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Talent Development

Crowdsource Your Mentors: Harness Networks For Career Support And Leadership

In the face of the ever-changing knowledge economy; now more than ever, there is no manual for a successful career (however one chooses to define success). After nearly 10 years in the working world, I’ve unconsciously sought and received mentorship from a “crowd” of engaging, successful and extremely generous people.


The traditional mentor model involves one-on-one guidance where a senior/seasoned professional provides advice, guidance and advocacy (for the career of) a younger/emerging professional. A few years back the President of the association management company I work for, Base Consulting, was assigned to serve as my mentor; this relationship has been highly productive we shared some of our thoughts on how to structure a mentorship program in an article for Forum e-magazine.

It is important to note that a traditional mentor may be part of your wider “crowd” and is likely to be giving more specific thought to what will be most helpful to you.


It is helpful to understand what I mean by crowdsourcing, and to be very clear that in this instance I do not mean crowdsourced funding (such as the process employed by kickstarter and similar websites). I’m talking about crowdsourcing as the gathering of ideas/data/information from a large group of people (the crowd). Crowdsourcing is most useful when that information is then consolidated, with the very best ideas used to draw a conclusion or a solution.

Last year I attended TEDxToronto for the second time. One of the talks that got me thinking was given by Vas Bedner that outlined the potential application of crowd sourcing to solve public policy challenges (the video really gets into the heart of the issue around 4:15). If crowdsourcing can be applied to policy – one of my first loves – it must be applicable to other everyday situations!


I have used the advice, counsel and constructive criticism offered up by peers, bosses and others as open data in my crowdsourced mentor model. None of this was done with some grand plan in mind, instinctually I have cultivated a crowd (network) that has provided me with the ideas, data and information that I have used to make decisions in my career and in life.

Step 1: Find your crowd. Your crowd will shift over time, it must be continuously refreshed, and sometimes a light spring-cleaning will also be in order. Not everyone in your vast network is a suitable member of your crowd. The most enduring and insightful members of my crowd have achieved an element of success in an arena where I aspire to be a player. Is this person someone you want to emulate?

In the case of my very first boss I found someone with a similar educational background, similar beliefs and values, and in terms of a world view that includes gender equality. We were also both on the same page with career goals I would be more than pleased to follow. As it turns out, I have been lucky that she is always generous with her time and advice.

Step 2: Listen and Learn. As with open data, the advice that your crowd gives you every day is useless to you unless you capture (listen and absorb) it in an algorithm (in this case good judgement) designed to make the best use of the consolidated data (a solution or plan of action). Sometimes the best advice must be plucked from in among some unsolicited advice you have no interest in hearing.

To return to my life as a political staffer, or rather, to the-beginning-of-the-end of that chapter of my life: In the summer of 2007 with the government I worked for facing a fall election I began to consider if it might be time to consider doing something else, had I made the difference in government that I had come to make? Was it time to move on? A senior (to me) colleague and I were having lunch one day when she asked me “so what do you want to be, a better policy advisor?” While I am sure that she was trying to get me to give some consideration to my options, I doubt that she meant for that line to be the only thing I remember 6 years later.

Step 3: Act! Once you know that the source is worthy (step 1) and have noted the gems of advice (step 2) its time to act. The plan of action in this case is how to move forward in your career and in life.

So there you have it, rinse, lather and repeat! A special thanks to my crowd, who remind me every day of my favorite quote by Booker T. Washington ~ “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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