[IMGCAP(1)]Mentors are big these days, and with good reason. The solicitous interest of an experienced professional can make all the difference in a young accountant’s career. Forward-thinking firms are requiring their partners to serve as mentors, and assigning them as individual Virgils to entry-level staff to guide them through the various circles of the profession and prevent them from straying into other industries. Mentoring is particularly important when it comes to bringing women and minorities into the fold, since they are often excluded from the pathways of promotion (or feel they are, which amounts to the same thing), and being mentored provides them not just with a hand up, but a way to visualize themselves as members of the profession.
With all that in mind, we decided to ask this year’s Top 100 Most Influential People how many of them had mentors who influenced them. After all, many of the T100 are, arguably, some of the highest-achieving people in the profession, so we thought it would be interesting to know if there was a common thread among them. And as it turned out, the overwhelming majority of them did have mentors, to whom they attributed no small measure of their success, and the very few who did not have mentors wistfully regretted the fact.
The most interesting thing to me, however, was not how many had mentors — it was how many noted the influence of more than one mentor on their career, with a significant number of the T100 citing two, three and often many more people.
This suggests a couple of things. First, as valuable as it is to a young accountant to be assigned a single mentor who will pay close attention to their career, they’ll often need or find others. No one should assume that their first mentor is their last, or only, and it should be obvious that a person who is a great guide at one point in someone’s career may not be able to help at another point.
Second, and what I think is far more important, is that the profession is going to need a lot more mentors. Pioneering firms are beginning to realize this, making staff development part of all partners’ duties (and reinforcing it in their compensation plans), but if the profession is to create the next generation of leaders it so desperately needs, everyone is going to have to step up and play a role in mentoring the rising cohort.
This doesn’t have to mean signing up to helicopter-parent multiple staff Is on a daily basis. But it does mean being conscious of the responsibility all the time, habitually seeking out the teachable moment, staying alert for the turning point or the moment of doubt, and then being ready to step up. There are lessons that can be imparted in small bursts and others that require sustained programs. You can meaningfully mentor someone in under a minute, influencing the course of their career by, say, modeling the right ethical behavior in a difficult situation — and then explaining that behavior. In a different situation, you might show a young accountant who isn’t your official mentee how to up-sell a client, or manage a dispute between two employees.
It is common to suggest that older accountants say, “I had to figure it out; why shouldn’t they?” The obvious answer is that making everyone figure it out on their own is wildly inefficient; it’s far better to teach them now and let everyone reap the benefits. And to that end, everyone should be ready to share, to teach, to encourage and to inspire, whenever the opportunity arises.
Mentoring, it turns out, is for everybody.
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