Skyrocket your personal and professional development by getting the right people in your corner.
If you’re looking to grow and learn in the workplace, having the right support is key. Get the most from people around you with this guide.
What to expect
Mentors have the careers or levels of success we might aspire to one day achieve. Seek out the mentors whose personal traits are worthy of imitation, as they can help you to become a better version of yourself. In having what you seek to attain, they must also know what it feels like to be in your shoes, and the necessary steps to get to your destination. Think of mentors as offering you a shortcut, as they, by example, can help you avoid mistakes they’ve already made.
Generally, mentorship is a long-term relationship, with no contractual or official terms. Mentors won’t always necessarily call themselves a mentor, but you’ll know that they fill that role when they show active support to help you, and are both your biggest advocate and your harshest critic when they spot any potential going to waste. The best mentors will care enough to hold you to higher standards: prioritise mentors who are both challenging and supportive in their direction. Generally these are self-selecting relationships grounded in mutual connection whereby a mentor has spotted something that warrants their specific interest . Perhaps you remind them of themselves in some way. Try to seek mentors of both sexes though – we have a lot to gain from men (as Sheryl Sandberg has recently pointed out).
Watch out for
No one is owed a mentor, and many women will have a hard time finding one. You’re unlikely to find one unless you show the passion for your industry that a mentor would expect in return for their investment in time and energy. The right mentor will show themselves only when the mentee is ready; find yours by focusing on doing your best work and making genuine connections with people.
Rarely will a mentor help you just because. They’re a two way street so always try to work out what you can offer them, and find ways to provide as much of this value as possible. Motivations for the mentor might be their perceived lack of something (like digital skills) which you have more of, or perhaps you represent a stage of life they’d like to keep a hand in. Sometimes it’s about being able to point to a rising star and say, “I helped her,” which can prove helpful for their own promotion. Try to have a frank and open conversation about the mentor-mentee relationship early on so that you are able to help support any goals the mentor has from the outset.
What to expect
Your manager has a direct responsibility for your outputs and performance in the workplace setting, and so it should be in their interests to develop you. Good managers can teach you everything they know, give you access to great projects and opportunities internally, and champion your progression. Managers who care about their employees may expend huge amounts of time, energy and resources developing their team and will see themselves as allies, friends and confidants.
The difference between a good and a bad manager can be monumental, given the impact they are able to have upon your learning, wellbeing and promotion. When in the position of choosing a job, choose to work for a person that you can see yourself growing and learning from.
Watch out for
Sadly many managers can prove unwilling or unable to give the support you need. Incentives are not always well aligned meaning many managers will lack the extrinsic motivation to help their teams. They may be stretched too thin or they might be a victim of their own success. For example an individual contributor may find themselves promoted to a management as their reward for good work yet be totally unprepared for the responsibilities such a role demands.
We know that people leave managers, not organisations. So if your manager doesn’t inspire you or help you to grow, inquire switching teams, putting in a complaint, or leaving. You want someone who can progress you – otherwise, you might be wasting your time.
It’s worth also noting managers don’t have the objectivity that coaches or mentors do. They cannot view your situation in isolation from their own. Their view of your worth (think pay and promotion reviews) will always be viewed through a lens of their own, and the comparative nature of the two.
What to expect
Coaches are a paid service designed to cater to your professional development needs. They help with the areas in which you need specific support and can explore these in a safe and confidential environment. Coaches will generally sit outside of your organisation — paid for either by the individual or by the organisation depending on the need. It’s the exchange of money and the set time-frame of a coaching service which makes this a formal – rather than informal – relationship.
Coaches will set goals and outputs for you from the beginning. A coach can provide support with everything from confidence issues, communication techniques, anger management issues through to positivity practices.They can help you to brainstorm difficult decisions or conversations you might need to have and given their impartiality can consider all the factors which might be impacting your performance . Coaches can advise on areas you might not be comfortable discussing internally, such as difficult colleagues, personal issues or a lack of passion.
The best coaches will be trained in psychological or behavioural disciplines and can give you frameworks to explore how to make the necessary changes. They will have seen situations like yours many times over — you are effectively paying for their breadth of experience helping others before you and knowing what tools and techniques have been most helpful before.
Watch out for
A coach is not a one-stop destination for personal transformation. It can be tempting when in the throes of a difficult situation, or strong desire to improve, to throw money at the problem. While coaches will provide the answers to many questions, rarely are there silver bullet solutions. A coach cannot do the real hard work for you. Expect to receive general guidance and pointers towards going about making the necessary changes on your own terms.
In addition, coaches generally can’t give advice about your specific role as they are not trained in your discipline. This means they could lack the bigger picture; their understanding of your workplace will stem from your interpretation of it. See coaches as a reflection of yourself — how they interpret you is likely how others do too.
Not everyone will have all three of these roles in their professional lives, and at certain times in your career one role will be more pressing that another. Earlier on in your career a good manager cannot be underestimated, and for those seeking to advance in a new role or industry, mentors can help pave the way. If you’re self employed or a CEO, an amazing coach will make the world of difference.
For women looking to make more of an impact in their careers I offer 1:1 coaching. Get in touch for a free consultation.
About the Author:
Ellen has experience advising businesses such as ASOS, Deloitte, Rolls-Royce and Tesco on talent and technology. As the Head of Entrepreneurial Investment at the global accelerator The Bakery she is focused on finding and investing in entrepreneurs to start new tech companies. Previously Ellen was a headhunter for digital & technology firms.