Tag Archives: Career development

Do You Really Need A Mentor?

Do You Need A Mentor?

It’s common to hear that you need a mentor for career success.  Is that still true?  Yes. You need a mentor.  You need several.  Over the course of your career you need people who help you along the way.

  • Mentors are experienced and trusted advisers.
  • Mentors can explain things in a short conversation that would take weeks, months, or even years for you to figure out on your own.
  • Mentors can tell you things about yourself in a way that you can actually hear it.
  • Mentors can easily open doors that you might otherwise stand on the outside looking in–forever.
  • Mentors can teach you skills that you never knew you could develop.
  • Mentors can help you see the world from another (or lots of other) perspective.
  • Mentors can help raise your performance bar.
  • Mentors can help you come up with new solutions to problems that have you stuck.
  • Mentors can speed up your progress and development by sharing their experience (and saving you from having to go through the same experiences–especially the bad ones).
  • Mentors can help build your network.
  • Mentors can help you understand the unwritten rules of an organization.

YES.  You Need a Mentor.

So, yes, you need a mentor.  You need different mentors for different times in your career. You need mentors to help you with different developmental issues.  For example, when you are graduating from college, you need someone to guide you from the college experience to the work experience.  What should you expect?  How should you act?  What is important?  Of course lots of people make this transition without a mentor (although parents frequently fill this role), but people who have mentors who specifically focus on this conversation avoid common pitfalls.

When you start to get serious about having a career instead of a job, a mentor can help you begin to navigate organizational politics and understand what organizations look for in “high potentials.”  Young people who are a part of Executive Leadership Programs get a lot of this kind of mentoring and it makes a difference!  Which job should you go after next?  What should you focus on in the interview?  What should you highlight in your performance assessment?  What should you add to your resume draft?

When you decide to change organizations, which ones should you target?  Who does your mentor know in the new organization?  Which organization is likely to be the best path to your career goal?

When you’re trying to solve a difficult organizational problem–supply chain streamlining, new branding, cost reductions, new market target–a mentor with specific knowledge of that problem is a short cut to understanding the boundaries of the problem and where to find the kind of expertise that you need.

Just Do It.  Ask.

Mentors can perform many roles in your career success.  The key is to step out there and get one (and then another and another).  Mentoring is about relationships.  Ask someone.  Who do you ask?  Ask someone who knows what you need to know.  Ask someone who can introduce you to people or experiences that take you to a new level.  Chances are that anyone you ask would be flattered to be asked to be a mentor.  S/he may or may not be able to say yes, but it is likely that they would enjoy being asked.  If they say yes, know what it is that you’d like to get from them.  Tell them.  It’s ok.  That is what mentoring is about.  Straight talk.  Being clear.

If s/he says s/he can’t do it, then tell them why you thought they would be a good mentor and ask if they can suggest someone else.  Ask if they will provide an introduction or if you can use their name to approach the other person.  You wouldn’t think twice about going to a doctor who specializes in something you need.  Don’t think twice about seeking a mentor in the same way.

Remember, though, mentoring is about relationships.  What can you give back to your mentor?  Mentoring relationships are two-way relationships.  Mentors feel good when their mentees make progress.  They like it when they can introduce their mentee to a new experience, person or organization. There are lots of things that you can teach someone who might be your mentor.  Be sure to do it if it is appropriate.  Be open to the ways you can help/teach/entertain your mentor.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Hi Po, Mentor, Networking, Unwritten Rules

Do You Need More Education To Grow Your Career?

Do You Need Education?How Do You Decide?

I recently have had a couple of folks let me know that they have completed the next level of their education.  One of them reminded me that I had responded to his “I’ll be x years old when I finish my PhD” by saying “You’ll be x years old anyway, you might as well have a PhD when that happens.”  That sounds like something I’d say.  And I stand by that.  I don’t believe that you’re ever too old to get more education, and I think education by itself is extremely valuable.  Given that, though, with the price of education today and the sacrifice it takes—away from family and aspects of work—I think it is worth asking whether or not you need more education to accelerate your career.

