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No, this isn’t a question for only those of you who own a business although if you’re successful, you already know. I’m really asking those of you who are ‘employees.’
How do your clients see your value?
Whoa…you don’t have clients? Or, you don’t know?
If you own your career, you always attend to your clients. You always know who they are. You always check in on the value they get. You know that this value is what you provide as a business partner.
How does your manager weigh your value? How do your peers measure it? How do your team mates see it?
How do you know? You ask.
When you own your career, the value you provide is your security. The closer you are to the center of the bull’s-eye, the greater your security. You can’t hit the target if you don’t see it clearly.
To your Manager: What am I doing when I’m most valuable to you and our team?
To your Peers: What do you get from me that makes me a strong partner?
To your Team: What does our team need from me for our project to succeed?
Ask. Start the conversation. Own the process. Learn your value.
When you become responsible for your security, you own your career.
Planning to own your career in 2011?
Did you make a resolution to find a “better job,” “a place that appreciates you,” or “work that floats your boat?” What will it take for the resolution to stick…and for you to get out of your own way? If you recognize yourself even a little bit in one or more of these excuses, then take a stand against self-sabotage right now. Read on and I’ll tell you how.
Excuse #1. Seems like a lot of work, although I can float some resumes…
Good intentions come with a new year but our natural wiring makes good intentions fizzle fast. Take a look at “Resolutions Suck. Try Anarchy” by Johnny B. Truant; he provides a great explanation of why we are such lazy creatures, always looking for what’s comfortable. So while this is a lame excuse, intentionally working with our wiring gives us a fighting chance to get beyond it. Post a note where you have to see it several times each day in your work space. See it and keep the intention alive. Invest in yourself and put your money where your mouth is–aren’t you worth it? Hire a coach or someone to whom you will be accountable for taking action. This isn’t the time to decide to man-[or woman-] up.
Excuse #2. Maybe the devil I know is better than the one I don’t (after all, I should be grateful to even have a job)
Oh, please. You’ve been ranting about your boss, your lazy co-workers and your lack of career options for months on end. You hate doing the work of the other 2 people in your area who were let go. Your stomach starts to churn on Sunday evening when you review the next day’s schedule. How can this devil possibly be better? Because they already pay you to show up and warm the seat? Another lame excuse. You can do better. Re-read excuse # 1. Make that visual reminder (doesn’t have to be a post-it note, maybe it’s a memorable tchotchke that only you recognize) and get accountable to someone outside of yourself.
Excuse #3. I’m pretty close to retirement (or I have so much tenure), maybe I should just suck it up
And do what…retire at your desk? (Or have you already, and you’re afraid a new employer might take notice?) Are you willing to take the chance that your ennui won’t get you at the top of the next lay-off list? So you retire at the earliest possible time and then what? Sit on your porch and watch the world go by? Or be a greeter at the local mart? You’ll be the same age whether you find work that energizes you or work that slowly petrifies you at your desk.
Note: whatever you do, do not decide that “becoming a consultant and working for myself” is your best bet because that’s harder work that you’ve likely done in years.
Excuse #4. I’ve done ONLY this all my working life
So you only have enough talent to do that one thing? You’re an old dog and you can’t learn new tricks? That’s a bunch of hooey. Brain scientists tell us that–whatever our age–we can grow new brain connections (i.e. learn new things) through focus and repetition. Fear is a really lame excuse and the core of most self-sabotage. How old do you need to be to get beyond that sucky emotion? See next item.
Excuse #5. I might fail and then what?
Whatever you decide “failure” is, it’s likely bigger and badder than the real thing. If you want to, you will. If you don’t want to, you won’t. Simple as that. Not taking action is akin to saying “I fail” and then going back to retire at your desk. Chicken. Find a partner or a coach to help you look inside and get your efficacy back. Our belief in ourselves is such a powerful part of moving ahead and we take it so much for granted that we don’t realize how it gets whittled away by daily events until one day we just don’t have any self-trust left. And, fear takes over.
One small action a day gets you moving forward, gets you around the fear and tackles your career resolution in a smart way. You avoid burn-out in mid-February and you have much to show for the first six weeks of your changed direction. (think: 5 days a week multiplied by one action a day multiplied by 6 weeks= 30 actions…visible progress!) Get an accountability partner and you’re creating a sustainable way to stay out of your own way.
Staying out of your own way…now that’s a sticky idea!
So you’ve decided that you want a mentor and you have several people in your sights! You’ve approached one who has agreed to meet with you next week, so you’re home free: you’ve found a mentor!
Not so fast! You may have found a mentor, and she might be willing to take the lead, but why get lazy now? Your first meeting is your opportunity to show your (potential) mentor that you are serious about your development and you’ve already put some work into making the relationship a good one for both of you.
The most effective mentoring relationships have these things in common:
2. Structure & Expectations
3. Follow-up and Follow-through
4. Skills awareness
Of course you have Goals, but have you written them? Have you thought beyond the broadest, most obvious outcomes? For example, “to become a confident speaker” is a great long-term goal, and many people may be willing to help you. But consider this: why did you select the particular person you approached? What–specifically–about her speaking made her your choice? What pieces of “a confident speaker” made you select this person at this time?
Is it the way she tells a story? Is it how her body language conveys “I know my stuff”? Is it the little humorous bits that keep the message light? Get specific about what you want to learn, and your mentor will be able to hone in on “how-tos” that make the best use of your time together!
