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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.

Traditional Mentor Model

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!

Harnessing My Accidental Record

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.

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Learn more 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.”

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