Historically, a mentor is the solution to your career advancement. He (and it always was a "he") will support you in professional development, guide you through the political maze of your organization, teach you the necessary street smarts to keep you from making people blunders, prepare you for leadership and recommend you when the time comes for a promotion.
That's no longer the case. With today's fast-changing technology, project and team-based environment, volatile marketplace and organizational changes such as outsourcing, downsizing, mergers, buy-outs and bankruptcy, it's absolutely impossible for a mentor to provide the help and support you need.
So, what's the alternative to a mentor?
I'm not being cute. I just want to make certain that 21st century mentoring gets a better hearing, and makes it clear that the traditional route of a single mentor is a set-up for eventual failure. Instead, as Kathy Kram and Monica Higgins make clear, the alternative to that single mentor is a developmental network of mentors--a group of individuals who have a geniuine interest in your growth. They may not know each other, may not be in the same departments and may be in different organizations at different locations. But these are the people you've enlisted to provide you with the mentoring support to enable you to take the next step forward in your career, whatever that may be.
Typically, a mentor network includes five or six people. And as you gradually change positions by going up the ladder, moving laterally or even changing companies, your network makeup will also change. It will be based upon your needs.
A mentor network will require new relationship skills for most people including the ability to identify useful mentors, initiate conversations with people you don't know and initiate requests for feedback.
The 21st century career puts career responsibilities on you--responsibilities that were managed by the organization in the 20th century. That world is gone and the new world requires a far larger toolkit.