Let’s Start With What Are Your Career Goals

What do you want to do with your career?  What are your career goals?  What industry, company, level, function, job?  In what time frame?  I know, I know—you don’t know.  You don’t have to know precisely—you need to know generally.

  1.  What industry?

Industry is important.  Do you want to be in the same industry that you’re in now?  Do you want to be in a different industry?  Does your industry require a certain level of education for you to be credible?

If you industry requires a level of education to get to your career goal, or if you want to move into an industry that requires education then, YES, you need more education.

  1. What company?

What is the standard in your company?  Look at the Executives.  Do they all have advanced degrees?  Do most of them?  Are there classes of those with degrees—those who’ve been around for a long time don’t have degrees and those who are newer do have degrees.  When they recruit, what are they looking for?  (It’s important to do this analysis on a pretty regular basis and look at everything the company is recruiting for, not just education).  If your company has a record of promoting from within, and those who get promoted don’t necessarily have advanced degrees, then NO, you probably don’t need more education.

There are many ways to get your ticket punched.  Quite frankly, getting education is the easiest.  Degrees come with the assumption that you know what you need to do.  You can certainly know what you need to know without formal education.  It is just harder to prove to decision makers (including those who hold your career in their hands) that you know what you need to know without that degree or certification.  In fact, I am self-taught in my primary area of expertise—organizational change management and organizational effectiveness.  People who decide to hire me are generally looking for a degree in this area for confirmation of my abilities.  I have to show them experience and writing and references to overcome my deficiency of related formal education.  I’ve always managed to do it.

 

 

  1. What function?

 

Within companies and industries there are different education expectations within different functions.  Finance people may be expected to have an advanced degree in Finance or an MBA or be a CPA, while technical resources may be expected to have a first degree in computer technology, but experience or certifications in certain systems or languages are much more important than additional degrees.  On the other hand, portfolios may be more important than education or certifications for graphic artists.

The standard within the function within the company can help you decide whether you need more education.

*******Remember, however, that career portability is always a consideration.  Does the company you are using to make user decision follow the standards for the industry? *********

  1. What level?

 

What level do you want to reach?  CEO?  A recent U.S. News analysis of Fortune 500 CEOs indicated that of the 500 CEOs,  35 didn’t graduate from college.  Two hundred had M.B.A.’s and about 140 had other graduate degrees. So . . . do you have to have a degree to be a CEO?  Probably YES, you need an undergraduate degree, probably NO, you don’t need a graduate degree.  But then, it depends on the other factors—industry, company, experience, getting your ticket punched.

People could argue that some of the best CEOs (and then they could argue about ‘best’ too) of our times—Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Barry Diller—didn’t have undergraduate degrees—why do you need one.  You don’t.  Do you have a killer idea and the energy, stamina and luck to drive it to market and beyond?  If you don’t have a killer idea, then what skills do you have and how do you provide that you have them to the computers and people who are screening your resume and track record.  Do you get results (and can prove it)?  Then you are less likely to have to have additional education.

What about to be a mid-level manager or entry-level Executive?  An MBA or other business degree helps.  It helps because it provides you with an overview, with some depth, on how you run a business and how you get an organization to deliver results.  To be a mid-level manager or entry-level Executive, YES, probably you do need a formal education. (Again, it depends on the industry, company, function . . . but it does help get your foot in the door and provides you credibility that you know what you’re doing.)

 

  1. What job?

 

Obviously, if you want to be a medical doctor, you need a lot of formal education.  If you want to be a hospital administrator, it probably it isn’t a requirement.  If you work at an organization that requires all Executives to have degrees, then you do.

Even If You Don’t HAVE to Get a Degree/Certification, Should You?

 

Again, it depends:

  • How important is a Degree/Certification/More Education to YOU?

 

Many of us were raised to think that people with an education were “better.”  Our families valued degrees, and we were taught to have that as a goal.  Many of us think that we need a degree to be more valuable.  If this is a big deal—even if you went through the analysis above about whether your career goals require more education—you should consider getting that education.  Self-respect and pride are important for personal happiness and career success.

