Tag Archives: career development

Keys to Find (And Make the Most of) Your Professional Mentor

By Lei Wang

Lei WangAs a working professional, you have probably heard many stories of how other people credited their success to their mentors. Working with a mentor can truly pave the way to success in one’s career, but oftentimes creating—and maintaining—the mentor-mentee relationship can be challenging. Maybe your company does not offer a formal mentorship program, or maybe you simply feel that you’re not receiving much value out of your current mentor.

The key to crafting a successful relationship with a professional mentor is to look outside the box and identify individuals who can offer the best professional guidance.

Discover Your Mentors: Not Every Mentor is Obvious: A mentor is someone who watches out for you and gives you advice.  Unlike a “forced” relationship between a boss and subordinates, or a contract relationship between a coach or a teacher and students, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is often informal.

Often, they don’t wear a hat titled “mentor”, and they may not be older than you or senior in professional ranking. You may not even realize someone is playing a mentor role in your life or career until much later.

There’s a tendency to determine the value of advice based on who it came from. When you receive guidance from someone that you regard as your superior—someone with an impressive title—you’re more likely give their advice more weight and take it more seriously. But sometimes, the most insightful advice may come from someone among your peers, an outsider, or even someone you considered less knowledgeable than you. Sometimes the most innovative idea may come from a novice in the field. For a senior manager, you may find the best perspectives come from your subordinates or people of the lowest rank in your business.

Have you noticed mentors in your life or in your career? Do not dismiss too easily advice from someone about whom you thought, “What does he know about this?”

Keep an open mind and a humble attitude; your best mentors could be anywhere.To get the best out of a mentoring or coaching relationship, you first need to know how to listen to advice. Click To Tweet

Asking for Help Is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness: Now that you know how to discover your mentors, you need to learn when to seek their help.

Your passion may be in starting your own business, or adding value to your existing professional position. With an abundance of easily accessible information online or in books, you can often get started on your own.

There is tremendous value in self-teaching, learning through practice, and learning through mistakes. Those are important skills that can carry you far and keep you growing for the long run.

But it is important to recognize when to seek out help. Some skills can only be accumulated over time, but some are a matter of knowledge and experience. There is no need to reinvent every wheel. Human progress is made on the foundation laid by previous generations. You reach further by standing at a higher ground to start with, so it is important to recognize when to ask for help. Asking for help where it matters is a sign of strength, instead of weakness.

Getting the right help at a certain point could make a difference between years of detours and missing the best opportunity, and gaining fast momentum early so you’re at the right place at the right time.

How to Get the Most Out of a Mentoring Relationship: Since mentors are not “obligated” to you like in relationships bonded by monetary contracts or enforced by professional hierarchies, you have to work extremely hard and be driven and passionate so as to attract their attention and to deserve their time and effort.

The reward for the mentor is not money or promotions at work\, but seeing the result—seeing they can make a difference in your progress.

To get the best out of a mentoring or coaching relationship, you first need to know how to listen to advice. Like in any communication, effective listening requires you to give up any prejudgment of what you hear.

The most damaging prejudgment is not about deciding if the advice is right or wrong, or whether or not to take the advice, but telling yourself, “I know this already.”

When you think “I know this already,” you quickly determine that this advice, though valid, is of no new value, therefore quickly brush it aside and take no action.

Often, when great advice motivates you to take the right action and it yields the right result, it is not because it is new advice; you may have heard it many times before. Following that advice worked only when it clicked with you, when you really listened, were more capable of understanding the advice, and you thought, “Why didn’t I take action earlier?”

The best advice is not the new suggestion, but the suggestion you listen to and take action on. Listen to every piece of familiar advice like it is new advice. Instead of thinking “I know,” ask yourself, “Have I mastered it? Have I seen the result?” If the answer is no, make a plan and take action.

Become Your Own Mentor: Shortening your learning path is normally the reason to seek out a mentor in the first place. The most important role a mentor plays is in motivating you to reach higher goals—goals that you might have thought impossible when you first sought help from your mentor.

