Keys for building a management career: mentors, coaches and the people around you ·
Having strong support and advisors is essential for effective career development. It is said that having the right support will constitute half of your success, while only half is your own doing. From my own experience, I believe this fully. A good guide will help you with so many essential things of building your career, that it is hard to exaggerate its meaning, just look at the list of benefits below and draw your own conclusion.
- Gives you proper advice and guidance
- Teaches skills & knowledge
- Gives special insights that are not common knowledge
- Shares his experience and acts as an example
- Opens your mind for new things and possibilities and widens your perspective
- Helps you to advance your career directly or indirectly
- Helps you build your network
- Prevents you from doing costly mistakes (that he did or knows about)
- Believes in you, even when your own belief is faltering
- Keeps you accountable
- Gives you feedback and helps you to see if you are moving to the right direction
- Pushes you, if you need it.
- Boosts your confidence
- Helps you to set high enough goals for yourself
- Helps you to solve problems that you encounter
- Helps you to ask the right questions
- Helps you make the right decisions
Mentoring and tactics of finding a mentor
Having a mentor can be a deciding factor on your career advancement – or at least it will be a huge accelerator for your career. Having access to someone who has already “made it” on his own is a huge benefit when you need advice and support. If you find someone who is competent and willing to invest his time on you, you are in for a great ride. The guidance, advice and support from a good mentor can be life changing.
While looking at all these benefits, having a mentor is a no-brainer. Why do so few have them? Finding a real mentor can be a very hard and daunting task, and sadly many people never find one. However, it is worth looking around with an open mind, and following the advice below.
You need to take a few things into consideration once you have decided to find a mentor.
First thing is to figure out what is the best place to go looking for one. As most mentoring is career related, we will divide potential candidates to the people inside and outside of the company you are working in. This is done because mentors inside and outside of your company will have a different influence on you and your career and they have different personal interests in mentoring you.
Second thing to consider, while looking for a mentor, is the purpose why you need one. You could have a mentor for a specific skill, job or project, or whole career (or even for your whole life). When you ask for mentoring, be clear on what you are looking for. Potential mentor needs to know your purpose and what type of help you are hoping for, before he can make a proper decision and commit to mentoring you. It is quite a different commitment to help for example on your coding skills, compared to mentoring your complete career advancement.
Third thing to consider is the strategy of getting the possible mentor to agree mentoring you. You will find advice on that in the article below.
Mentors inside the company
A mentor inside of your company will always have first and foremost the company’s interests and his own interest in mind. This means that their advice and support is mostly limited to things happening inside of the company, and you cannot expect objective career advice, when for example, the best thing for your career might be leaving the company, or your mentor’s team when he needs you there. There are off course exceptions for this rule, but unless you get some solid proof of exceptional objectivity, you should expect that this is the case. However the benefit of having a mentor inside of the company can be significant. The support, concrete advice and insights that he can give regarding the company can be extremely valuable to you. If your mentor is in a position of power, and appreciates your expertise and potential, he is able to speed up your career progression and promotions like nothing else. And there is nothing wrong with this kind of promotion path, as it is beneficial for the company, and the both of you.
Who to ask and how?
An ideal mentor would be a powerful and experienced senior leader or manager, who you have something common with. Best way to get a powerful mentor in your company is to go directly to your managers manager (or someone equivalent) and tell him that you are impressed on how he handles things. Collect a couple of good examples of his management or leadership skills in action to ask him about. Tell him that would like to learn from him and ask if he could spend maybe 15 minutes weekly or bi-weekly with you and give you some advice and feedback. Don’t ask directly for mentoring. The mentoring comes with a big responsibility and mentorship has to be usually earned, so asking someone out of the blue is not the best strategy.
If he agrees to meet with you, prepare all the sessions well. Think about good questions or learning topics for each session with your to-be mentor. They should be something that you know he has been working with and is good at. This session is also a perfect time to talk about any possible problems or challenges you have noticed in the company. Just make sure that for every problem you bring to him, you also have a few possible solution proposals to give. This way you will be giving back some information and ideas, and your to-be mentor will also get value from your short sessions.
