“Susan, I feel like I’m falling behind my peers. I think that’s because I haven’t found a mentor for my career yet,” sighed one of my clients, Chandra.
“Am I doing something wrong? I’ve asked people to mentor me, but either they tell me they’re too busy, or they don’t really know how to be a mentor.”
Chandra is not the first client to tell me this.
It’s getting harder and harder to find a mentor.
Once upon a time, you stayed at a company, industry, or a function for a long time. Maybe 10 years, 20 years, or more. When you have a longevity in an organization, an industry, or a functional area, then it makes sense that you have plenty of wisdom to pass along about how to navigate recurring issues, like how to release a new product, how to understand the competitive landscape, or even how to deal with a stodgy, fussbudget of an employee who’d been in the organization for eons.
Work isn’t the same as in our parents’ generation
Technology is changing industries so rapidly that no one really knows what will happen more than a few years out, at best. How will the Internet of Things change how products are made? What will 3D printing do to the garment industry or to any manufactured product? How will driverless cars impact the transportation industry?
No one can foresee the future clearly.
We’re mucking around in the dark of an unknown future at work.
Think about this: When you’re exploring in the dark, like in a pitch black cave, you don’t run fast. You don’t move in a straight line.
To navigate in unknown territory, you go slowly. You feel your way around.
So if you’re in an industry that’s undergoing change (and who isn’t?) and you put your trust in one mentor, that person needs to play a very different role than just telling you what’s worked in the past. Yet traditionally, mentors have passed along the tools and perspectives that have worked over and over again.
These days, the past isn’t necessarily a very good indicator of what will happen in the future.
You need many supporters to encourage exploration and to share ideas and resources.
Instead of placing all of your trust in one or two career mentors, equip yourself with two types of guidance:
(1) Get coaching to encourage your professional growth
As a coach myself, I’m biased. I believe coaching is essential as a personal support for achieving your goals (that’s why right now, I’ve got two coaches!).
An excellent coach will help you to articulate your short- and long-term desires, recognize where you are now, and be a guide-by-your side as you navigate the shifts you’ll need to make, both the external and the often scarier, yet essential internal changes required to get where you want to go.
A great coach can:
- get you to clarify your desires
- help you chart a path from your current state to your desired one
- ask you the hard questions that create breakthroughs
- keep you accountable to your action steps
- support you to bust through obstacles
- give you encouragement, and
- share specific tools and frameworks to help you get where you want to go.
Find a great coach who you trust to move you ahead
You can find professional executive, career, and life coaches through LinkedIn, word of mouth referral, and by searching online. Additionally, more and more coaches are popping up within companies — people who are adding coaching skills managers, HR reps, and organizational development types are are available within companies, especially the larger organizations.
For smart, high-energy professionals who really want to move up, or make a bigger impact, I always recommend engaging a coach — whether that investment comes out of your pocket or is funded by your employer. Ensure that person looks out for your best interests and helps you to transform your observations and expertise into steps that carry you in your most optimal direction.
(2) Crowdsource ideas and resources
Imagine the Internet and every other source of data — including the expertise that resides in individuals and their experiences — as an ocean. You’re on a mission to find the tiny islands of data that will steer you in your desired career direction. You could try to sail around searching for what you need all alone.
Don’t navigate alone. Crowdsource support.
Crowdsourcing is enlisting people to share ideas and resources, usually via the Internet. Sometimes it’s paid (like getting artists to design a website for you) but often it’s free (like asking on LinkedIn “what are the best companies for working moms in the Boston area?”
You have limited time to find what you’re seeking at work, be that a new role, data for a presentation, or the scoop on the forecasted trends that might impact your work. As just one person, you see through just one set of lenses.
How about getting a bunch of ears and eyes to widen your scope?
So, let’s say you’re a mom who’s ready to go back to work. Post on Facebook and ask your connections for viewpoints and knowledge about great companies.
Imagine you’re writing a presentation you’ll be delivering at a big industry meeting. Don’t rely on tired old data. Do an instant poll of your most relevant connections on LinkedIn? Boom! Instant fresh perspectives!
It’s so simple to create your own personalized “boards of advisors” for all sorts of career-enhancing purposes — staying abreast of new technologies, making marketing decisions, deciding where to live, checking out the best deals, and all sorts of things.
Look, if you can find a great one, there’s nothing wrong with having a mentor to provide wisdom and guidance.
If you go that route, I heartily encourage you to find a caring mentor who has excellent coaching skills. Someone who will ask you deep, probing questions about what you truly desire, give you the assistance to get there, and help you clear obstacles all along the way.
But if you’ve been tripped up in finding a mentor, multiply the power of one individual and put together your coaching and crowdsourcing teams.
So, what’s your first step to getting the career support you need?
Articulate it here. Speak up for what you’re seeking. It’s the first step to taking action.
Hi! I’m Susan Bernstein. I’m a career + leadership coach who loves to awaken the working world to a higher level of consciousness. I support smart, highly accomplished professionals – who are also emotionally sensitive — to build the resilience and results they desire in their work. Interested in having me coach you? Visit the coaching page to learn more, and feel free to contact me.