It is also important not to rely on professional help as a crutch forever. The goal of seeking professional help is to shorten your learning path, to become independent and competent faster.

When you are on the real battlefield, no one can do your work for you; you have to do it for yourself. You cannot go far if you have to rely solely on external motivation.

Ultimately, you have to learn to be your own motivator.

Seeking help and finding mentors is an important strategy for getting where you want to go in your career. Learning to listen to advice and keeping an open mind to recognize those around you who can serve the role of mentor will broaden the opportunities you have for learning.

While self-teaching is an important practice and can go a long way to helping you learn basic skills, coaches will know what you need, even what you do not.

Lei Wang is an internationally-recognized adventurer, motivational speaker and author of After the Summit: New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.JourneyWithLei.com.

So, You’re Being Acquired

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Most employees fear the changes wrought by acquisition.

I have never been “acquired,” but I have been on the other side—about a dozen times, buying small and medium-sized companies and integrating them into a larger operation.

The almost universal response to an acquisition announcement is trepidation and panic. Staff, especially front-line staff, expect the worst. Even those who dislike their present company or owner protest loudly at the prospect of a new employer. Increased pay, expanded benefits, and promises of job security do little to quell their swelling apprehension. Theirs is a fear of the unknown. You cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. Click To Tweet

If you work for a company that is being acquired, the possible strategies and resulting outcomes are limited and predictable. The buyer could be looking for a working, functional facility, but not the staff . Conversely the focus could be on the customers, but not the staff or facility. In these cases, the facts are soon readily apparent and your future employment status is known, albeit not desirable.

However, in most cases, the purchaser wants the entire operation: the staff, the facility, and the customers. Happily, jobs are secure and the future is promising. Yes, changes will occur, but astute employees will anticipate and welcome these as requisite adjustments for a better future. It is those who oppose or reject the new owner’s directives who run a legitimate risk of unemployment.

If you work for a subsidiary or division and your parent company is acquired, the possible outcomes are more complex. The intent could be let the new acquisition continue to operate as is, in a hands-off, independent manner.

However, some of the other prospects are not so encouraging. There could likely be a desire to cut costs, which unfortunately means that some positions or even departments could be eliminated. Sometimes, the goal is to sell off parts of the company to other buyers. (Analysts anticipated that News Corporation would sell off many of Dow Jones’s small regional papers.) At the most extreme, the entire company can be dismantled and sold piecemeal—then employees need to endure a second acquisition.

For those who acquire companies, never forget the human element. You are dealing with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Honestly communicate as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Backup your positive pronouncements with tangible supporting action. And if the news is bad, treat people with dignity and respect, doing all you can to facilitate their movement into a new job or career.

For those who are being acquired, remember that though you cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. Be realistic and update your resume so it is ready if needed, but don’t prematurely jump ship. Instead, choose to have a positive attitude about the situation, support the new management, and prove yourself to be a valuable asset. You could end up pleasantly surprised by the result.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

A PRIMAL Approach to Creating the Professional Life You Desire!

By Curt Redden

Are you completely satisfied in your career or work? Whether you are just starting your career, or are more seasoned in your position, it can sometimes become a challenge to stay motivated, engaged and happy all the time. It is likely you devote a tremendous amount of time in your chosen field, how can you enjoy it more and make it truly extraordinary?

You can improve in this area by clarifying and focusing on your primal needs. While some consider primal as specific to stages of early man or evolutionary development, the Latin origins of primal (primus) is defined as essential, fundamental, and of most importance. So, what is most important for you as you seek to improve your work and life?

In researching top performers across industries, there are certain approaches and mindsets that separate the vast majority of people from those that reach the goals they desire. All activities are not equal. A PRIMAL approach for you in this context is about laser like focus on what is most important or fundamental to your future success.

