You feel like your career trajectory has stalled. Or at least the next steps are uncertain.
There are probably some things you’re doing wrong. There may be important tasks that you’re neglecting. In some areas, you’re really effective and other areas… not so much.
You’d like to find out how you could raise your performance. Be more productive. More effective.
You’d love some advice, but who do you listen to? Friends and family members don’t seem to understand your situation… and you’re not sure you want to open that door.
There are lots of people you interact with as part of your job.
Fellow employees. Your direct reports. Customers. Vendors.
But their mission is not your success. They have their own perspectives. Their own agendas.
And if you’ve got a boss? You can have THE conversation once in a while, but bosses get nervous if you talk about your career too often. You don’t want to get labeled a drama queen.
If you can get some timely input and objective observations, it could make a big difference in your confidence…and your results.
I want to suggest that there are three people who need to be priorities on your calendar. And in your life.
They will not just enhance your career, they can also vault you ahead.
1. Your Complement (who isn’t necessarily inclined to compliment)
The foundation of great leadership is self-awareness. You probably have a pretty good sense for those tasks that you enjoy and ones that you’re good at. You can validate your assumptions through behavioral assessments and workplace feedback.
When you can show up at work and be yourself, you are in your element. You enjoy your work. You get results.
Just as important is identifying what you’re not good at. The tasks that you don’t enjoy. The tasks that exhaust you.
There are people who love those tasks that you hate. They’re great at those things that you’re not good at. Those things that wear you out actually invigorate them.
And guess what?
You’re great at the things they’re not good at.
Between the two of you, tasks get completed. Results are achieved. Time flies and you’re both in a state of flow.
It is a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship.
You need them.
They need you.
Where to find a good complement
Your complement may be a peer at work. That requires establishing a clear understanding of responsibilities between the two of you.
It may be a direct report, which allows you to delegate tasks to your weaknesses and to their strengths.
If they don’t currently exist on your team, look for those complementary qualities in your recruiting and hiring. If they’re not coming on your team any time soon, look for an outsourced resource.
They’re out there. And they can help you be successful.
Benefits of having a complement on your team
There are famous business partners that complemented one another, with great results.
Steve Jobs had a great marketing sense and understood product development. Steve Wozniak was a technical genius. Between the two of them, Apple was launched and gained traction.
Later, when Jobs returned to Apple, he was complemented by Tim Cook and Cook’s organizational skills and understanding of the supply chain. Together they turned Apple into the most valuable company in the world.
Bill Gates was the visionary for the Microsoft platform, while his complement, Steve Ballmer, was the driving force behind sales and marketing.
Yin and Yang.
In addition to the contribution that your complement can provide in making you more productive, there is another valuable role your complement can play: helping you understand a different perspective.
Your complement can help you see and appreciate other points of view. Their perspective lies outside your own lens.
This relationship can help you shape your own point of view, develop greater levels of trust within your team and enhance your ability to communicate with a wider range of people.
2. Your Mentor / Coach (who doesn’t blow a whistle or make you run laps)
You also need someone outside of your business who can provide you an objective sounding board and help you discover ways to improve and grow as a leader.
If you are early in your career, I suggest working with a mentor. This is someone who has relevant experience in your role and / or industry. They can offer insights and advice from their own journey as a leader that is helpful as you proceed on your own leadership path.
On the other hand, if you have some experience as a leader, then I recommend you work with a coach. They have the ability to help you look at where you are and where you want to go, and help you create a plan to get there.
A coach will cost money. If your company won’t pay for it, consider coming out of your own pocket. It’s that important.
Characteristics of good mentors and coaches
Both mentors and coaches have some similar attributes:
- They ask great questions.
- They observe. Objectively. They may be able to see things that you don’t see.
- They provide honest, unfiltered feedback. Sometimes this means they tell you when the emperor (you!) has no clothes.
- They can help you get better at your role today, but also to help you assume the role that you want in the future. They can help you get from here to there.
- They can help you develop strategies and vet priorities
- They take the role seriously. They acknowledge that this is about you — not about them.
Mentors are more likely to give you answers when you ask. Coaches are more likely to answer your questions with questions of their own. It creates self-discovery on your part and likely deeper learning as a result.
