Successful people get the most help
In my experience, mentors have a bigger impact on your success than virtually anything you can do outside of your own efforts.
Building your career without mentors is like climbing Mt. Everest without a guide and a Sherpa. Sure, you can attempt it — but why would you?
Get the advantage
If you rely on your personal talents and energy alone, you are at an extreme disadvantage to those that get help — both in terms of getting your current job done well, and also in getting ready for, and getting access to your desired job.
Important types of mentors
4. Air Cover
Where do you get your ideas?
Who challenges your thinking in a positive way? Big imagination is required to do your job in a stand-out way. What fuels your imagination?
Most of my biggest successes have started from other people’s ideas, challenges or inspiration. Whether it’s how you solve problems or create new opportunities, you can’t do it if you never think of it!
Mentors can help a lot, because they typically have a very different perspective.
To fuel your imagination, look for mentors who:
Are 2-3 phases ahead of you in the maturity of how your job function is done. This can be in a bigger company or a more established business or product line. This type of mentor can help you find your blind spots — the things that will keep you from advancing as the company grows if you don’t figure it out in time.
Work at a much bigger scope or geography than you. You need to learn the processes and techniques they use that help them do a bigger job than you do. This type of mentor is critical to make sure you are scaling your skills and approach as your business scales, vs. doing things the same way when a new approach is necessary, or making only incremental improvements.
Do your job in different industries. For example, a Ford employee actually got the initial idea for the assembly line by visiting a butchery. Seeing how other industries solve similar problems, can help you see completely different ways of doing things which will be innovations in your world.
It’s easy to get so tied up in what you are doing, that you can lose sight of the reality of changing attidudes, business conditions, or market landscape.
So look for mentors who are:
10-15 years older and way ahead of you career-wise. This is so important. Having a mentor who has traveled your road already, can help you see the opportunities you are not seeing, navigate land mines, work through unspoken rules, and point out opportunities to change the game that you might not see on your own.
In their 20’s and are a master at social networking. If you are over 40, you need keep up with how the world is communicating. Make sure you know all the ways to share information and engage your customers and your network.
Talented business people in other functions. This is important because you get ideas not only for general leadership techniques, but “man on the street” insights about how people in other areas view what makes your function successful.
Look for mentors who are In the job you aspire to. This is critical — you get an advocate on “the inside”. They can help you really learn what that job is about, and expose you to the real requirements, so you can be more prepared when you go for it. Your mentor can help you practice thinking about the role, or maybe even help arrange for you to take on some projects to get real experience.
A key point: Your mentor also gets you acccess to jobs like theirs when they come up, because being in that role, they get asked who to consider – and as your mentor they recommend you!
You have less ability to execute if you do not have a strong network. Sure, you need to be building your personal network directly, but mentors can expand your network exponentially; not just in terms of size but also level and usefulness. Your mentors will often have a bigger, higher-level, and very different network than you.
4. Air Cover
If you are at a big company and you want to grow your career there, you need a mentor in your company who is at your boss’s level or higher. You need someone on your team in the room when you are not there to defend your honor. (At a big company there are lots of things that can happen to you based on discussions in rooms that you are not in.)
A mentor, by definition cares about you and your success, and having someone higher up in the organization who can advocate on your behalf is critical.
They can also help you learn (and practice) what it means to socialize and “fit in” at that level, which can be as important as skills and experience when a candidate is chosen.
Finally, you can’t have too many smart people in your life. Spending time with people you learn from is a big part of creating success. What are your personal learning goals? What learning agendas do you have for your organization? What do you want to be better at next year than you are now? How do you plan to get there?
Whenever you find someone you can learn from, create a reason to spend time with them. Learn what they think. Bring them into your staff meetings as special guest stars.
Don’t get hung up on the term “mentor”. Just buying a coffee for someone you can learn from, and getting the benefit of their time is the important part.
However, if you can formalize it to the extent that you both acknowledge that they care about your success over time, the benefits multiply. So, when you come across a relationship with a potential mentor that sparks, close the deal!
Check list: Do you have your 5 mentors?
1. Someone in the job you aspire to
2. Someone at a higher level in your company
3. Someone 15 years older
4. Someone doing your job at larger scope or maturity, or in a different industry
5. A twenty-something
You should have a goal of adding at least one real mentor to your life every year, and learning stuff from one really smart person once a month.
By the way, you should also be a mentor to others. More on that in an upcoming post.
If you want more help on mentors, there is a whole chapter on getting and using mentors in RISE.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)