There are six key elements essential in this process and they form the acronym as follows:

1. Purpose and Passion: Everyone has something that drives them to do what they do, and activities that help them connect to their natural talents. The challenge is figuring out what that is for you and then using it daily in your work. Maybe you’re thinking there is no way I can find passion in my current work. If this is the case, you may not be leveraging your unique talents and strengths in your current role. You may not even be aware of what are your unique talents and strengths. Top performers consistently tap into what they love to do. They then dive deeper by focusing on the activities and areas where they have strengths. There are many great assessments to help you understand these strengths. The key is self-discovery first, so you can then look for activities and projects in your current profession where you can exercise these talents so they become even stronger. You will also find yourself enjoying work more because it is more rewarding to work in areas you love, and have natural ability.

2. Relationships: Once you have refined the areas in which you naturally excel, the next step is to identify the professional relationships where you will focus and seek improvement. Nobody is successful alone. Study the top performers in your field. What do they do differently? How many of them do you have close and deep relationships? Who are those people for you? If you want to improve, you can dramatically accelerate your learning curve, and improve your results by learning from those who have already achieved what you want to achieve. Invest the time to seek out a mentor who can help you, and be willing to give first. The relationships you establish and deepen in your professional roles will positively impact everything you do. You can improve by clarifying and focusing on your primal needs Click To Tweet

3. Intention and Attention to the most important areas of your work: Not all relationships are equal, and not all activities are equal. The most satisfied top performers say no to the good so they can say yes to the great. They do this by understanding what key actions drive most of their results. The 80/20 Pareto principle applies to your work most of the time. If you look at your deliverables, you will likely see that 20 percent of what you do drives 80 percent of your overall results. How do you do more of the activities driving the majority of your results? Effective goal setting processes can help you prioritize those things first, so you can increase your focus and execution in the areas that matter most. This will help prevent that sickening feeling at the end of the week, when you reflect and ask, “I was so busy this week, but what did I really achieve?” Focusing on the activities that will yield the greatest return on your investment is critical to improving performance.

4. Measure: Once you establish your goals, you have to keep them in front of you at all times. This is often where people struggle with effective goal achievement. You effectively craft your goals, but then put them away. In order to win, you must keep score. Having clearly defined goals and measuring your progress will keep you on the path to success, and ensure you schedule those things first. Best practices in this area include building a scoreboard for your most important activities and projects, and keeping them visible in your workspace. Gamifying this process helps you stay competitive with yourself, and also helps others hold you accountable as you track your progress.

5. Attitude and Perseverance: Everyone fails and has set backs at some point. What do the most successful people do differently, and how can you emulate their resilience in your own life? Establishing and maintaining a positive “can-do” attitude, in spite of your challenges, is foundational to helping you be successful. This is much deeper than simply not whining or complaining when things get tough. This is the ability to rewire your brain to approach problems and challenges with “What is the opportunity in this situation?” rather than fixating on the negative issues.

6. Legacy and Your Work: There is tremendous value to be gained from considering how you want to be remembered by your colleagues, and the impact you want to have aligned with your purpose and your work. How will you give back and help others? Reflecting on your desired legacy will help you to identify the seeds you must plant today. Fast forward to your retirement celebration and think of all the things you want people to say about you. What was your impact, and what will carry on in your work and contributions moving forward?

The key to success lies in formalizing and actively implementing your action plan in each of the six areas. Best of luck in pursuing your best days and your best work as you apply this PRIMAL approach!

Curt Redden is a speaker, talent-development expert, and co-author of Going PRIMAL, A Layered Approach to Creating the Life You Desire. Curt has spent more than twenty-five years working to support and encourage employees as they strive for success. He currently is the head of global talent development for a Fortune 50 company. He is also certified by the Association for Talent Development as a master trainer and performance-improvement consultant. For more information on Curt Redden, please visit: www.primalsuccess.com.

Reaching the Professional Summit

Three Pillars to Redefine and Understand Success

 By Lei Wang

Stephanie is in her early fifties. She has been a business consultant for twenty years and worked her way up from a junior associate all the way to one of the few female partners in her company. She lives a comfortable life and no longer need to pull all-nighters frequently just to stay “on top” of her work. Though considered rather successful by most people, she is a bit lost as to her next step. Coasting through the rest of her professional life? Early retirement? Do something different? For many years, other than working like mad, she hardly set aside time for herself. Driven by a strong desire for success and the responsibility for taking care of her family, she never entertained the possibilities of other “options”.

