When you look at your resume, it’s easy to think of your experience in terms of years, title changes, pay increases―the substantial evidence of your career growth. But your growth as a professional is much more than just the numbers and titles changes. Our successes, failures, challenges, and even interpersonal relationships we build are the moments where actual growth occurs.
When I reflect on my previous jobs, I often think about the influential people that I worked with. In large part, my career growth is not due to moving up a career ladder at each new company. It was due to great mentors.
Looking back, there are two people who have had a great impact on my career growth. During my first week at a previous company, I was attending an in-depth product training with all of the trainers on my team. The senior trainers were Roberto and Lori, and I was assigned to work with them on developing a new training program for this product. Not knowing anything or anyone that first week, I listened and observed them a lot. I thought to myself, “These two are so fun and engaging! I’ll never be as good at training as they are.”
That was just the beginning of some great memories working with, and learning from, Roberto and Lori. I’ll share the specific ways that these two helped me move forward in my career because of their mentorship and coaching.
1. See things from a different perspective.
I remember a couple times when an email came through my inbox that really got to me. There may have been steam coming out of my ears.
Each time, I expressed my frustrations to Roberto, who was a great sounding board. But rather than simply assuaging my feelings, he challenged me on the assumptions I was making.
Roberto was often the one who would bring a neutral perspective to our team meetings, as well. When we would have a heated meeting and tensions were high, Roberto was great at helping us take a step back and analyze the other perspectives.
His example has made me more conscious of the way I work and interact with colleagues. In a globally connected society, one can learn a lot from mentors who bring a unique perspective because of their culture, age, gender, or expertise.
2. Observe leadership, communication, and management skills that you didn’t learn in college.
I’ve gone to grad school, taken a management course, and read a lot of books on the subject. But, I don’t remember much of what I learned in that class!
What I do remember is watching my mentors handle difficult situations and emulating what I learned. I also asked to sit in meetings or trainings facilitated by my mentors. They were always willing to let me observe them in action.
Good mentors don’t just focus on how to uplift your skills and expertise as they relate to the technical aspects of your role. Just by working with Roberto, I’ve learned how to motivate teams in very unique ways. I remember one time, while many teams were having outings for the holidays, our team felt a little disconnected because we were spread across four different states.
Roberto’s solution? A virtual holiday party.
You’re probably thinking the same thing I did. So cheesy. So awkward. He had prepared a gameshow where we sent him pictures of our home offices, and we each had to guess which office belonged to whom. (Confession: Mine was the plywood board propped up in the closet.) It was a fun way to break the ice with our team and bring us into each other’s work space even though we were separated by distance. He even got our competitive spirits going. I’ve never had so much fun at a party, and it was entirely virtual!
I picked up a lot of good tips from Roberto that day, particularly how to think outside of the box! Being able to shadow your mentor and see them in action is a great way to see what you can have ready in your bag-of-tricks next time you need it.
3. Gain a new perspective on ways to develop your natural abilities.
Like most people, I’m my harshest critic. As a very analytical personality, I am different from most others who work in corporate training and education. Many trainers are very expressive, exciting, and crazy fun!
I used to think the way I delivered training was much less exciting than my colleagues. But over the years, I’ve found my analytical side can be a valuable asset.
Once, I was working with Lori to document a new process for training the sales team. As we worked, I noticed several issues that had potential to trip up the sales team. Through Lori’s coaching, I began to realize that what makes me different as a trainer is also the greatest asset that I bring to my role.
Having a mentor who encourages you to harness your natural abilities, rather than pointing out weaknesses, can help you make the most of your natural strengths.
4. Challenge yourself to try something new and take your career to the next level.
Mentors aren’t just there to give you fuzzy, warm feelings. They should also challenge you to do things that are out of your comfort zone.
I once attended a weeklong Change Management conference with Lori. At the end of the conference, three teams were chosen to present their change management plans. As luck would have it, our team was chosen to present.
Lori turned to me and said, “This is you girl. I’ve had many opportunities to present in front of large groups. This would be good for you.”
At first I thought, “Whaaaat? We’re a team. We should be sharing this responsibility together!” But after I got over my initial gut reaction, I knew she was right. Lori was pushing me to do something that might scare me, but she had confidence that I could do it.
Whether it’s holding you accountable to implement that new process, trying to new approach to manage a difficult employee, or pushing you to present at a national conference, a great mentor will look for experiences that challenge you to try new things, learn, and succeed.
Maybe you already have a colleague in your life who is a great mentor–that’s awesome! How have they helped you grow? Make sure to let them know! Who doesn’t like hearing how they’ve made a difference in someone’s life?
If you never had a mentor, maybe this article has encouraged you to find one. If so, check out this post from PM expert on Elizabeth Harrin about finding the right mentor for you.