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.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
If you’re considering going into management take the time to think about how you show up with these five foundational leadership questions. What’s important to consider is that if you don’t have these intangible skills now can you develop them over time? The answer is most definitely yes, it’ll just take time, patience and a willingness to always be learning.
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.