As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
It’s amazing at how many things are sold to professionals which claim to be the next best thing in advancing your career. From books and seminars to workshops and online tutorials, there seems to be an endless supply of crap that many of us buy to help our careers yet few ever see any real return on investment.
There is one thing that doesn’t rely on fancy sales pitches or overdone workbooks and it can truly elevate your professional game. Best part is we all have access to it and most often it is completely free of charge.
Welcome to MENTORSHIP.
No matter where you are in your career having a mentor is highly advisable as it can be the difference between you navigating the waters of a successful career versus drowning in the murky depths of the rat race. Mentors aren’t just strategic career advisors they’re the angel over your shoulder whispering sweet nothings into your ear.
So if having a mentor was so impactful how come more people don’t have them?
Typically it’s because we’re scared to ask for help. It’s possible we don’t think we need the help, though many would object. It could also be because we don’t know where to look to find such a connection.
At the start of this year I decided it was high time to get me a new mentor. I’ve been lucky in my life to have a consistent and very good mentor in my father which I’m incredibly thankful and fortunate to have. I was looking for an additional mentor that had specific experience – growing a business from the ground up and doing so with a technical customer base.
After doing some snooping around I landed on the website of Micro Mentor. It’s like a dating site for professionals looking for a mentor, but no hanky panky is involved. You fill out a profile and then your needs and interests are matched with a possible mentor. Both parties get to review one another’s profiles after which they have an initial conversation to see if the match is a good fit. This is where I met Bonnie.
Fast forward Bonnie and I have now been working together for eight months and I’m continually impressed and appreciative of the guidance and thought provoking perspective she brings to the table. Bonnie started a technology service business in San Francisco a couple decades ago by investing a couple thousand dollars to start the company. From that start she grew the business to over 100 employees and has recently retired, earlier nonetheless, as a result of the success she experience along the way. Needless to say I feel like I can accomplish a lot knowing I have Bonnie in my corner. (let’s also not forget my father)
Why am I sharing this with you? If you don’t have a mentor you need to get one!
The relationship, when done right, will positively change every aspect of your career and outlook on business. I’m so passionate about mentoring that I too am a mentor – it’s worth every minute of my day.
Here’s what mentors, like Bonnie and my father, bring to the table and why they’re so incredibly valuable to you and I:
> Business Savvy – they bring experience and knowledge to the table that just can’t be matched by a text book or online workshop. You can’t replace real experience. Learning from a mentor isn’t just about accomplishing big feats it’s also about learning from their mistakes. Yes they’ve made plenty of them just like you and I.
> External Perspective – often times when we need advice we go to people who are close to us, most commonly that work for the same company. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing what is important to remember is that these people have a certain level of bias in their thoughts and advice. Having a mentor outside your company gives you the chance to get advice which focuses on the situation at hand rather than personal bias or internal company politics. Mentors can also share with you how they have dealt with situations perhaps in other lines of business or industries which could provide you with a fresh approach to handling a situation. When your mentor is outside your company you can also rest easier knowing you can share your true feelings and thoughts and know that information won’t get back to your boss or be passed along at the water cooler.
> Confidant – Mentor are great listeners. Like my mentor Bonnie, she’ll sit on the phone with me and graciously give me ample time to spill my guts at which point she does an excellent job summarizing the situation and delivering exceptional feedback. I trust that I can be open with her which ultimately helps my development process.
> Accountability – Mentors vary greatly in this area and how they approach it. If you are going to ask for a mentor make sure you are willing to actually implement the ideas and suggestions the two of you collectively come up with. There’s no better way to ruin a good mentor relationship than to talk the talk but not walk the walk. If you are one of those people that sometimes needs a swift kick in the ass to get going mentors can also be utilized for that, just be careful how much ass kicking you need. Mentors ultimately aren’t baby sitters and they’re not supposed to run your business or career for you.
> Comfort Zone Executioners – let’s face it, we all love dancing in the comfort zone for longer than we should. Mentors are great at breaking up common thoughts or practices to get you out of your area of complacency. When this happens true growth is right around the corner.
Could your boss stand up to a Jedi from the movie Star Wars? Before you go dismissing it as if there’s no way in hell your boss could go toe to toe with a Jedi, let’s take a moment to see how GREAT leaders stand up to the defenders of the galaxy and beyond.
As you may know by now, Star Wars is back! Han Solo, along with Chewy, R2D2, and a whole list of other great supporting characters, reunited for a movie that is sure to break all sorts of box office records, sending fans screaming for more. Growing up in a generation where Star Wars was basically the second coming, I found myself oddly intrigued with the concept of the Jedi and that little green guy named Yoda.
With the new movie coming out in December I’ve spent some time reading up on what it’s all about and in the process I’ve stumbled upon an interesting parallel between the Jedi and present day business leadership. (Good leadership, that is) Weird as that may seem, it’s striking the similarities when you put them side by side one another.
Before we get into those similarities, it would be good to provide a little overview of who the Jedi are in the event you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 some odd years and aren’t familiar with them. The Jedi are the protectors of ‘good’ and vanquishers of ‘evil’ in the movie saga, Star Wars, which was originally released in 1977 by George Lucas. Jedi live their lives to serve others and have an insatiable drive and focus on honing their craft, which is the search for knowledge and the development of the use of the ‘Force’.
Now that we have a basic understanding of our Jedi compadres, let’s take a look at their characteristics:
serving others, patience, humility, discipline, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, teaching others, listening, observing, preparedness, positive mindset, defending others
Now, think about your boss. Hopefully doing that doesn’t make you spasm with angst. Go back through the list of Jedi characteristics and see how many of them your boss possesses. If you’re part of the growing number of Americans in the work force which have underperforming leaders you may find that your current boss would get their rear end handed to them in a battle royale against a Jedi. We’re at a (good) leadership deficit in the States, and the gap only seems to be widening. That said, you may need to compare the characteristics of the Jedi to the best leader you know; in doing so, things start to balance out. It won’t be perfect but what you’ll see is the similarities between being a great leader in business and being a Jedi in Star Wars are one in the same.
It all starts with mindset. To be a Jedi, you have to master your mindset first, then you can move onto the incredibly difficult, life consuming task of training. If you are a Jedi you know firsthand it is impossible to be perfect therefore rigorous training and continuous development are essential. Being a great leader is exactly the same. To be a great leader one must have a positive mindset which then becomes the foundation for who they are, WHY they do what they do and what they stand for. Only then can a leader in todays’ business world successfully start to lead others.
It doesn’t stop with our mindset, it also has to do with our outlook on people. Both Jedi and great leaders serve others, viewing leadership as a servant role rather than a perch which one can dictate from. When we focus on serving others we find that we are more patient, humble about who we are and what our part is in the grand scheme of things and ready to take blame while defending others when need be. Great leaders spread the wealth and give praise to those around them rather than taking the kudos themselves. Their team is first, as they are a servant and only as good as those who make up the team.
Good leadership, like being a Jedi, can only be accomplished when we are sound of mind. Our self-health is a prime indicator to our success rate in leadership. When leaders focus on having an open positive mindset, are continuously developing themselves and lead by example, they are building the cornerstone for a present day Jedi, one which others will follow willingly not because they are told too, but because they believe in them.
Like being a Jedi, being a leader is a commitment often times larger than life itself and to be great you must CHOOSE to do so. One cannot just say “I’m going to be a great leader”, it’s your actions, not just words that make the difference. Once you develop the correct mindset, you will find your inner Jedi emerges, helping you lead successfully while serving those who are the most important – your team.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.