 

  • Do You Find Learning Fun?  Do You Do That More Easily In A More Formal Setting?

 

If you can afford it, and have the time, then by all means—get more education.  It can’t hurt (except in some cases, a PhD—I’ve seen hiring managers not hire PhDs because they thought they were too academic).

Can You Afford It?

Start with a ROI analysis.  What will it cost?  What will the return be?  It’s perfectly ok to  put intrinsic returns in—that’s what you’re evaluating when you decide to buy a big boat or a vacation home—but you do have to weigh the costs too.  The dollars spent for the education v. the dollars spent for a better school (which might help with being a more credible candidate for career acceleration –65 (13%) of Fortune 500 CEOs have degrees from Harvard) v time spent away from family v likely increase in income over your lifetime v how much better you’ll feel about yourself.  Just don’t do this assuming that it will automatically pay off in all the ways you think.  Investigate this carefully.

 

 

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My Boss Is Young Enough To Be My Child!

Mental Model of Boss

Younger Bosses

It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you.  Why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does.  I’ll go back to harping about mental models.  We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that.  So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us?  Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person  (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!).  I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days.  Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days.  In fact they are mostly from those days.  Things are different now.  It’s time to change our mental models.

I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)).  Age didn’t have anything to do with this.  Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds.  You aren’t guaranteed good bosses.  Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds.  There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings.  There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you.  Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME.  So change your mental model.  Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it.  I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know.  I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors.  One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision.  He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since.  I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization.  She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”

Mental Model Actual Bosses

My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age.  Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table.  What does s/he bring that you don’t have?  How and what can you learn from him?  How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her?  How can you earn his respect?  Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have.  Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes.  Get used to it.  Get good at it.  Especially if you want to be the boss.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Diversity, Inclusion

Reactions To My Discrimination Post

generations at work

Reactions to Reactions To My Discrimination Post

I had readers respond to my Are They Discriminating Against You?  Probably. blog post in a couple of different ways.  First, one reader challenged me about “accepting” discrimination.  He believed that I should advocate challenging the ‘discriminatory behaviors’ of others through complaining to the powers that be and/or Human Resources within the organization, or through the legal system.  I certainly don’t mean to suggest that those aren’t legitimate avenues.  It depends on your goals, though.  Do you want to help fix discrimination long term?  In your company? For everyone?  Then routing yourself around the problem and going to find some place and someone(s) who can judge you for what you are and what you bring and make decisions based on that (as suggested in my last blog) is NOT the solution.  Challenging the status quo is the right thing to do.  Go for it.  Those of us who wimp out on that will really appreciate you.  And support you.  And do whatever you need us to do.

If you need to get a job this month, then you need to find a place that doesn’t discriminate.  You need to find decision makers who are smarter, have better judgement and who are worthy of you.  Leave the others in the dirt–where they belong.

The other people admitted that they themselves discriminate and were unhappy with doing so.  One person who reacted wrote that she found herself sometimes on the side of being a discriminator.  She finds herself feeling the way about young people that older people used to feel about her.  Yet another person who responded–same issue–being a discriminator–just can’t break her thinking of older people as ‘time to go-ers.’ The good news is that both of these readers don’t think that it is ‘right’ to think the way they do–they just feel justified.

So What Do You Do?

I guess my first advice is to acknowledge that there is a huge “humans are this way” element to this. We think of people who are different from us as, well, different.  Not as good.   And then my second advice is to do what I do–struggle with yourself every day to challenge this thinking.  Instead of seeing the instances when the young or old person, does something completely wrong, look for when they make sense.  Work really hard to see it from their perspective.  What do you know that they don’t know that would change their perspective.  What EXPERIENCE (not advice or ‘telling’) could you help them have that would help shift their thinking.  Don’t give them the experience and then take credit for it.  Give them experience and let it go.  Give them the experience and try to figure out the next one that will lead them to an understanding of your point of view.  Think of it as an experiment.  Keep trying things.  Try with one person.  Try with two people.  Compare.  What worked and why.  What didn’t work and why?

