In all professionals’ mind there is this sense of self-developing. At least, this is only true for those who are ambitious. If this is true for you than this might be a good read. If not, you mind want to spend your time reading something else. One of the major ideas, I came across in my self-development journey was “mentorship”, which entails a personal developmental relationship with a more experienced or more knowledgeable person.
Since then, I have equipped myself with several mentors. The key in finding the right mentor is to seek out someone who exemplifies the characteristics you endorse and bluntly approach them. Ask them what their secrets to success are and to coach you. Asking busy successful people may require some carefulness but there are lots of online resources to support your decision and actions towards a mentor. From personal experience, anecdotes and testimonials, I know that most successful professionals like to share their secrets with others.
Before you seek a mentor, however, it might be wise to do some self-diagnostics and assessment of your current profile, to figure out where you are and where you are heading in your career. Defining your profile could be a tedious task, especial it you choose a solo introspection. It therefore might help to get some external perspectives from friends and co-workers who can be honest with you.
Subsequently, define development objectives around the points you choose to improve or choose to strengthen further. It helps to work on the points that will better prepare you to the next level challenge in your career roadmap. This is one part where your mentor can help you with and thus one topic of conversation. Often young professionals overestimate their capabilities and underestimate the professional challenges in the position they aspire. The reality check during a mentor meeting could be helpful in clearly defining and working on self-improvements.
During my mentor meeting I came to learn a few qualities that are important and worth sharing. According to my current and past mentors there are some key qualities and capabilities that executives look for in professionals. This list is accurate yet far from complete and rather a snapshot from a journey.
Passionate curiosity is a term borrowed from Adam Bryant whose book (“The Corner Office”) and it is a definite must read. The key idea is that you need to find and understand your passion very well. It also helps to understand the limitations of that passion since this could limit your career options. As you grow older and wiser, so does your career options as well. Deliberately limiting your career options, it is a way to narrow the potential success routes into one you really want. In finding the right career (note: I dot talk about job, but career) make sure your passion and the priorities of the company you work for (or your own company) is tightly aligned. Once this is achieved, “work” no longer feels like “work” but like being on a meaningful journey doing what you like and enjoying life.
Another part is “curiosity”. Most leaders are known for their extreme good knowledge of the business they are in and where it is heading. That knowledge helps to drive their teams to follow. The other part of great leaders is that they are also very good learners. I personally like the term “Life Long Learning” because it describe the behavior you need to succeed in the fast changing world. One of the best ideas I heard comes from former Kellogg Business School Dean, Dipak Jain. He argues that every professional should pick two industries, two companies and two magazines and study them regularly. After a while, you will become an expert in the field. This is in close alignment with what Malcolm Gladwell describes in the book “Outliers”. Here he claims that spending at least 10.000 hours on a topic could make you an expert. The number may seems big and recalculating that into years, might look like a daunting task, especially if you think you do not have time. I would argue that you can also learn from others, thus splitting the learning task to accelerate the learning. Again, this is where mentorship plays an important part of your development. The goal is not to impress your mentor but to learn and get aggregated and synthesized information for your personal benefit.
Connecting to your network is very important in career development. Modern day networking probably starts with your Facebook or Linkedin connections but it is beyond the digital link to another person. It is about building deep connections in which you show interest in others. The key is about being interested in others and trying to be less interesting. In the context of a company, it is about the stakeholders of your current position. Who needs your results or capabilities? Who depends on you? Who do you depend on? Outside the company, it is your value in your network. In this case, networking is about making sure the right perception of you is being perceived in your network. The combination of these elements will give you a battle hardened confidence in your network and beyond.
Leadership roles are one of the most sought after positions in the professional environments. One of the key advices from a past mentor, was that the ability to lead start with leading yourself. The inability to lead yourself, will result in poor leadership to others. Self-management and leadership is vital but beyond the scope of this piece. The key point about this ability is that if you have not mastered this skill, you should at least master the art of mimicry. Find someone who you think is really good and mirror that behavior and copy the vital skills.
Once you are confident in leading yourself you will move to leading others. That is where your interpersonal intelligence will be tested. It becomes an interaction between you and others. Good leaders are good communicators, most people will argue. In the interaction with others, it is important to understand the power of an idea. As a leader you need to plant the right idea in the right minds and manage the growth so you can harvest the results when it’s ready. When people think of good communicators they often think of those who can give big speeches, which is partly true. Another part of the truth is that good leaders are also good listeners. Active listening often help to assess whether the implanted idea is growing towards a good harvest.
These lessons and pointers, I found to be very helpful on my journey. More important, the key learning is that career development is personal roadmap to a personal vision and not a competition with others. Often we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with peers that may be moving faster, leaving us with frustration why we do not get the “big change”. I found myself more mindful about career innovation strategies and live by the mantra that success comes only when “preparedness” meets “opportunity”. Just be prepared and utilize your network for the right opportunity.