Question any leader or executive about their success and eventually they’ll tell you that their mentor played a big role. Today, however, there is no Jedi-Master Yoda, wise and powerful, taking on people and unlocking the paths to business immortality. The onus is now yours to find numerous mentors, build the relationships, learn from them, weave the skills together, and create your successful identity. No single master, but a collage of mentors.
These are the mentors you need to do your day-to-day work. They’re usually the first you meet in the organization because they have the responsibility to get you situated. Inside your organization and readily available, they can provide the basic mentoring in those specific disciplines and proprietary skills that your organization needs and holds dear.
As you’re beginning in a new organization you’ll find that some mentors really know their stuff and watch out for you. They seem to understand the needed competencies better than most and they’re also interested in helping get you fully integrated into their organization. Stay in touch with these few because they probably know a lot about what the organization values in its technologies and will be willing to continue sharing that information. Though you may outgrow them, they might also be able to point you to those who have a deeper grasp of the firm’s needs and your skill development.
Relational mentors are those who are oriented to relationships and especially effective interpersonal communication. I distinguish them from skills mentors not merely because their competencies are different, but because most skills mentors are not effective relational mentors.
My first client at Ralston Purina turned out to be a superb relational mentor, telling me what to say, how to say it, and even whom to contact to build my business at Ralston Purina. He made possible many, many relationships over more than six years of consulting at that firm, enlightening me as to whom to approach to gain still further clients. He even let me know where the land mines might be and how to avoid them.
But most employees don’t think about relational mentors. That puts them at a serious career disadvantage. Relational mentors not only provide relational how-to, but, significantly, they help you learn to work the system to get things done and to achieve your work objectives. Most employees spend far too little time and care on building and maintaining these people. Yet it’s their interpersonal expertise that can set them apart as an employee and eventually as managers and executives — not merely technical skills. It’s fairly simple to find technical advisors, but relational people are rare birds. Surprisingly, their service is far, far more valuable than technical ability. After all, the real business of business is conversation.
By now, some of you may be frustrated by my roughshod handling of technical ability and development, but reality is on my side. Not only will great performance fail to positively impact your career, it can seriously limit your future. Research is shockingly clear that managers want to keep their top performers for themselves. Though they’ll expand a person’s scope and responsibility and give them better salaries, they are often quite unwilling to bring that performer to the attention of others and risk losing them. Instead, it’s the relational mentor outside your organization who can help you get noticed.
Check back soon for Part 3, where Dan discusses career and strategic mentors! Miss Part 1? Read it here.