Mentoring and networking are two critical components of career advancement, regardless of profession, gender, race or other characteristics. Mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A network is a set of human contacts known to an individual (the index individual), with whom that individual would expect to interact at intervals to support a given set of activities. An individual’s network can be an extremely powerful tool to share professional experiences, obtain guidance and enhance one’s reputation and career. Virtually all successful people have developed and utilized networks to advance professionally.
Explore This IssueDecember 2012
The size and composition of a network can vary greatly, and the power of a network depends on the breadth and diversity of the individuals in it. For example, a young assistant professor in otolaryngology (the index individual) who networks exclusively with other young assistant professors in the same specialty may benefit from sharing experiences that will enhance career development. This level of network is easy to establish and maintain. However, because the network is fairly homogeneous, the opportunity to learn is limited to this small group. On the other hand, if the young assistant professor includes not only peers, but also higher ranking individuals, he/she derives the benefit of years of diverse experiences. Although it takes more of an effort to extend the network beyond the comfort of those individuals with whom you are familiar and have common interests, the inclusion of more senior individuals will add power to one’s network. Perhaps the ultimately powerful network is one in which the members include those who are in positions not directly related to otolaryngology. Some of these opportunities for connection include people who are in senior medical administration, health policy, health care-related industries and even nonmedical positions. Therefore, as a general rule, the larger and more diverse a network, the more benefit it brings to the index individual. By diverse, we include considerations of profession (physicians and nonphysicians), age (experience), gender, race and myriad other factors, all of which add power to the network.
What does diversity bring to an individual’s network? The benefits of these relationships include learning about health care issues that transcend otolaryngology as well as educational and employment opportunities with the potential for influencing health care on a much broader level. Furthermore, different people have different styles in analyzing issues and solving problems. By having the ability to glean ideas from the network members, the index individual can gain insight into various options on how to address a given issue or make a career decision. Also, the access to these different perspectives can provide the index individual with more confidence to share ideas, make personal changes and create solutions to problems.
Another advantage of a diverse network is that it expands the thought processes of the index individual. Different ideas always challenge and expand one’s reasoning ability. Furthermore, a large, diverse network will help the index individual expand his/her view of the world from a limited local perspective to a more global view, depending on the size of the network. For example, if our hypothetical young assistant professor’s network is limited to peers, the issues and solutions tend to be only those of individuals in that same professional standing. With a larger, more diverse network, the issues still include those assistant professors face, but will also cover broader topics that are equally, if not more important, particularly when it comes to career advancement. It is intellectually stimulating to expand one’s horizons and learn about other aspects of life, both professional and nonprofessional.
Mentoring throughout one’s career is very important for advancement. One type of mentor is an individual who is appointed to advise or guide a more junior inexperienced individual. Formal mentoring arrangements can be useful, but we have found most mentees naturally gravitate to a more senior individual of their choice for guidance. This relationship is clearly part of a network, and it is likely that several members of the network serve as mentors, each with an area of expertise valuable to the index individual, again supporting the concept of a diverse network.
How does one develop a diverse network? Passiveness rarely works, and so the individual should push one’s comfort zone and actively seek out individuals to include in the network as appropriate. Strong, diverse networks do not develop overnight, and most successful individuals have developed their network over time, always expanding it and nurturing its members. As a network grows, it actually becomes easier to expand because the existing members will introduce the index person to other members of their networks, causing an almost exponential growth. Furthermore, expansion means inclusion of the index individual in the networks of the other network members, which can be a valuable source of contacts for advice, information or other purposes.
The power and techniques of developing a network are taught in business school because the importance of a network in any business is critical to success. Medical schools generally do not emphasize the development of a network, which is a shame because it leaves the medical student adrift with regard to this critical aspect of professional development.
Our article “Women Otolaryngoloist Representation in Specialty Society Membership and Leadership Positions,” published in the November issue of The Laryngoscope, describes a snapshot of the status of women otolaryngologists in leadership positions (Laryngoscope. 2012;122:2428-2433). The data show that women have made strides in this area. Current medical leaders (both male and female), either through personal insight or guidance from a mentor, have all developed diverse networks that they have used to achieve professional growth. To build on the success they have achieved, otolaryngologists (female and male) could learn from these successful leaders and establish broad, diverse networks.
Reprinted with permission from The Laryngoscope (2012;122:2434-2435).
Dr. Miller is executive director of the American Board of Otolaryngology, visiting professor, Bobby R. Alford department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and physician editor of ENT Today.
Dr. Choi is vice-chief, division of otolaryngology at Children’s National Medical Center and professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.