When I was working for an $8 billion publicly traded company as a Director of Information Systems (IS) years ago, I reported to a Vice President of the IS. He was a great guy to work for, but I felt like I wasn’t learning much from him. In addition to that, there was a very slim chance be promoted to the next higher level, let alone to CIO (Chief Information Officer). I knew there must be something I could do and learn regardless of my next corporate career move.
So, I did the unthinkable. I called my boss’s boss, Barbara, the CIO. We met and I expressed that I needed some help. Although, I did not know what I needed help with, I asked Barbara point blank, “Would you be my mentor?” Barbara said, “YES.”
She opened up many doors for me, but not from a promotion stand point. She helped me connect with outside industry mentors and nominated me to be a member of the Society of Information Management (SIM). She also enrolled me in the Regional Leadership Forum (RLF), a 9-month long leadership forum with industry peers. During that 9-month RLF program, I read 35 books and presented as well as facilitated many discussions. Most importantly, I gained peer support as well as great mentors nationwide. The entire experience helped me clarify my goals, and shortly after my graduation from the RLF, I restarted my business.
“Surround yourself with helpful people” is my motto. We can’t do things alone. We need plenty of helpful people to help us along the journey.
I’ve used many coaches, consultants, advisors and mentors throughout my career in corporate America and in my business. Some people who identify themselves as mentors when they are actually a coach, or a consultant who claims to be a coach do often confuse me. I’ve created this “helpful people locator” to help me decide who will be of most help to me at any particular time and place along in my journey.
You’ll see the “Technical skills or Knowledge” on the vertical axis and “Leadership skills or Knowledge” on the horizontal axis.
- Consultant: Someone who has high technical skills or knowledge with low leadership skills or knowledge. They are so technical that you can expect the work they do for you to be delivered in a tactical nature. For example, I have an I.S. consultant working for me today, Akhilesh knows exactly what to do when it comes to our website programming. But he gets direction from me, and provides consulting in a tactical nature.
- Advisor: Someone who has high technical skills or knowledge with high leadership skills or knowledge. They can do work for you as well as provide strategic thinking. For example, I have a CPA firm as an advisor who advises me on any company finance decision. Ed doesn’t get into my detailed accounting, but certainly has provided me great strategic advice over the years in matters such as licensing, pricing structure, etc.
- Coach: Someone who has low technical skills or knowledge and low leadership skills or knowledge. (This is from my personal experience with no reflection regarding how or if the coach has been certified.) A Coach is someone who helps YOU get the answer out of YOU, often tactical in nature. They believe you already have the answers and strive to get them out of you and put them in application. For example, I worked with my marketing coach Ravel for two years. He helped me create a solid branding message, taught me how networking plays a part and showed me how to put together my 1-minute commercial. All the answers are from me, but he was so good at getting them out of me. Today, I work with entirely different marketing coach, who focuses on external communication with proper tension.
- Mentor: Someone who has low technical skills or knowledge and high leadership skills or knowledge. A mentor has “been there and done that” and knows what the path is. Barbara, my CIO example, is a mentor. Today, I have two business owner mentors who have been successful not only in their field, but also successful in the sale of many of their businesses. Our conversation is on a strategic level. Most importantly, my mentors are great connections to other industry top guns.
No matter who you decide to surround yourself with, take some time to determine what you actually need before you decide who to work with. You might want to consider the following:
- Have one or two mentors any time during your career. They’re your sounding board and your connectors.
- Mentor one or two people and pay it forward. The more you teach, the more you learn.
- Work with a coach to help obtain your vision and clarify your goals, but remember they are not your therapists. I agree with a coach’s approach in that you do have all the answers within you. You need a coach to help you sort that through. They’re great for personal development.
Surround yourself with helpful people! Why do it alone?