Asking for advice can be tough. It often feels like a sign of weakness, an admission that you're doing something wrong. Or maybe you feel like you're imposing on the advice-giver.
But looking to other people for guidance is one of the most important habits of successful people. Whether you're entry-level, a manager, or a senior VP, everyone can benefit from reaching out.
Take it from someone at the top: Pantheon CEO Zack Rosen makes a habit of reaching out to fellow CEOs for insight and perspective. He knows every time his company doubles in size his job will be almost entirely different, and he will have to learn the ropes all over again. And here's the catch: There's no such thing as a CEO crash course. No CEO degree you earn to prepare. No CEO for Dummies guidebook. Learning how to be a CEO takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, and resourcefulness.
"To be good at this job, I need to be a learning machine," Rosen says. "Luckily, as a CEO in the startup community, I have access to a unique network of advisers who are available to mentor me." And when Zack had questions about moving to the next phase of his company, those advisers directed him to other CEOs who had been in his shoes.
Zack found that, while Q&A-style meetings were helpful, something was missing. So he tried a different tactic:
He calls it "CEO Shadowing"--spending a day with the CEO of another company to discover more about how that company works and learn about different ways leaders have approached management and company building.
People often shadow someone else to learn about a different career path--but why not shadow someone in your own? "There's a difference between understanding something intellectually and really seeing it and feeling it firsthand," Zack says, and that's why these meetings can be so valuable.
Below are Zack's tips for how to make the most out of a day of shadowing.
Shadow the right person.
"The first time I shadowed another CEO, Pantheon was a dozen people, and we'd recently completed our financing to scale our business. I knew my job over the next year would radically change: I needed to begin building an executive team, but I had little experience to work from. Recruiting executives, managing a leadership team, and even basic things like practicing good one-on-ones with my direct reports were new to me." So Zack asked CEOs who were on the other side of that process--working at companies a year or two years ahead of him.
Ideally, you can shadow someone who's doing excellently at a job one or two years ahead of where you are in your career. Seeing how they approach their work can be like looking at a hopeful future for yourself and your company.
It's worth your time.
Spending an entire day shadowing someone else can be difficult when you have a lot of responsibility and limited time. You might be asking yourself, could you be using your time more productively? Zack says no. "True, you have to be very judicious with your time. But if one day out of your office can help you fundamentally improve at your job, that's going to have an outsized impact over the long term over any pressing thing on your calendar."
Make the most of the day.
"When I wanted to focus on management and leadership, I knew I wanted to show up on a day where the most management and leadership was happening," says Zack. It helps to know what your goals are ahead of time, so you can choose the best day for a visit. From there, schedule the day accordingly: follow your shadowee to meetings, schedule a one-on-one with them, or maybe even with other people at the company--whatever will help you gather the information you need. Make sure to keep it day-in-the-life so your experience is genuine.
Make it mutually beneficial.
Learning shouldn't be one-sided. When you're shadowing someone else, you have a unique opportunity to gather information for him or her. "When else are you going to get a totally outside-in perspective? The idea is that after the day is over, the shadower writes down their findings to share with the person they're shadowing." It can be difficult to let an outsider take such a close look, so, when you shadow someone, it's important to be sensitive to his or her vulnerability. Once you're able to establish a sense of mutual trust, you'll allow for an invaluable exchange of insight.
Know how to apply what you've learned.
Once you've come away with insights and notes from your day of shadowing, your next step is to apply what you've learned. "My approach has been not to treat them like blueprints," says Zack. Instead, pick out what you liked and work to blend it into your own operations. One lesson might be as simple as setting up an all-hands meeting every month instead of once a quarter. Most of what you come away with, though, will be qualitative and therefore take time to apply. The most important thing is to continue to be mindful about implementing the change.
Keep looking for new opportunities.
As a CEO especially, it can be easy to feel like you should already know all the answers. But, as Zack shares, it's actually in your job description to keep learning! Always be open to new opportunities to grow and develop--no matter what form that takes.