Thursday, January 10, 2008

Someone in Your Corner

There has been plenty of advice these days about how each of us is responsible for our own careers and our own success, but there is one aspect that has been overlooked when counseling such a strategy: It’s lonely. And scary.

It is not a weakness to admit you’d like to have someone in your corner as you plot your next move. You may feel isolated because everyone else is so intent plotting their own job strategies, or you may just be totally in the dark about what exactly a “next step” means.

Whatever the reason, forming a career path that makes sense for you can be a daunting task.

That’s why mentors can prove to be a gift from the gods for those who need someone not only providing advice based on experience, but a supportive pat on the back when it’s needed.

The advantage of having a mentor is that is gives you a person who will provide honest feedback in a secure environment. It helps you to work on the areas that you need to grow and develop.

While many companies help workers set up mentoring relationships, there are times when an employee may want to seek out help confidentially. In that case, begin by deciding your needs, your goals and your skill gaps. Then decide who would best help you meet those goals and needs.

Keep in mind that some mentoring relationships may last less than a year, and may end when a specific goal is accomplished. This short-term mentoring also may appeal more to the mentor, since it does not require a long-term -- and possibly endless -- drain on his or her time.

Once you’ve thought it carefully through, then you can ask this person to meet you for coffee or lunch, and test the waters. You want to be sure that anything that is said will be kept confidential if a mentoring relationship is established. Trust and confidentiality are critical because you’re going to really make yourself vulnerable by laying it all out there.

Another issue to consider is whether you need skill advice, or career advice. A professional organization or local university may be able to provide you a mentor that can improve a specific set of skills, but choosing a career mentor may require more time and thought since you will be plotting your next 10 or 20 years of worklife based on this advice.

Some other things to think about:

* Find a mutual benefit. When you find someone you think would be a good mentor, look for ways to offer something in return. If you're a technology whiz and the mentor is not, offer to help with this aspect.

* Be respectful. Show up for scheduled meetings, don't hog all the mentors time, listen carefully and take notes and make sure you always express your appreciation and above all, be willing to take the mentor's advice. If you're going to argue or ignore everything the person says, then you might as well forget it and let the mentor have his or her valuable time back.

* Pay it forward. Mentors have a sense of service to to others, or they wouldn't be helping you out. It's important to them to know they've had an impact and that their service will be passed on. Let them know that one day you hope to help someone else, if you haven't done so already.



Anonymous said...

What a wonderful point - consider your career path even when you aren't specifically seeking a new position! Plan ahead and network to gather information for the sake of knowing it!

Wouldn't it be nice if all companies set up "mentoring" relationships for new employees? Although "forced" relationships may or may not pan out, at least the concept of helping a colleague would be noted as a valuable use of time.

You mention the idea of seeking mentoring from a local university or professional organization, both excellent potential resources. Another source is an individual's own college or university. Many career centers and alumni associations set up programs to match people for mentoring opportunities all around the country.

Thanks for the great post. I hope you won't mind if I link to it in one of my future blogs on Keppie Careers.

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

Thanks for your insights...Always glad to have someone link.

Dan McCarthy said...

I've recently discovered your blog and thinks it's great! I read about it in a Marshall Goldsmith article, googled your book title, and found your site. I started reading your blog and couldn't stop. The issues are very relevant and your advice is right on!

I'm the manager of leadership and management development for a leading provider of payroll and human resource outsourcing services. I've been in the field of leadership development for about 20 years and have a Masters in Organizational Development.

I just started writing my own leadership development blog called Great Leadership by Dan, I've tried to set it up as a one-stop-shopping site for everything you need to know about leadership development. Most of what I include or write about is based on the issues and trends I'm experiences in my own company.

I just added a new post that featured your "Someone in your corner" post and added your blog to my favorite blogs list. In my post, I gave credit and linked back to your blog. That seems to be the blogger protocol, but please let me know if you'd rather I remove it and I will.

I also notice you have a resource section for those interested in a management career. Give all I do is development managers, I'd appreciate it if you consider adding my blog as a resource.


Dan McCarthy

Anita said...

Welcome! Always glad to have another visitor and happy you found the blog worthwhile. I hope people will visit your blog...I certainly found it worthwhile and look forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

Anita -- very good insight as to a career search being a lonely task.

This is especially true if one is looking to move outside your current workplace -- having people know you are looking can cut you off from good opportunities at work because it is assumed you will leave.

I've always had an issue with mentors and I don't know why. Perhaps it is the assumption that mentors know more than I or can see more than I can into the abyss. That they are naturally higher in the food chain and therefore are better. I just don't think that's true.

However, having someone to work with on career hopes, issues, and dreams is a good thing. A person who acts as a coach can prod a person into knowing the right direction, can help the person find new skills, and can help a person analyze different career positions and directions.

Regardless if we call this person a coach or a mentor, having someone on the outside looking in is a good thing. We're all just too close to our own work to see everything we need to see.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I've been lucky to have a few informal mentors inside and outside of the organization. Although we've never had that formal "will you be my mentor" conversation, I have been able to go to them for feedback and persepctive. Their help has been invaluable.

Anita said...

One of the most valuable coach/mentor comments ever made to me was: "What the hell are you doing? Are you nuts?" Wow...what a wakeup call. I was really going off on a wild tangent that was clearly a bad move, but I was so entrenched in the situation I couldn't see straight. Sometimes coaches/mentors arent't there to be supportive and show you the love...sometimes they're most valuable when they kick your butt.

Shawn: It can be sort of awkward asking someone to be a mentor the first time...sort of like asking for that first date when you're 17 and you're trying to be cool but sweating bullets. But I think when you approach it as mutually beneficial, it makes it easier.