If You Want to Improve and Move Up Quickly, This Is a Necessity.
By Steve Schumacher
The majority of my career, I have been a lone ranger consultant. Everything begins and ends with me – accountability, results, marketing, sales, emptying the trash can, etc. The upside of being a lone ranger is the incredible freedom one has to spend their time how they see fit.
The downside is one has no boss to coach, guide, and mentor them. Working by oneself is not for everyone, but it fits my personality and gives me what I want out of life.
As I have matured over the years, I have realized that I have probably missed out on improving as much as I could. For my entire career, I have always looked for opportunities to improve, learn, and stay relevant. For the most part, I have done a good job of that.
Even with a constant focus on “sharpening the saw,” I am convinced that having a mentor would have taken me to levels of performance I could never have done on my own.
Regardless of where you are in your career, a mentor is an essential tool to help you develop and move up more quickly and efficiently. If you have employees that report to you, a mentor is essential. If you are a solo contributor currently, having a mentor will be a proactive tool to help you prepare to move into a leadership role. I use the term “mentor” as someone who can give you objective feedback about your performance with only the objective of helping you improve. The main criteria for a mentor is that you trust them and have confidence in the feedback they give you.
The main reason I suggest having a mentor so strongly is that I have been convinced for a long time that it is impossible to be objective about our own behavior.
So, what can a mentor do for you?
Give you a clear picture of where you are now. Oftentimes, we find ourselves with so many conflicting priorities, very little time, people having unreasonable demands, and not being able to sit back and look clearly at what is happening to us. A mentor can give you a clear picture of what they see as what is important and urgent. It does not necessarily take a lot of experience to be able to do that, just good listening skills. It is not so much that the mentor will have all the answers; they will help you discover the right answers through conversation.
Help you navigate organization politics. As much as we try to deny it sometimes, being adept at politics in your organization is an essential skill. Being technically competent and having good people and leadership skills are vital, without a doubt. If you are not politically astute, you will only go so far in any organization. A mentor can help you understand where the power truly rests in the organization, who you need to get close with, and who you need to avoid, in order to not get blindsided politically.
Stay on track with your goals. We all have goals in some form. Some specific, some general. Some work-related, some personal life-related. Regardless of the form of your goals, a mentor can help you achieve them. Just be clear on what your goals are and what you see as some of the obstacles. If you can articulate those to your mentor, they will be able to ask you some questions and get your motivated to stay on track. The key to this skill of a mentor is to meet frequently to discuss your goals. Meeting about goals once a year will not get you where you want to be.
Feedback on how you are perceived. Perception is reality, period. It does not matter how you think you come across to others. What matters is how others perceive you. The scary thing about that is we cannot stand outside ourselves and see ourselves objectively. So, people perceive us a certain way and we have no clue what they are thinking. Another reality is that most people will not tell you how you come across, especially if you are the boss. A mentor that you trust will be honest with you for your own good. Take advantage of that objective perception.
A good mentor has these skills – active listening, making time for you, positive attitude, understands goal setting, understands leadership, and has a good sense of politics. If you can find someone with those skills and they are willing to help you, you will have taken a huge step in improving your career and your life.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].