Structure and expectations means that you’ve given thought to the details of your mentoring arrangement so your mentor doesn’t have to! Think about how long it may take you to learn what you’re seeking; consider the kind of commitment you’re asking from your mentor; ask yourself if it’s a reasonable commitment for the mentor’s schedule. And, then consider the kind of meeting options that may make sense. Coffee? Lunch? Phone calls between meetings? Weekly email check-ins?
Follow-up and follow-through means taking the initiative to keep the relationship sound for both of you. Maybe you drop an email after a meeting to put your next steps in writing and to say “thanks”–even though you said it in person. You can send an outlook or meeting scheduling note so that your next meeting/coffee/telephone call gets on your mentor’s schedule. You might send a note the week prior to your scheduled meeting with a list of the agenda items you’d like to discuss–this serves as a scheduling reminder, too. If you see your mentor mentioned in a story on community leaders, you might drop her a note saying Congratulations! or (if it’s in print) clip the story and send to her–yes, via snail mail! All of these thoughtful items tend to the relationship and help avoid misunderstandings. Bottom line: stay in touch!
Skills awareness is a reminder to use and sharpen those skills most helpful in building a strong mentoring relationship: listening, querying, attending and feedback–giving and receiving. Handle distractions before you meet; turn your cell phone off, or, if you are awaiting a critical call, tell your mentor before you begin. Ask questions that start with “what” or “how” since both provide opportunity for expanding learning. Talk about follow- through you’ve completed and request suggestions for improvement: “How might I approach this next time?” “ How could I do this differently?” Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, calls this feed-forward rather than feed-back. When you use it often, it becomes a comfortable way to explore options without the worry associated with “feedback.”
Being a thoughtful protege–one willing to do her homework and make it easy for a mentor to say ‘yes’–is the best way to have lots of mentors as you go through your career. You can establish relationships that work for you both…where you can learn from each other.
Have a question or wondering about being or recruiting a mentor? Leave it in the comment area: if you’re wondering, someone else is, too!
At a recent career development workshop for Young Professionals (YPs), I participated in a panel on mentoring. What a great group of knowledgeable and wise people, including Margaret Finley from Chase who moderated. Panelists included:
*Jason Jenkins, Big Brothers Big Sisters
*Eric Troy, Ohio Department of Education
*Marilyn Pritchett, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio
*Lindsay Andrews, SMPS Columbus
*Janine Hancock Jones, Governor’s Staff [same name, same spelling!]
I noted that a number of folks in the audience were looking for mentors yet others were looking for how and where to be a mentor. While some had experience with mentoring programs, most panelists spoke to the tremendous value of informal mentors. Since lifelong learning is a 21st century necessity, informal mentoring is of value to everyone and is an ongoing requirement for Career Owners!
Informal mentors provide lifelong learning opportunities when and where you need them; give you the freedom to approach people from a variety of sources; and [can] help you reduce the blind spots that sabotage and get in the way of progress.
So just in case you’ve wondered but didn’t quite know how to go about it, a few thoughts on finding those informal mentors:
1. Stop waiting to be picked…it’s OK to recruit the mentor you want!
2. Look outside of your (work) organization to professional associations, community groups, civic and alumni associations and other interest groups. Mentors don’t have to spring from work in order to mentor you on career or professional issues.
3. A mentoring relationship can be as short as a single conversation or one that lasts for years…it depends on what the people involved create.
4. Align what you’d like to learn with what you think your mentor can teach you. If you admire someone’s ability to speak in front of a group, then to approach him/her about becoming a more comfortable speaker is probably a good goal and fit. If you’ve watched someone align two opposite sides around an issue, then you have a potential mentor who can help you learn collaboration and conflict techniques.
5. Prepare to approach a mentor: the easier and more comfortable you make your initial conversation, the more likely the individual is to say ‘yes.’ Know what you’d like to learn and why. Know how that learning will improve you as a professional. Be ready to suggest some structure that will help a relationship thrive. For example, you might say:
I admire the way you were able to pull together the diverse perspectives of the people on this committee. I know that it would strengthen my value in my workplace if I had those skills. Would you be willing to meet for a short time and discuss the possibility of mentoring me on the skills needed and how I could develop them?
I would be glad to meet at a time and place convenient for you; I’d be delighted to buy you a cup of coffee or tea! I’ll plan to call you at your office to schedule a time that works for you.
So you’re asking for the opportunity to meet and discuss the possibility of mentoring…you’re not requesting a long-term commitment. You have also made it easy for the individual to say ‘yes’ by offering to align with their schedule and time. This really says you are thoughtful and not trying to impose unduly. You have identified something specific that you would like to learn, so you are sending the message that you can identify your own learning goals, and that you will not be dependent upon the mentor to do that for you!
While most people are flattered to be asked to be a mentor, your thoughtfulness in scheduling time makes it comfortable: you’re really thinking about WIIFT: What’s In It For Them!
How you approach the meeting itself is food for the next blog post. There, too, having done some planning to move through an agenda and take responsibility for your needs–at the same time being thoughtful of your mentor’s time commitment–is much more likely to be appreciated and get you ongoing mentoring.
So get going now–identify at least 3 or 4 people who might be your mentors and approach at least one with a specific request for a skill or information you’d like to learn. With your meeting scheduled, next week’s post on how to have that first meeting will be timely…I’ll tell you exactly how to approach it so that your mentor wants to establish an ongoing, professional relationship with you, and so you are both better for the experience!