Use the acceleration of virtual interactions to your advantage and unlock a new way of learning. Written by Simon Maher.
I hopped off the shuttle bus with an absolute buzz of excitement. The Porter smiles and says “Bula Vinaka Sir, welcome. Let me take your bags for you.” I am led to a private pool, where 20 senior leaders were dining on a high-set table surrounded by a knee-deep private pool. I had arrived at Raddison Blu, Denarau Island, Fiji.
My mentor was subsequently facilitating the experience for the entire Leadership Team. We had all come together to deepen and develop a range of leadership qualities while having some mental space from the office and I had the chance to facilitate and deliver some workshops. It was the pursuit of this particular mentor and to this productive relationship that I was able to develop an edge, leading me to this moment and I was realising my potential in new ways.
I tell you this not to oversimplify or glorify the process of mentorship. Mentor-mentee relationship are most definitely not all Pina Coladas and Palm Trees. Sitting in my flat in London, staring at my screen, I could not have felt any further from this experience. I wondered how I might replicate such an arrangement once again.
In this article, I aim to provide three, low cost, high impact reasons why you need to be a great mentee in a digital world with limited, face-to-face interactions.
What is mentoring and why does it matter?
Mentorship and Coaching are often mistaken for the same thing. Although they can be interchangeable when used correctly they are are unique and specific in their own respective functions. To separate out the fundamental distinction of the two, Clutterbuck (2005), in Everyone Needs a Mentor, says:
In spite of the variety of definitions of mentoring (and the variety of names it is given, from coaching or counselling to sponsorship) all the experts and communicators appear to agree that it has its origins in the concept of apprenticeship when an older, more experienced individual passed down his knowledge of how the task was done and how to operate in a commercial world.
Do you have a mentor? If you think not, you’ll be surprised at how your answer may change later in this article. The benefits of having a form of mentor are to:
- Gain experiences, tips and tools from those that have reached their peak in their field
- Develop new skills and approaches to complex people, systems, ambiguous situations and resolve challenging moral and ethical dilemmas
- Accelerate the rate of change in personal and professional growth, innovation and creativity
- Capitalise on networking opportunities and increase the likelihood of success in career progression and employability
- Expand an outlook on new goals, strategies and processes and achieve these with more economy
The ailing traditional arrangement
Today, quality, formally structured programs are usually found at government, professional sporting and enterprise-level. Firstly, the success of these institutionalised programs is predicated on well established, funded, supervised and measured standards. This is often a burden on resources for organisations and groups lacking the budget or capital to support and sustain the level of quality. Secondly, a common challenge is an accessibility to such programs for individuals that are not in a pertinent position of privilege. Finally, it is a common challenge for younger mentees to be disappointed when in search of a mentor of personal admiration and equally so when the desire to develop chemistry at pace does not materialise. In my experience, if these fundamentals of traditional mentoring are not realised, the program will ultimately be ineffective.
Alternatively, your superior can provide a level of mentorship to you, however, a warning is heeded in this scenario. Unless there is a truly trustworthy, unbiased and formally structured set of principles to govern the arrangement, be sceptical on how you engage at this level. It is possible that a political minefield will still exist. If you are looking for hallmarks of a formally structured program. Seek:
- Clarity of purpose in the program
- Stakeholder training and briefing
- A values-based process for selection and matching
- Effective processes for measurement and review
- A high standard of ethics and pastoral care
- Support of participants throughout the process
In an era that is practically devoid of real face-to-face interactions, how have traditional programs adapted? Can we expect that mentorship programs are on the top of most organisations agendas right now? And, What can we do for ourselves to continue to prosper?
The fundamentals of traditional mentorship will always have a valuable and necessary place, however, an emergent methodology will continue to diverge from the face-to-face, one-to-one experience. With the rapid and forcibly expedited shift in the landscape, digital multichannel experiences, build-your-own programs and algorithmic mentorship will continue to develop at pace. Given this development, I would like to offer an alternative to you; The Digital Mentee.
The new way - The Digital Mentee
Even before the pandemic, truly face-to-face mentorship was already shifting from being supplemented by, to being replaced by Video Conference, Telephone, Social Media and Email in the Work-From-Home, Fluid Workspace and Digital Nomadic movements. Older models rely on a one-to-one model, supplemented by the above communication mediums. The Digital Mentee flips the model to seek a multichannel, customisable experience where digital network mentoring reigns supreme.
This is not a new concept, however, to illustrate the thinking of the new mentee experience, think of similar disruptions such as how Uber to Taxi’s, AirBnB to Hotels and now Facebook Horizon is to traditional mentorship. After all, asking for a formal mentoring relationship via traditional methods is like asking someone to take on a part-time unpaid job. With the above in mind, let’s explore a new, nimble way of providing yourself with the best foot forward, where you:
- Take full control of your mentor to mentee program, with a multichannel approach, accessing as many mentors as you require
- Have access to your dream mentor, who more digitally accessible than ever before
- Don’t have to know your mentors personally or source mentorship directly from a “real person”
Take full control of your mentor program, with a multichannel approach, accessing as many mentors as you require.
To reiterate, I am not recommending that you neglect traditional methods and dive into a fully remote, digital approach. I encourage that you seek out the real person-to-person connections using the same ideas from this article. Speak to those that you are already engaged with or inspired by and meet with them where possible. Activate your natural networks, which are guaranteed to possess a wealth of knowledge for you to discover. Engage authentically to unlock second and third degrees of separation in your networks.
