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.
You will find these folk both internally and externally, often in consulting or contracting positions. They are the folk you can trust for a sympathetic career ear and advice. They are not limited by the traditional, linear career thinking. The best have a big picture of careers, stay open-minded, and are able to help you consider a variety of perspectives.
Even though you think your work options are fuzzy, unrealistic, or even impossible, they are able to search with you and find the order in your life to make sense of your options. As I write this, I remember an illuminating conversation with a brilliant thinker who’d known me since I was in my first vocation. Over lunch and a discussion of my current vocation — the consulting business — he commented that I was still doing what I did in that first vocation thirty years earlier; however, “my competencies and language had matured and the contexts had changed drastically.” He brought order into what I thought was random and completely disorderly.
Career mentors understand the needs of differing industries and organizations and are not threatened by the speed and complications of the global marketplace and the 21st century. The best have the ability to discuss and explore professional options. Usually older, they may have worked in numerous firms, changed vocations several times, and lived in different regions of the country — and the world.
Strategic mentors are people most employees and managers don’t look for or readily find because their expertise doesn’t surface in the everyday course of work and life. These people have extensive knowledge about tomorrow and how it’s liable to affect your career and your firm. Obviously, no one can accurately predict the future, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about it.
Piecing together the future is a highly complex endeavor. More often than most anticipate, careers go out of existence because of traps that could have been avoided with the insights of a strategic mentor. Strategic mentors can help you find and create opportunities and new careers — and avoid those traps. Their ability is priceless, especially since your career and organization can be impacted by things out of your control such as government policy, the needs of a low-carbon economy, rapid advances in technology, intense market competition, increasing globalization, and important societal and demographic changes.
Check back for Part 4 tomorrow, in which Dan discusses how to find your mentors. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.
Dan Erwin, PhD, is a specialist in performance improvement. Over more than 25 years he has coached nearly 500 officers, executives, and managers from top American corporations by means of his very original, cutting-edge development program. Shockingly, you can't Google his name prior to 2008 — due to the demands of his clients. He blogs at danerwin.typepad.com, and tweets at twitter.com/danerwin.
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