I often hear people lamenting that they would only be more successful if they could find the right mentor. And yet several successful people have questioned the actual value of having a mentor. Elon Musk and Sheryl Sandberg are among those titans who have noted that mentors might not be all that necessary to career success.
Debby Carreau, author of the recently released book The Mentor Myth: How to Take Control of Your Own Success (Bibliomotion 2016), agrees that mentors might not actually be necessary to help you achieve your dreams. Carreau argues that mentors are often overutilized, undertrained, and routinely underdeliver. "While I do acknowledge that mentors can be an effective tool and can provide excellent professional feedback, your career is not lost if you cannot find one," said Carreau.
Carreau, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), has her share of success. She is the CEO of Inspired HR, Canada's TOP HR consultancy and has been recognized as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women three times. She claims the key to her achievements was to build a personal team of supporters the way one would any management team for a business: strategically, and with an eye for how they would add value to her professional development and vice versa.
Rather than hoping for the right person to show you the way, she says you yourself should be critical and authentic as you navigate your career. Here are 10 things that Carreau thinks you should focus on in lieu of a mentor.
1. Take ownership of your career.
People who think a mentor is the key to success may lack confidence in their own ability to take initiative. Carreau advises to take control of your own growth. "Create your own plan to take control of your career and your life, and rise above the average," she recommends. "Howard Schultz is a great example of someone from humble beginnings who took control of his destiny early. He has famously said, 'I had no mentor, no role model, no special teacher to help me sort out my options.'"
2. Get value from peers.
Even though a mentor is not necessary to success does not mean that you should ignore the opportunity of turning to your peers for guidance. In fact, Carreau advises joining a peer-mentoring group. "The combination of great networking and feedback makes participation in these kinds of circles invaluable, rather than the standard networking coffee meetings between two people," she stated. "Getting feedback from not just one, but many people, is much more valuable, and leads to better solutions and ideas. The dialogue in these groups consistently impresses me. And the business outcomes I see from promotions to career changes to overcoming major career challenges are substantial."
3. Learn from the youth.
As technology continues to accelerate the rate of change, many would-be mentors are finding their approach outdated and obsolete. They find they actually have a lot to learn from younger generations. Instead of using experienced senior leaders as mentors to younger colleagues, some companies are reversing roles. "The younger person becomes the mentor, and the senior professional becomes the mentee," explains Carreau. "In India, they have found that this concept has re-energized senior professionals and showed them a lot about technology and the social media world we live in today."
4. Combine activities to maximize time.
For real value to take place, mentorship requires focused time, which is a valuable commodity. Carreau recommends looking for ways to combine learning activities to save time and be productive all at once. "Instead of going for a jog and then meeting a friend for coffee, why not go for a jog with your friend?" notes Carreau. "Instead of letting your commute be wasted time, listen to a podcast, relevant news or language tapes. Leveraging the power of multipliers lets you accomplish more by overlaying tasks that make sense together."
5. Become a better networker.
Building a network is not an intuitive skill for most people. It is also an iterative process; you are never finished, and the way you develop your network will change as your career progresses.. "When you begin networking, you are still figuring out your interests and career goals," elaborates Carreau. "Because of this, you must cast as large a net as possible among the people you can contact-family friends, school alumni and more. As you understand your ambitions better, you will become a better networker as well, able to quickly spot the diamond in the rough among your contacts. Instead of over networking and wasting your time on superficial contacts, ensure you are engaging in an authentic and helpful way with them both online and in person."
6. Create a life strategy.
"When coaching people on their careers, I focus on six elements: passion, lifestyle, values, economics, skill and demand," reveals Carreau. "Thinking strategically about each of these elements lets you create a framework for a solid career map. And no matter where you are in your career (university, new grad, or seasoned veteran of the workforce), having a well-considered career plan will help you navigate your way to your professional goals."
7. Learn to "speed mentor."
The U.S. Bureau of Labor says the average person will now hold approximately 10 jobs over the course of their career. This changes how mentees utilize and interact with mentors. "Speed mentoring" is typical a mentor/mentee engagement set up for a short period of time for a specific task or opportunity. This lets you to focus on the learning instead of the relationship. Examples of speed mentoring engagements include helping an entrepreneur through taking on investors or adopting a new software program successfully.
8. Establish a strong reputation.
"You need to make two promises to yourself in your daily work in order to succeed. The first is to never do the bare minimum. The second is to always deliver on your commitments," explains Carreau. "Consistently following through on your commitments alone will enable you to stand out among your peers and by always going above and beyond you will make a name for yourself. When you tell someone you are going to call him, do it. Quality, timeliness and reliability are the adjectives you want associated with you and your work products."
9. Take smart risks to get ahead.
"A professional journey is now more comparable to a series of ladders placed side by side," states Carreau. "The fastest way to ascend is to occasionally hop off your ladder and onto the next one, reaching for an adjacent rung a little above what you could reach if you stayed on the ladder you were climbing. The hops between ladders are where you will see your greatest promotion in terms of title or salary. You will reach your goals far faster than if you had stayed on one ladder and kept plugging along. I am not telling you to love risk, rather, that when faced with a 'riskier' choice, you need to ask yourself what the risk of not trying is. Sometimes the riskier choices are the ones that pay off strategically."
10. Attract a sponsor.
"Even more valuable than a traditional mentor is a sponsor-someone who will actively promote you and your work," Carreau says. "These are your champions, your biggest fans, who don't hesitate to tell others how great you are and vouch for you. You can't ask someone to be your sponsor; sponsors choose you when they clearly know your goals and believe you are capable of achieving them. A combination of great work, clearly laying out your objectives and visibility, will attract and encourage sponsors who will advocate for you."
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