Her only daughter recently graduated from college, .Now that her daughter is asking her for career advice, she finds herself questioning her own professional direction. How can she provide her daughter with the best career advice? Also, what’s next for herself?

While launching or furthering your career, knowing what success means to you will help you find greater meaning and happiness. Here are three pillars to help you define success for yourself:Knowing what success means to you will help you find greater meaning and happiness. Click To Tweet

1. Make every achievement personal and measure success against your own effort rather than any external comparison: If you rely on external comparison to validate your sense of success, you may obscure your own perception by comparing yourself to people who are less or more “successful” than you. Or you could be confused as you bounce between being applauded by a full room after a presentation, and being passed over at the next promotion opportunity.

The external criteria used for comparison is frequently random. Yet, as an individual, you long for a consistent and trustworthy confirmation of your worthiness. The only reliable source has to come from you—no other people or commonly accepted social norm.

Every person has a different starting point and different talent. So your success can only be judged against your own effort. What matters is not where you start from, or where you are today, but how hard you are working and how fast you are making progress. Someone starts low but consistently works hard could surpass someone who starts high but only makes a mediocre effort.

Instead of resorting to any external comparison, compare where you are today versus where you were yesterday. Keep an eye on where you want to be tomorrow, and constantly make your best effort day-after-day. Sooner than you realize, you will be surprised to find how high you have reached.

2. The energy and motivation that a challenge inspires in you will make it easier to reach the summit: Be sure not to overachieve at the expense of being able to sustain yourself mentally and physically for the next challenge.

Do not put yourself in a position where you are in the “flow” of your work and resist taking breaks for fear of falling behind. This creates burnout—plain and simple.

You may find yourself at a critical junction that taking a break means failure and render void your previous efforts. But you have to remember, your ultimate goal, your ultimate success, is much further than the goal in front of you. The journey is a long marathon, and the finish line is further than you can see. Keep in mind: even though sprinting to reach that immediate goal in front of you right now may appear to be the most important task, it’s just a very small step in the long journey.

What can you do to prepare yourself for the long-haul to success? What can you do today so you will be better prepared when you face another “critical” moment tomorrow? By taking care of some important—but not yet urgent—issues today, you could avoid making every important issue today an urgent problem in the future. In business, that’s what risk management is for; in combat or competition, that’s what training and rehearsal is for; in your daily life, that’s what learning and taking care of your health and your relationships is for.

3. Success is a journey of constant searching and reconnecting with purpose: Any achievement, no matter how significant it may be, is just a point on this journey. You will have many opportunities for success.

While the only criterion to evaluate your success has to come from within and the journey to success is a long marathon, you still need some “target”, right?

Common goals include reaching a certain number in revenue, scoring a certain position in an organization, or attaining a certain rank in your profession. However, you need to understand that each of those goals is just a point on your journey to success. Those points themselves are not the ultimate success you are pursuing. Just like the measurement of success comes from within, the goal also needs to connect to something within yourself.

The most important question is why? Why are you in this business? Why are you pursuing in your profession? What does reaching those goals mean to you, to your family, to your community? What is the ultimate “goal” you are trying to reach beyond those “points”?

You have to dig deeper to understand your internal drivers, and discover the purpose of your life. Once you “know” the purpose you are serving or pursuing, it will be easier to see how those “points” on your journey connect and where you are heading. Let your purpose be the guide posts on your journey. You will never feel lost no matter if you succeed or fail at reaching that immediate next point, because you always know how to find the next guide post and you know where you are heading to in the future.

Be prepared to go beyond the immediate goal or achievement. Too often we sacrifice long-term success for short-term goals. There are always new summits and new goals. You will reach further faster if you look beyond the summit just in front of you.

Lei Wang is an internationally-recognized adventurer, motivational speaker and author of After the Summit: New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.JourneyWithLei.com.

