, and “self-assessment instruments”. Building a valuable board of advisors requires you to understand well your strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals.
2) “Broaden membership on your personal board” as it is “important to have a diversified network” with strong “members from multiple sources”. The study also notes that “having high-quality relationships across differences is important in order to secure a diversity of opinions, information and knowledge that can be sustained over the long run”.
3) “Allow your network to evolve and change” as your career and life unfold, including as you “change roles, occupations, industries or organisations or relocate to different countries”.
Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up The Wrong Tree” (the blog and the book), also shares advice about picking, contacting and maintaining relationships with the right mentors. He’s a fan of mentors outside your current organisation, illustrating this with: “If you’re a star do you think your company is going to tell you when it’s time to move on to greener pastures?” He also believes that “you need objectivity and you need someone who can give you advice that’s valuable over the long haul”.
Some of Eric’s posts reference a book by Daniel Coyle (“The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Skills”*) which describes desirable characteristics for mentors, including:
a) someone who scares you a little
i. because they watch you closely to figure you out: what you want, where you’re coming from, what motivates you
ii. because they are action-oriented, wanting to jump into things immediately rather than spending a lot of time chatting
iii. because they are honest and direct, telling you the truth about your performance in clear language, which can sting at first, but over time you’ll come to see it’s not personal – it’s what you can take to heart in order to get better
b) someone who gives short, clear directions, guiding you to a target, rather than long-winded speeches
c) someone who loves teaching (seemingly small) fundamentals, like how you grip a golfclub or pluck a single note on a guitar
Other thoughts on mentorship from Eric:
He also encourages us to be “polygamous here – you need multiple mentors to cover the various areas of life”.
Glenn’s original article can be found here: https://www.inc.com/glenn-leibowitz/1-mentor-isnt-enough-you-need-to-build-a-personal-board-of-advisers.html
Eric's posts can be found here:
* Protagion is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk. The links with * participate in this programme.
This personal journey is adapted from a LinkedIn article published by Cumesh, and he kindly agreed that we share it with you – we found his experiences inspiring, including how he originally approached his legal articles, and also his professional transition from attorney into the banking industry. Beyond his original university degrees (BA, LLB and LLM(Tax)), he’s also developed his skills further through programmes at WITS, Harvard and Said (Oxford) Business Schools and believes in actively managing our careers. We trust that his experiences will enthuse and motivate you too.
“I’m often asked about my career journey, especially by the young professionals in the accounting and legal fields. From studying a challenging degree, to ‘paying my dues’ during my [legal] articles, to working in a high-pressure career in banking today.
...My sister and uncle both worked in law and that was a contributing factor. I also wanted a career where I could add value and assist other people. It gives you a broader purpose than just earning a living. I wanted to make a difference.
[After my degrees I] wanted to get practical experience in a law firm. With my LLB I had great theory, but no practical insight yet. My two years of articles gave me the best grounding, even for the work that I do today.
The fourth post in our Contracting series shares a Harvard Business Review article (“Thriving in the Gig Economy” from the March-April 2018 issue). It was co-written by three professors / associate professors from INSEAD, the University of Michigan, and Yale. Their blend of medical, psychiatry, management and business organisation, and organisational behaviour experience shines through strongly. They interviewed 65 gig / independent workers for the article.
As a nod towards its timeliness, the article references a McKinsey study which reports that "knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy."
I found it both insightful and helpful, and I trust that our readers will too. For me, the juxtaposition of the anxieties faced versus the benefits of independence provided a useful perspective. In their words: "All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer… they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts".
One woman interviewed used the analogy of a trapeze to expand on her feelings: "...the void she felt when between assignments; the exhilaration of landing the next engagement; the discipline, concentration, and grace that mastering her profession required. Trapeze artists seem to take huge risks, she explained, but a safety system — including nets, equipment, and fellow performers — supports them: 'They appear to be on their own, but they’re not.'"
The sense of uncertainty echoes a previous New York Times article we summarised (see Contracting/Gigging - Uncertainty for Millennials), which covered the emotional impact of the “treadmill of temporary work” for millennials, particularly when gigging was not by choice. However, as this HBR article focuses on those who’ve actively chosen to work independently, it also speaks of the sense of empowerment of being a pioneer.
Trapeze Photo by Mr T in DC: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/5016629994/sizes/z/
Managing the pressures
One of the biggest emotional impacts of contracting/gigging is how it affects your sense of self. You can become your work, living and breathing it (like an artist or writer might). The authors comment on this existential question of identity, saying: "Unshackled from managers and corporate norms, people can choose assignments that make the most of their talents and reflect their true interests. They feel ownership over what they produce and over their entire professional lives… They care about both being at work – having the discipline to regularly generate products or services that find a market – and being into their work: having the courage to stay fully invested in the process and output of that labour."
To manage the ongoing feeling of unsettledness, however, it is helpful to develop a physical, social and psychological space for your work. The authors describe this as "an accomplishment; it must be cultivated, and it can be lost". They also recognise that the sense of nervousness/anticipation can be advantageous: "one consultant described [it] as the key to continued learning, and 'keeping my edge'" i.e. the feeling should be managed positively, rather than fully removed.
The authors explain how those interviewed create these spaces for themselves by establishing and maintaining "liberating connections" - "because they both free people up to be individually creative and bind them to work so that their output doesn’t wane" i.e. freedom with support, room to grow with accountability. The four dimensions are: place, routine, purpose, and people.