If the things progress smoothly, and you both provide value to each other, the relationship can grow to full mentorship. Once you have been doing this for a while, you can ask the question. Just make sure that you do not rush into it, and you have built enough trust and respect between you two in your short sessions. If he says no (and he quite well might), ask if he knows anyone else, who he thinks could become your mentor. Tell him that you would have preferred him, but will trust his judgement, if he thinks someone else is a better choice. This will give you a second swing at him, and if he still doesn’t agree, you might still get a name with his recommendation to start the process again.
Another bolder strategy is just walk in, and pop the question and state your reasons: Something like this: “Hi, I am looking for a mentor. I want to build a successful career in this company and learn all the skills necessary. You are the one whose skills and work I admire, so I thought you would be the one I would like to learn from. Is there any chance, you would consider helping me?”. Something like this could work or not. When I think about myself in leadership positions, and someone would ask this out of the blue, my first reaction might be well to say no. However, if the potential mentee had been showing very good results and potential, and we already have a decent level relationship, I might just reward his boldness and agree.
Most successful leaders and managers are always looking for good people to grow and to help them reach their goals. There should be potential mentors in your company, as long as you don’t come out as too needy, show clear potential and commitment, and also provide some value for them. Nothing also prevents you from having a couple of these higher-level managers to talk with. It helps to get your name and face known around the company, which is always positive. Many higher-level managers appreciate when you approach them with valid questions, small requests and offer some valuable insights on what is going on inside the company on your level.
Having a high level mentor inside your company is one of the best ways to position yourself as a top candidate for any management position openings that are even remotely suitable for you. You have a powerful supporter who already trusts you and knows that you have taken initiative to improve things inside the company. He also knows that you are willing to grow and that you are looking for bigger responsibilities. The bonus for your mentor is that he knows, that you will probably work in the new position as he expects due to him teaching you. He can also trust that you listen to his advice also in the future so it is a win-win situation for both of you and for the company.
Your own direct manager can also be your mentor, but this is quite often not the most ideal situation. You should off course build a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship with your manager, but having him as your mentor can be very limiting to you, and trusting only his guidance can lead your career plans astray. The biggest drawback of having your direct manager as a mentor, is that there might be a serious conflict of interests between you two. Just imagine a situation where you start to catch up with him, and there are no other promotion opportunities besides his position in the company. If he is not ready to move on, and vacate the position for you, you are headed for a fight instead of a mentoring relationship.
Despite of these risks, you should off course try to learn as much as possible from your manager, having at least a light mentoring relationship with him. It will benefit both of you. Just remember, as much as you are an asset, a mentee or even a friend to your manager, you can quickly turn into a threat, and things can get heated, and you will lose your support and mentor. This is especially true in a situation where you are a young, ambitious, and growing fast, and your manager is already content in his position and the complacency has settled in and stifled his ambitions and growth.
There are off course exceptions to this, and the ideal situation would be when you both move up on the ladder on the same pace, and keep supporting each other as you go. If this is a possibility, then your direct manager is probably the best choice for a mentor inside the company you are working for.
It is worth noticing that If your relationship and trust with your direct manager is not on a good level, he can also pretty much make your life miserable, and stop or at least slow down your promotion aspirations.
A third option of having an inside company mentor is finding a senior colleague who is willing to become your mentor. This can be a very good option if you are not competing for the same positions and rewards. Easiest way to approach this is just get to know your colleagues, interact with them, and if you spot someone who you think might be able to mentor you, just ask him for it. Being asked to be a mentor by a colleague is quite an honour and shows respect towards your skills and experience. It is thus often welcomed, despite the initial surprise. Mentoring from a senior colleague will surely help you to improve your skills related to your work, and will most likely help you to build a better network inside the company through your mentors contacts and introductions. This kind of mentoring can also give you a good look on what happens “behind the curtains” with senior employees, and you can learn a lot of things that managers do not know or care about. Just remember that the risk of conflicting interests is also possible in this mentoring relationship, if you end up competing with each other for same resources or positions.