To Succeed as a Leader, Share the Big Picture

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslMike worked for a medium-sized business and went to work every day happy to have a job. But he wasn’t too enthused about his work environment. Employee morale was so-so because most long-time employees were merely going through the motions.

Greg was a friend of Mike’s from college. They both went to work, but in different industries. They stayed in touch on social media and decided to get together for lunch.

Mike picked Greg up at his work place. He felt inspired when he entered Greg’s building. There was an energy that was hard to describe. It was definitely not the same as at his company. He was warmly greeted by the receptionist and waited in the pristine lobby for Greg.

At lunch, Mike asked Greg about his job and what he liked about working there. Greg mentioned that the company has a management philosophy that every employee is important, like the links in a chain. They believe in sharing information that reinforces that message.

Every employee plays a role in the company’s performance. It is important that they know their role. This gives them a sense of purpose. It answers the question, “Why does it matter?” Some people always take great pride in their work. They know it reflects on them. Some people only push themselves when others are relying on them to do their part. Sharing the big picture helps to get the most out of these people. Getting the small things right leads to bigger success. Every employee plays a role in the company’s performance. Click To Tweet

Here are five different strategies a leader can use to foster a workplace where every employee feels valued and can contribute to the overall vision of the company.

  1. Include all employees in strategy meetings: To the extent possible, involve employees in strategy meetings. When you are contemplating a change in the company’s direction, modifying one or more processes or seeking new methods to improve delivery, involve the people who perform the tasks before decisions are finalized. They are liable to push back. When they do, use your wisdom and judgement to determine if the push back is valid. If it is valid, figure out a better path forward. This will prevent mistakes that save time and reduce waste. If it is the natural reaction to resist change, deal with it now. You will avoid passive-aggressive behavior that will sabotage the path forward. Done right, you will earn the respect and buy-in of your team members. However, things like impending job actions (layoffs, promotions, transfers) must never be shared until it is time. When you are otherwise open, the need for discretion will be respected.
  2. Stress the importance of every position: A good leader knows how every employee contributes to the overall performance of the company. Some employees interface with customers. Others provide a clean and safe work environment. Some create the finished product. All the employees play a part in the success of the company. Good leaders praise the individuals and the teams, both in public and in private, for the significant contribution they make to success of the organization. This is important. Over time, people who don’t deal with the finished product may forget the significance of their role. They need to be reminded.
  3. See the Big Picture: There is a common fallacy in the workplace that one job contributes more than others to the success of the project or company. It is a great thing when employees realize that what they do is important. It is not so good, however, when the needs of the other employees and other affiliated organizations are discounted. Local optimization can result in less than optimal total performance. Explain to your teams the bigger picture. Look at the needs of the other teams and individuals. Understand the other’s position. Explain your organization’s role and the roles of your internal suppliers and internal customers. Keep focused on the end-to-end process, not only your link in the chain.
  4. Your Business Story: The most powerful story for any business is the story of why the company exists. Who founded the company? What problem did the company originally solve? How did the company evolve into its current state? This works for businesses of all sizes. This is effective in external sales presentations. It is also effective in keeping employees motivated. When that story is known and repeated, employees will realize that they are part of growing or preserving a legacy.
  5. Maintain an open-door policy: When you involve employees in strategy, communicate the importance of the roles of each employee and see both the big picture of the company and the reason why the company exists, your employees will see you as someone who not only talks communication, but communicates. You can further enhance that relationship by having an open-door policy. Set boundaries and let people know, but invite people to approach you with their concerns or questions. Maybe they come to you. Maybe you walk around and catch them doing things right.

When you share the big picture, every employee feels valued. They know they play a role in the success of the company. Job satisfaction increases. It costs little to do this and brings back big returns.

Driving back to work, Mike realized that this aspect of work culture was missing from his company. He thought about his role and how it fit into the bigger picture. He felt better about his job. He vowed to look for ways to help his fellow employees understand their roles in the bigger picture, as well.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.WaltGrassl.com.