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Having a mentor can be invaluable to your career development. That said, career development only matters if you are doing the job you currently have very well. Enter the value of an advisor.
Back in 1999, when I was working at Blockbuster, the CMO asked me who I bounced ideas off and got advice from. As you would probably expect, I named a few other executives at Blockbuster. “No, no,” he said. “I mean people outside of Blockbuster.” He then went on to give me examples of people he talks to. I didn’t even realize I should have such people. Prior to Blockbuster, I had only worked at IBM.
Frankly, all the people that I looked to for advice and counsel were fellow IBMers and they operated more like mentors who I wouldn’t necessarily take time from to bounce ideas off. It never occurred to me to build a network of people to help me better do the job I currently have. Turns out, this was a key lesson – and one I was learning pretty late in my career.
When you first start a new job, there is so much to learn in order to ramp up to become fully effective. It is rare that you take on a role that no one has ever done before. Your career usually won’t advance until you are executing in your current role very well. Potential advisors may have done the job in a different industry or context, but seek out their guidance.
These people have been through similar challenges to what you are going through, and can help you avoid pitfalls and first timer’s mistakes that inevitably slow you down. Companies aren’t paying you to have all the ideas yourself; they are paying you to execute the role you have as effectively and efficiently as you can.
I really took this to heart when I became a first-time CEO more than 15 years ago. I was responsible for areas of the business that I hadn’t managed before and had responsibilities that were simply brand new for me. One new area, in particular, was the management of the stock ownership cap table – a term and process I wasn’t familiar with, since I had only worked in publicly traded companies. Remembering the wise words of my former Blockbuster boss, I knew I needed an advisor – preferably several.
To that end, I started a CEO group comprised of about eight female CEOs who were also building businesses. Why female? Honestly, some of the challenges I faced being a Silicon Valley software CEO were unique to being female, so I wanted that perspective.
When we needed to raise money and the board wanted a recommendation for the employee option pool, it was this group of women I went to for advice. I wasn’t about to tell the board I had no idea. When the time came for me to submit my recommendation, it was solid and accepted. This group supported me through my tenure as CEO – from difficult founder situations to executive management, they were my sounding board.
For the right type of advisors, find people who have walked in your shoes, faced real challenges and had setbacks. These are the people who really learn and can share their lessons. If a job was easy for someone, she probably learned less and will frankly be less valuable to you. Also, make sure she is someone you trust completely. You will need to share sensitive information at times and need to know that it won’t be shared; she should always have your best interest at heart.
Above all else, you need advisors that will tell it to you straight. One of the very best advisors I had was both an advisor and a mentor. I had no doubt that he cared about me, but there were times and conversations when he told me flat out I screwed up. Those times were typically when I knew what the right course of action was, but I was delaying the inevitable action. In other words, I was procrastinating.
It also happened when I didn’t do what I believed should be done for reasons that weren’t good enough. His criticism and support helped me become more courageous. I truly appreciated him for this most of all. It is hard to get direct feedback – and good advisors will provide it.
Many of us have financial advisors, tax advisors, spiritual advisors, etc. We need to add a personal business advisor to this list. Having personal business advisors focused on helping you excel at your current job will help improve your odds of achieving your career objectives.
This article was originally written for Forbes C200 Contributor. To view the original click here.
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