This week I have the privilege of working with a former mentor on the topic of bias and the hiring process – more on that later! – and it reminded me of a post I wrote a while back for Nova Leadership about what I’ve learned from my mentors.
I have been so fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career. If you don’t have a mentor, I encourage you to find one. Potential mentors are plentiful! Leaders want to help others succeed. So get clear on what’s important to you and ask someone. You and your mentor will both be rewarded and enriched by the relationship.
While I have had so much good advice and wise counsel passed to me from the men and women who invested in my career, there are three lessons I hold close and repeatedly share with others.
1) You’re a leader in this company 24/7
I received this feedback early in my career. Perhaps even in my first managerial role. I was in my mid-twenties and just beginning to understand the importance of leading people. My wise manager reminded me that now, as a leader in the company, I would be held to a higher standard. My words carried weight that they may not have in the past. And – my biggest lesson – that responsibility did not end at 5 or 6 p.m. when I walked out the door. Making the transition from peer to leader or from team lead to organizational leader can be challenging. We should each strive to be the leader who takes this responsibility seriously, and who works to have the individual and the company’s best interests at heart on and off-campus, on and off “the clock.”
2) Under promise. Over deliver.
I am an eternal optimist. And love to take on a challenge! So, when someone gives me a big project and wants it back in four weeks, my natural inclination is to commit to do it even bigger – and in three weeks, not four! Better! Faster! Right? Not always. Enter another wise mentor, who challenged me to learn the concept of under promise and over deliver.
Over deliver: got it – all over that one! Under promise – not so much in my nature. What my mentor taught me, however, is also the fine art of stakeholder management, and clarity of expectations. I learned that getting alignment at the start of a project/engagement is critical.
Making sure that I have all the right people involved, at the appropriate time, is equally important when it comes to keeping projects under control. As I work with my clients, I’m clear on what they want and how we will work together. We agree on baseline dates, milestones and objectives. Once expectations are set, then you can overdeliver.
3) Be an absorber, not an amplifier.
This one took some time to understand, and I now see it play out all the time! My mentor explained to me that “Woodhouse, there are two types of people in this world: absorbers and amplifiers. And I need you to be an absorber!”
Change is a constant. Our ability to deal with change, and to effectively lead others through change is a career-defining trait. His point was this: in any change, there are people that absorb the change: who take information in, process it, and share relevant and timely information. These people work to minimize distraction, and to remove barriers. In short, these people – the absorbers – help move the company forward.
Amplifiers, on the other hand, are the ones who take a small challenge to its extreme. The ones who make a small problem bigger, and turn a passing comment into a corporate mandate. These people can galvanize the troops – and get them headed in the complete wrong direction!
There are plenty of sources of career advice, and an advantage of a mentor relationship is that you and your mentor can sift through what is appropriate for you. Want to see what a few well-known business leaders have to say? Inc Magazine has put together a great summary of career advice from respected leaders.