Mentors outside the company
Mentors can also be found outside of your company. Finding a good mentor this way can be extremely hard, and many people will never find one. Mentoring outside of your company and work relations usually means a close personal relationship, so many people shy away from giving and asking for it. The huge benefit of having a trusted mentor outside of your company is that they are able to look at your whole career and possibilities on a broad perspective, and often without a personal agenda. This is why mentors outside your company can be more easily trusted on giving objective advice for your benefit.
The major drawback is off course the fact that a mentor outside your company cannot influence things inside of your company and support your career advancement that way. It can, however result in recommendations for other companies through mentor’s network. It is also not unheard of, that a mentor has been preparing his own successor outside of the company, just to bring him in later.
To find a mentor outside your company, you need to look into your personal relationships. Maybe you have someone in your network, who already has the experience you are looking for, and would be willing to help you with his advice and support. Maybe you have some friends who are more advanced on their careers and could act as your mentors? Maybe some relative, even a distant one could do it? It is worthwhile to go through all your contacts and brainstorm for the possibilities. There might be some surprising people around you, who are willing and able to help, even if at the first sight it seems unlikely. It is also worth asking your network, if they would know anyone who they think could help you. This indirect question makes people think, and then hopefully realise, that they actually do know someone – themselves. You can be surprised how much people are willing to help, when you a humble enough to ask for it.
Depending on the relationship that you already have with a potential mentor, it might be better to first ask for some advice and just a bit of potential mentor’s time. If the things start going smoothly, and you get along well, you can then proceed asking for a real mentoring relationship.
A mentoring relationship should also usually be mutually beneficial, so in general mentors expect to gain some benefit out of it. Discuss this aspect with your potential mentor, so you do not get surprised if he comes asking for favours. There are people who like to give back, and enjoy helping out people just for the pleasure of it, but make sure this is the case, rather than just expecting it.
Coaching – the professional alternative for mentoring
Coaching for career development has been in the huge rise for the last years, as people have come to realise that mentors are essential, but very hard to find. The benefit of having a professional coach over a mentor, is that they are always focused only on your interest. They are in general more skilled in coaching, and thus will provide fast results. Working with coach will also take away the excess familiarity, personal issues and possible ego conflicts, so you can focus only on getting the results as fast as possible. With a professional coach you don’t need to have any bad conscience of taking someone’s time without being able to pay back.
The greatest benefit of having a professional coach, is that they come without any personal agenda. Their only goal is getting you the results that are truly best for you and they are not tied with the rules of personal relationships. This means that are willing to ask the hard questions, keep you accountable and push you past your own limits even when it is not easy or fun anymore. They also come with the experience of working with many people in your situation, so they will have proven methods and tools for the job.
Finding the right coach for you, and committing to work with him can be a life changing moment – especially if you never had anyone just focused on creating results with you, pushing you forward, showing you the way and keeping you accountable.
You can compare this to any professional sport. All the athletes have a coach – or actually several coaches, who keep making them better and better every day. It is a well-known fact, that behind every good athlete there is a good coach with his knowledge, support and discipline. The question is, that If all the professional athletes use coaches to perform often quite simple athletic feats, why aren’t the other non-sports professionals using them more? They are anyhow usually dealing with much more complex and challenging work and problems than athletes in their everyday jobs. You wouldn’t step into a boxing ring with a professional boxer without a proper training from a professional coach. Not even if you were a successful amateur boxer during your school years. Luckily the culture is changing, and high performers on every industry have come to realise that it is essential to have a coach or a mentor in their corner.
We all know how difficult it is to change our habits, even when we know it should be done. We know how challenging it is to keep executing all the needed hard work day by day. Especially on those days when we are tired and really do not feel like doing anything. It is even harder, if we are not sure, that we are doing the right things, and don’t get the proper feedback. It is no wonder that most people are under achievers. There is just so much confusion, and frustration to deal with, and so little good advice and support available. This is why a good professional coach will make all the difference on your career. He will provide you the advice and insights you need, and he will keep you focused. He will make sure that you are doing the right things, and that you are moving forward to the right direction – and he does this on a level that you have most probably never felt before.