Good coaches will offer “carefrontation.” They can confront you with hard truths because they care about you. Embrace the concept.
Benefits of working with a good mentor or coach
As a leader, you are on a journey.
Both mentors and coaches can be valuable resources to help you negotiate your path along the way.
They can enhance your self-awareness. They can help you achieve goals by encouraging actionable steps and holding you accountable to doing what you said you would do. They can help you tackle problems and help you to see things outside your field of vision.
Both mentors and coaches can fill a need at a point in time. Neither is necessarily a long-term assignment.
As you grow and develop, different backgrounds and skills may be necessary for you to take the next step in your career.
Mentors and coaches can help push you onward. And upward.
3. Your Plato (who has a passion to pass it on)
As a leader, your goal is not to do things… it is to get things done through other people and to develop them in the process. The growth and conscious development of your direct reports should be one of your top priorities.
However, I think you should also be investing in one young person who doesn’t report to you. It can be someone outside your organization, or at least outside your span of direct supervision inside the organization.
Someone with a great attitude. Someone hungry to learn. Someone with upside potential.
Take a page from history. Socrates taught Plato. Plato in turn taught Aristotle. One of Aristotle’s students, Alexander the Great, brought Greek philosophy to the known world. Unless Socrates invests in Plato and creates a spark in him to teach others, Western Philosophy, as we know it, doesn’t have the same impact over centuries, in the areas of biology, art, physics, politics, economics, logic and psychology.
You don’t know when someone else can take your mentorship and pay it forward to the next generation of leaders.
I’ve asked dozens of successful CEOs to identify someone who had a meaningful impact on their careers. Almost every CEO has been able to identify one person who took the time to invest in them that had a dramatic impact on their success. Practical advice. Encouragement. Perspective.
Be that person.
Where to find your Plato
Your Plato may be found in your own company, with a catch. It is hard to mentor one direct report without having some funky dynamics with your other direct reports. Therefore, he or she may be in another department or may be a level below your direct reports.
You can also find your Plato at another company. Contact a CEO whose company you admire and ask them for a recommendation on a rising star employee with great potential. Convey that you are willing to work with that person and mentor them to a higher level of success. Who wouldn’t view that as a great opportunity for one of their employees?
In order to identify a person worthy of your time, attention and your Socrates-type gifts, you should look for someone with specific attributes. You are looking for someone who demonstrates:
- personal responsibility for their careers. You don’t want drama queens or people with victim mentalities.
- a hunger for learning and personal development.
- motivation to get to the next level in their career, not purely for a title or higher pay, but who has a desire for greater responsibility and greater impact.
- a level of self-awareness. They recognize that they are a work in progress and mindful of their gifts…and their imperfections.
- a willingness to make the proposed relationship with you a priority. You don’t want to waste your time or your emotional capital.
Benefits of mentoring someone else
When you mentor someone else, it forces you to think through why you do what you do and what you might do differently, if given the chance.
You also learn in the process. You get to practice communicating. Asking probing questions. Sharing insights. Telling stories.
It helps you become a better boss. A better leader.
Don’t worry if you are early in your leadership journey. You can still provide needed value to someone even more inexperienced. And you will both grow from the relationship.
We don’t always learn our most valuable lessons in the moment. We need time for reflection. To identify what we learned from making mistakes. To understand why other initiatives went better than we expected.
You need time to ask yourself some fundamental questions. What would you do differently next time? What lessons have you learned? How will you apply those lessons going forward?
The wisdom that comes from your experiences and your reflection can help your Plato. Help your direct reports. Help you.
The Trio Invested in Your Success
Your future is your responsibility. But sometimes you feel-ill equipped. You don’t know what you don’t know.
People are tugging at your time and they’ve got their own agendas. And it often conflicts with yours.
If only there were people whose interests were aligned with yours. People whom you could trust.
They do exist.
There are three people you want in your life. People you want on your side.
Your Complement. Your Coach. Your Plato.
Tell them what is expected of them and what they can expect from you.
Make them a priority.
They’ll help you eliminate blind spots. They’ll tell you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.
They’ll help you achieve goals faster and with greater certainty.
And then they’ll help you celebrate. Because when you succeed, so do they!