Now experiment  with yourself.  Listen to your language.  Are you “them” and “us” -ing?  Are you plopping damning stereotypes on a whole category of people?  Work to see each as an individual.  Note the ways in which the person is ‘different’ from the stereotype.  Another thing we humans do–we make fairer judgements about others who we see as ‘exceptions’ to the stereotype.  “Well, s/he is DIFFERENT.”  Of course s/he is–we are ALL different.  None of us completely fit the damning stereotype.  The sooner you can stop applying that stereotype, the sooner you can stop discriminating.

Go for it!

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Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.

iStock_000011070043XSmall

Discrimination

Not only is it likely that someone (or several someones) are discriminating against you, it is also likely that you are discriminating against someone (or several someones).  It is human nature that we like/trust/believe in/select those who are like us more than those who are different from us.  So . . . Europeans choose Europeans, Americans choose Americans, young people choose young people.  Then there is the problem of stereotypes.  We believe them–without even being aware of them for the most part.  We believe that ‘old’ people aren’t as capable as people our age. We believe that young people aren’t ambitious (at least the latest generation).  Asian people are smart at math.  Women aren’t ambitious because they’re going to go have babies. White men are more ambitious than black men.  And on and on and on.  These stereotypes cause us to discriminate, sometimes without our even being aware of it.  Stereotypes are as  wrong as they are right.  In fact, those of us who are the subject of the stereotypes usually believe they are wrong–period.  I say all of this to acknowledge that discrimination is alive and well in all of our behaviors.   I’m not in any way defending it, just acknowledging it.

So what?

There are laws against discrimination.  There are rules against discrimination.  There are lots of reasons for all of us to struggle against discrimination by others and ourselves.  There are people whose whole existence is focused on the struggle against discrimination.

Can you wait?  Can you wait until everyone stops discriminating against you?  I can’t.  I think it’s time to take the battle on directly.  I think it’s time to work around/through/over and under discrimination.  Just because the decision makers at your organization think you are too old or too young, that doesn’t mean that that is the case at other organizations.  You have a responsibility to yourself to find a place to work that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  You need to find a way to make a living that values who and what  you are.

I talk to people who are absolutely sure that they are being discriminated against.  That makes them feel like there is nothing that they can do about it.  They are the age they are.  They are born black or Hispanic or Asian or female, and nothing can change that. True.  There are places, organizations, friends, decision makers, and opportunities where it doesn’t matter.  Go find them.  You are not sentenced to the status quo.  You choose it.

Do something different.

You are not stuck.  When you graduated from high school you didn’t think about this the way you do now (unless, of course, you just graduated from high school).  Life and your experiences have made you believe that people are discriminating against you.  Wipe all that experience off your radar and ASSUME that someone out there can and will believe in you and what you can do.  Go FIND them!  Where are they?  Make people prove that they don’t believe in you instead of assuming that they don’t.  To be clear, I’m not saying they AREN’T discriminating.  I’m saying, don’t let that rule your life.  Go work someplace else.  Go work for a different boss.  Find a way to make a living (including working for yourself) that doesn’t let those who discriminate against you prevent you from doing/being/having what you deserve.  I know that it might be hard.  I know that it would be a lot easier for all of us if discrimination wasn’t a factor.  Don’t let it prevent you from living your life, making a living, being successful.

And then focus on your own discriminatory behavior.

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Filed under Derailment, Diversity, Executive Development, Inclusion, Job Hunt, New Job

Reflections on Being a Mother, Working and “Leaning In”

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great day to reflect on being a mother.  And on being a mother who works.  And on the controversy over Sharon Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I come from a family of working mothers.  My mother worked.  Her mother worked.  It frankly never occurred to me not to work. It never occurred to me to hold back or not be ambitious (something that Ms. Sandburg says that some women do). I guess I was lucky–I had models of working mothers who managed both jobs and families. I had the luxury of having a husband who believed that I should work, who supported me in working and who carried close to a 50/50 load at home (he traveled more than me for many years, so it wasn’t 50/50 in those years).  My kids were adequately cared for–if not perfectly cared for; my house was never really clean, and my career worked well enough–until I got near the top of the organization.  Whatever the reason for my not becoming a C-suite-r, it wasn’t because I was a mother or because I cut corners because I had a family.  Or maybe it was.  Maybe the people above me made decisions about my career taking my family into consideration.  I don’t know.  I just know that a certain point I chose to leave the organization where I worked because I definitely wasn’t going up any more and there were interesting opportunities for me outside of working for that company.

