Why You Should Build Your Mentor Network

By: Moha Shah

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Image Source: ThinkStock

At the 25th annual Dynamic Women in Business conference at Harvard Business School this year, the impressive list of keynote speakers comprised of Pampered Chef's CEO Tracy Britt Cool, Stitch Fix's CEO Katrina Lake, and SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan. Each CEO shared their personal story of becoming a CEO and the key mentors or influences they had along the way.

Tracy Britt Cool listed legendary Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett as her personal mentor who was gracious with his time and advice while she worked with him at Berkshire Hathaway. Katrina Lake cited her grandmothers as early influencers and her ex-boss, Joyus and theBoardlist CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, as a key mentor in shaping her path to CEO. And Melanie Whelan cited Sir Richard Branson, the legendary founder of the Virgin Group, as an important mentor to her when she joined the founding team of Virgin America at age 24.

Upon hearing the keynote speeches, I realized that there was one common denominator across all three CEOs' stories: they each had a strong mentor that shaped the trajectory of their career at a very early stage. And all three mentors - Warren Buffett, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, and Sir Richard Branson - are extremely influential in the business world.

But what if you don't have access to the high-powered mentors? You can still form your own tribe of mentors and a way that you connect with them both online or offline. My personal mentors hail from different cultural backgrounds and are several years older than I am. As a result, their advice comes from a different perspective than my own, which helps me think about an issue or inflection point in my career from a different angle.

Based on my experience, I encourage people to find mentors that think differently but share similar personal values about life as them. These types of mentors usually offer extremely constructive advice at critical junctures of your career.

Beyond my personal network, I proactively acquired several mentors online via Twitter. I am able to learn from and engage with the very same mentors that shaped the careers of Tracy Britt Cool, Katrina Lake, and Melanie Whelan, through Twitter. As a result, I crafted a virtual network of highly influential people without personally knowing them yet.

As your professional and personal networks expand during the course of your life, be sure to connect with people in person and online to develop a mentor network that is right for you. Also, be proactive about who you choose to mentor you, as different people can be helpful to you at various stages of your career. And perhaps most importantly, select diverse mentors - people who hail from a different age group, cultural background, or industry than you. You may be pleasantly surprised how a diverse mentor network can help you think about how to make a career transition from finance to journalism, or whether to accept that CEO role in Singapore.

Want to learn more on how to build your mentor network? Learn how to ask someone to be your mentor.

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Moha Shah managed projects worldwide at Harvard Business School for 10 years. She writes about leadership, women in business, and skills required in today's global knowledge economy. Follow her on Twitter via @globalmoha.

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