I know for a fact that I wasted years and hundreds of thousands in potential salaries trying to figure out all the things by myself. Even with the help, that I got from my personal network of leaders and managers, (which I was lucky to have), I did not advance on my career as fast as I could have. The fact is that even as I had this good group of leaders to learn from, none of them really pushed me forward, focused on my results and kept me accountable. Also no one in the end helped me to reach the right career decisions or clarify and set proper goals for myself. Peer support will help you a lot, but it will not give you the tremendous push that a relentless coach – committed to your success – will give you.
The investment that you will make in coaching will most probably be the best investment for your life and career, that you ever made.
Firstly, it will get you all the knowledge and advice of the coach
Secondly, it will give you the support and discipline you need for doing all the right things.
Thirdly, it will be a very clear commitment that you do for yourself. When you spend your hard-earned money on a coach, you will feel a new level of commitment to change the things that need changing. You will make the decisions needed and take the action to take your career advancement to the level where you want it to be.
Fourthly, you will get a significant return of investment for cutting years off from your career progression and getting faster promotions and salary bumps.
The people around you
It is said that you are a sum of your five closest people. This is off course not a scientific fact, but having a good look of the people you spend your time with, confirms that this is usually not too far from the truth. If you spend the majority of your time with people not caring about careers or work, you will quickly find that you feel the same. If you spend your time with people who are constantly miserable and complaining, you will soon feel the same way. If you spend your time with leaders and managers, you will inevitably soon be one (if you have any inclination and capabilities for it). This is how I also got started with my management career. While my friends were building their management careers and becoming leaders, I also woke up and realised that
a) This career is also possible for me, as my friends are just normal people. Most of them were not “born leaders” or coming from special families or universities. Still, they were creating successful management careers and had the rewards to show for it.
b) This career seems to be very rewarding in many ways. My friends seem to be happy with their careers, and their lives are getting enriched by the possibilities that the high-paying jobs of managers and leaders provide.
c) I have lots of information and support available from my friends regarding starting and building the management career and learning everything that is needed on that career.
There is also a positive pressure from this kind of group, as you see them raising in positions and in wealth. I’ve always had a bit of competitive quality in me, so I off course wanted to show that I can take the challenge, and have a successful management career as well. And there is also naturally the status side of the things. If you spend all your time with leaders, not being one yourself, on some level you can start feeling that reflecting on your own status among the friends. There is no denying that being a professional leader has a significant status value in our society.
So, If you have people around you, who are already established on their management careers, try spending more time with them. It will do you good in many ways, as described earlier. Just check your ego here, as if you are just starting your career, you can feel easily threatened around successful established leaders. Rather than competition, imagine these people as your big brothers or sisters, able to help you to grow to be like them – or at least grow your career to resemble theirs. Be inspired rather than envious. It doesn’t hurt to have a bit of competitive spirit in you, but don’t let your ego to take over, and prevent you from spending time with these people and learning from them. Accepting the help and support humbly will make you fly instead of walking.
Disclaimer: Yes, I am a coach myself. And yes, if you are serious about your career and becoming a leader, I hope you would consider my services after reading this. You can apply for a free 1on1 Discovery Coaching Cession here to find out, if we could work together to get your career to next level. However that does not change the fact, that I believe fully in what I wrote above about mentoring and coaching. If you really want to take your career to the next levels, having a guide on your journey will help you tremendously, and you should take advantage of that. Many of your high-aiming colleagues are already doing that, and you might risk being left behind, if you do not use all the available tools to improve your performance and advance your career. There are many coaches available to choose from, so it doesn’t need to be me. I am in this business to help as many people as possible to realise their dream careers. So in the end, I am happy if you follow my advice, and just find yourself a mentor or any coach, and start working to become the best version of yourself you can be!
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