The bottom line is that being a mother is very important. Working is very important(to some). Being at the top is very important (to some). You have to find your balance among them. You have to find your own happiness.  There are prices–guilt, being tired, dirty houses, missed soccer games. As long as you’re being driven by your own values and dreams you can make it work. I have two very successful daughters, in part because they had a model to follow.  My successful sons regularly do more than 50%.  I guess they had a model too.

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Who Are You And How Did You Get That Way?

In the mirror

Understand Yourself

One of the most important tasks of becoming a great leader and a successful Executive (and those things are not necessarily the same thing) is to REALLY understand yourself.  You need to understand what makes you tick–what motivates you, what slows you down, what scares you and what gets in your way.  You need to understand how others see you.  You also need to understand that what goes on in your head is absolutely invisible to those around you.  They don’t know why you do what you do and they certainly don’t know what you are thinking.  You need to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, your learning style and your interpersonal style.  And then you need to show enough of your internal workings and motivations to help others understand you.

We all think we know ourselves.  We are mostly wrong.  That is why it is really good to get feedback from others.  I highly recommend getting 360 assessments done–pretty regularly.  These are assessments that get feedback from you, your boss and your subordinates.  When you look at your opinion of yourself against that of your boss and your subordinates, you frequently get a surprise.   If your boss doesn’t agree with your opinion of yourself, then it’s important to note the differences.  If your subordinates don’t agree with you and your boss about your strengths–another important factor.  These instruments just measure behaviors, though–what can actually be seen.  When you get feedback that indicates behaviors that can derail your career, it is important that you CHANGE that behavior.  It is possible for you to change your behavior without understanding how and why you do what you do.  You just change.  Right?  Most of us can’t do that.

The Why of Your Behavior

When I identify that I need to change a behavior–interpersonal interactions, eating, exercising, time management–it really helps me to understand WHY I do (or don’t do) what I do.  For example, I used to get feedback that I was “unreadable.”  As I tried to figure out why people thought that, I also tried to figure out WHY I was unreadable.  What did they mean that I was unreadable?  I started asking people (not the one’s who had given the feedback, but others):  “What does it mean when people say I’m unreadable?  Why do they care? What could I do differently?”  The answers surprised me.  It turns out that I used few happy facial expressions.  I wasn’t aware of this.  Whether I was happy, pissed or someplace in between, I was using the same facial expressions. I had very neutral (or so I thought) facial expressions.   I really wasn’t aware of this.  When I thought long and hard about it,  I realized that some things had happened in my childhood that made me very guarded about my thoughts and feelings.  OK.  That was legitimate.  Then.  Those things no longer existed.  And not only that, it was interfering with my effectiveness as a leader because when left to their own imagination, people frequently assume the worse (that I’m pissed AT THEM).  I was able to (deliberately) change this because I was made aware of it, I asked about it to understand it, and then I could persuade myself that the coping behavior from my childhood was no longer necessary.  I was able to change more easily with this realization.

Some of the things that can impact the way your are and can shape your behaviors as a leader are:

  • Your birth order and your relationships with your siblings
  • Your relationships with your parents
  • Your beliefs about how things work (your mental models)
  • Your beliefs about the “rules” of organizations
  • What you believe about hierarchy and how that fits with your organization, your boss and your subordinates
  • Your beliefs about what makes people tick (Theory X, Theory Y)
  • What you believe about people’s responsibility to the organization and the organization’s responsibility to people

Start With Feedback

It all starts with feedback, though.  You can’t know what behaviors are really working and not working unless people tell you.  They probably won’t tell you unless you ask them.  Once you know the behaviors that you should address, think long and hard about where those behaviors come from.  Then do something about it.

Then Change

Sooner rather than later.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Personal Change