When Kobe Bryant Met Michael Jackson: Why Cross-Industry Mentoring Relationships Are Super Successful

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If you’re running a business or building your career, surely it makes sense to have a mentor who works in the same industry as you. After all, how much can you really learn from someone who doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of the field you’re working in?

On the face of it, this reasoning seems logical, but high quality mentoring relationships are characterised by something far greater than the shared bond of common industry: they’re a close relationship built on trust, disclosure, vulnerability and commitment.

The bond between mentor and mentee offers incredible opportunities for personal growth, learning and discovery for both parties. These relationships are safe havens where, as an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, you’re free to be yourself and to grow in your business or your career. When you view mentoring in a holistic way like this, it’s really irrelevant what industry you and your mentor come from.

A relationship based on shared values

One of the best examples of this kind of relationship is the one between NBA legend Kobe Bryant and Prince of Pop Michael Jackson, who mentored Bryant for two years. At the ideas festival Summit LA17 last year, Bryant told the crowd that Jackson was an amazing teacher who could draw lessons from everything around him.

“Everything he saw – everything in the world – was a library to him,” Bryant said. “Everything was an opportunity to get better.” Jackson was reportedly inspired by everything from the way a tree moved in the wind to how a child interacted with his mother. “That is the biggest lesson I took away.”

Bryant then went on to be mentored by acclaimed composer John Williams, responsible for film scores such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. He originally reached out to Williams in 2008 after his team lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals. He said he was looking for direction: “I felt like there was something I could learn from the way he composes his pieces and the way he directs an orchestra.”

Though from seemingly disparate worlds, Bryant could see a direct link between an orchestra and a basketball team: “They all behave independently of each other, but all rely on each other to create this timeless piece of music.”

Jo Burston, the Founder and CEO of the global entrepreneurial hub Inspiring Rare Birds, shares this sentiment about mentoring and says having the same industry in common “is completely irrelevant”.

“The fundamentals of the function of business are the same no matter what industry you’re sitting in. Great mentors will open doors that you’ve not even thought about going through,” she says.

“It’s dangerous to have a closed mindset about who you believe is the best mentor for you, because you’re there to learn, not teach. If you become the oracle in the relationship, you’re limiting your growth to what you believe they can give you, not what they actually could provide to you without your you even knowing what it is,” she says.

How to build a great mentoring relationship

So how can you develop a high quality relationship with an existing or future mentor? Consider the value you can get from and bring to the relationship beyond the information, contacts and resources that are specific to the industry you’re in.

Share your experiences, be authentic and show you value your mentor. Bring positive energy and vitality to your meetings, and empower and accept each other. Feeling psychologically safe will help you and your career or business to grow, and will foster a meeting of minds.

Here are 5 more reasons why cross-industry mentoring truly works:

  1. They’ll give you a fresh perspective of the industry in which you’re operating.
  2. They provide a ‘big picture’ view of the marketplace, so you can develop your unique value proposition more successfully.
  3. They provide intrapreneurs with transferrable skills.
  4. They can introduce you to completely new network of contacts.
  5. They can connect you with resources used successfully by experts in other fields.


Are you looking for a high quality mentor to help your career or business grow? Using our sophisticated online platform, mentees are matched with appropriate mentors based on professional needs, business challenges, personality traits and operating style, in order to create productive and rewarding partnerships. Find out more here.

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