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Mentors: Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?

In my last blog, I wrote about the benefits of mentoring for both the mentor and protégée. In addition, we explored the two functions that a mentor could provide to a protégée; career support and psychosocial support. In some cases, these two functions can be provided by the same mentor and in other cases more than one person is providing these benefits. This leads to a discussion about the value of more than one mentor at the same time. Can you have too much of a good thing?

For many years, the research on mentoring and its practical application have focused on the one to one relationship between a senior, more experienced individual and a junior employee. Yet in this day of careers spent in a number of different companies, broader relationships outside of a current employer and social networking, mentoring as we have traditionally known is being redefined. Kathy Kram is a pioneer in the field of mentoring research. In her article “Reconceptualizing Mentoring at Work: A Developmental Network Perspective” (2001), she and co-author Monica Higgins suggest that a “reconceptualization of mentoring is needed.” The authors suggest that mentoring should be considered as a multiple relationship experience or as a “developmental network”. As a result, in today’s day and age, protégés have a network of possible mentors to call upon drawn from peers, senior level colleagues, family and friends as well as the larger community.

Practically, the opportunity to leverage the value of multiple mentors can be seen in applications such as on-line mentoring sites or virtual communities of practice. These sites exist in many forms; specific to a company, specific to an occupation such as teaching and specific to certain demographic groups such as university students. In addition, many individuals have already begun to leverage their own networks to access more than one mentor.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter how many mentors you have at one time. What is important is that as someone looking for a mentor or currently in a mentoring relationship, you have taken the time for self-reflection. That is, you have taken the time to understand what skills, abilities and traits you would like to develop and look to your personal community or network to match those developmental areas with the potential mentor(s) you feel possess the skills and the right personal fit to develop a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship. Which begs the question; how do you approach a potential mentor? (More on that next time.)

What are your thoughts? Has there been a time in your career where you have had more than one mentor at the same time? How did that work for you?


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