Equip yourself with an evolving document that acts as a build-your-own program. Including a ranked list of your immediate and extended network, potential and dream mentors. Create a categorised index of useful sources such as documents, podcasts, videos and publications. Finally, have a reflective journal handy to record your experience, assigning yourself tasks and projects as required.
Build and consistently review your digital Bio, CV, skills and objectives, supplemented by reflective journaling and always have readily available assessment tools or feedback from previous interactions. Following this, research your prioritised mentor’s profiles and reflect on how they align with your profile and objectives to establish a compatibility level. Rate and review your scores and if this person or the potential relationship does not meet your criteria, make necessary changes. If you are already engaged with a person and it is not working, don’t be afraid to respectfully and strategically retreat.
If the above system does not resonate with you, go with your gut! How you approach this process is about what and who makes you feel good about your growth.
You possess access to your dream mentor, who more digitally accessible than ever before
People hold out for some officially sanctioned relationship that may never materialise to how they envisaged, why wait when you can go digital now? Enact your dream mentor list and be bold in reaching out or asking for introductions, activating your extended networks. Today, it is likely that your mentor is an instant message or email away and if you position yourself correctly, it is likely you will get a response.
Volunteer something to give value to your dream mentor, they will feel a natural sense of indebtedness. Think, The Ben Franklin effect. I started The Feel Good Blueprint to connect with inspiring people. In 2019, I was sitting at a lecture/meet and greet with 200 people, watching entrepreneurs Alex and Mimi Ikonn speak. 12 months later, I was having a one-to-one call with one of my dream mentors, Alex, asking him my very own questions. How? I was bold and I asked him if we could have a call, it was that simple.
For the mentors that you have made contact with and you feel that you have enough of a rapport with, firstly ask if you can stay in contact. Once confirmed, formulate great, succinct questions that are helpful to you but easy to answer and send these to mentors. Send your questions as required, but do not abuse the frequency. If you don’t get a response, be prepared to pivot, flex, review and refine your approaches. Remember, few careers, many mentors. Always be prepared to pivot and find mentors that are responsive and more aligned to your objectives, values and needs. Equally, learn to anticipate and respect when a mentoring association may be coming to an end or reaching its full potential. If possible, seek advice on possible next steps and pursue an informal alliance with this person as applicable
If you believe that you have a question or opportunity that cannot be formulated in written or recorded form, you can always integrate traditional methods. Be proactive and persistent where necessary in securing time with your mentor. If you have agreed on a scheduled time, book this in advance, but always show flexibility to their demanding schedule. Set your objectives in advance and be fully prepared for the dialogue. If the chemistry is apparent, explore exactly what objective that this network mentor can assist you with and proceed.
You don’t have to know your mentors personally or source mentorship directly from a “real person”
From ancient philosophy to today, the fundamentals have not shifted all that much. In every organisation, there is lurking an archetypical Nemesis, Narcissus, Chaos, Pandora, Medusa and countless others waiting to trip us up. These ancient teachings have been distilled and refined into real-world learnings thanks to Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday amongst countless others. Authors like these have taken the teachings of the East (Sun Tsu’s The Art of War) and West (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations) to now merge into wisdom-filled publications such as Tribe of Mentors, The 48 Laws of Power and The Obstacle Is The Way.
You don’t have to ever interact with a person, even digitally, for them to be your mentor. Seneca talks about finding yourself a person that is your yardstick or benchmark for any given situation and if you have the right data on this a particular topic, scrutinise it and ask yourself what this person would do in a given situation.
Online platforms like Quora and LinkedIn take your questions to a panel of the worlds best minds. Actively and promptly pursue network opportunities, resources or services of interest that the mentor may recommend. Free online learning resources continue to develop at breakneck speed. Use the power of free!
Love him or otherwise, Gary Vaynerchuk may end up being the epitaph of live digital mentorship. This year, Gary has evolved his popular Ask Gary Vee series to a live digital series, where, daily, he works through an impressive number of “every day” guests. Giving these people their 5 minutes of fame to ask his advice. Why not find your very own Gary V?
It may seem that we are a long way away from having artificial intelligence and machine learning stepping into the mentorship arena. The truth is that we are already in its early stages of Algorithmic Mentorship. For example, LinkedIn’s algorithm is designed to optimise your experience toward every click, swipe, tap or keystroke you make and so are all of your other online social interactions. In our current social (pandemic induced) predicament, I predict that as this technology grows, algorithmic mentorship will begin to be able to solve the concrete technical problems we face. More is to come about ethics and morality of this.
Just as people may have done in the late 2000's at the emergence of Facebook, It is not to be sneezed at the same way when Facebook Horizon-Oculus is fully realised and we will instantly be able to be in the right virtual place at the right time in order to get the best out of a digital mentoring experience.
How to build a successful network mentee mindset:
It’s that accumulation of bite sized conversations, one off comments, interactions and ideas that make the whole. So you will need to be patient and expect that you will come across frustrations. Be patient and allow time for the relationship chemistry to develop. Be aware to the level of that relationship and constraints of a virtual mentorship.
Work on your self-awareness. Be open to learning, to look outside yourself and the current environment for new opportunities. Be prepared to take personal and professional risks and be resilient when things don’t work. Run boldly into mistakes and humbly accept successes. Take ownership of your growth.
Whether you agree that the traditional model is shifting or not. It is evident that by resourcing ourselves with a self-managed mentor/mentee arrangments, we can be much more adaptable in a time that we are certain we will see digital learning continue to grow at pace. I may not be on my way to Fiji anytime soon, but travel restrictions cannot stop me and you from realising our potential in a digital world.
Now go forth, and be great!