I’m lucky. I’ve benefited from dozens of mentors over the years who provided guidance, perspective and insight on key components of my career. Here are three memorable pieces of advice I apply to my professional life to this day.
Ask yourself, what do I want to be known for?
I was a year into a demanding, internal communications role in which I felt like I was accountable to multiple “managers.” I felt that executives on the business side expected one thing of me while the leadership of my communications team was looking for something else. And, oh yeah, then there were the employees and doing right by them.
I happened to be working with a mentor through SF IABC’s Mentoring Program at the time, and when I explained the situation – and associated stress – he asked me a question that I now often ask myself. “What do you want to be known for?” I was filled with a sudden burst of clarity as I answered his question. I went on to have a very successful year at work and built a reputation for the work ethic and quality I became known for.
It’s not about whether you can do it better, it’s about what your job is.
As a junior-level web content specialist it was fairly routine for me to run anything I wrote past my manager. I always looked forward to her feedback, coaching and, well, validation that I had done a good job. One day I received her edits, only to find that there weren’t any. Hesitant to believe that I got it all right on the first try, I asked if she was sure there wasn’t anything she’d like to add or change.
“Nope, it’s fine.” she said with a smile. Then, as an afterthought she added, “If I wanted, I could redo everything all of you write, but that’s not my job. I’m here to help you learn.”
A few years later I was promoted, and as a first-time manager was working with a coach to help me through the transition. I shared that I was starting to feel overwhelmed because there was so much to review; after all, I had a team of eight people counting on me.
“Yes, but you have other things to do in this role. Do you really want to be editing everything your team writes?” he asked.
My former manager’s pearl of wisdom came back to me, and I knew the answer. Since then, my “editing style” in a leadership role is to review and provide high-level feedback verbally or in writing. Unless I’m in a formal editor role, I don’t use track changes and try to avoid that ever-annoying habit many communications professionals have – to edit for the sake of writing it “their way,” rather than making something better.
Overachiever, know thyself.
I’ll admit, I’m an overachiever. In fact, all of my managers over the years have given me this feedback, in their own, much nicer way. The most interesting spin was when one former manager said, “The problem with you is that you can’t just put in 75%.”
I’m not sure if he meant it as a compliment, but it wasn’t a criticism either. It was more of a matter-of-fact statement, as he and I discussed my decision to move away from full-time work in order to better manage my health and have more flexibility in my schedule.
While I brushed it off as humorous at the time, I later realized that understanding my own capabilities, and that my 75% is often perceived as 125%, was going to be the key to finding that magical state called balance. As an independent consultant, I set and reset priorities for myself almost daily based on the number of clients and amount of work I have. I often reflect on his observation, give my inner overachiever a reassuring hug and then proceed to pace myself accordingly.
Having benefited from insights like the above, I believe that mentors are essential to career success. Working formally with a mentor is like getting in the driver’s seat while selecting a really trusty guide to sit in the passenger seat! So what are you waiting for, go schedule a chat with a mentor today!