Your boss can be one member of your mentoring team, but shouldn’t be your only member.
People are beginning to understand the enormous benefits of mentoring. It is known to improve productivity, promotion, and salary while also reducing burnout. When I give talks on the topic, people always tell me they have a fantastic mentor…their boss. This sounds great…but is it?
Your boss can see your potential as well as any areas of opportunity and can help you succeed in the workplace, and many do. But who is checking for your boss’ blind spots?
During my doctoral studies, I recall chatting with friends about people’s reactions to their pursuit of higher education while working full time. One classmate told me that her boss, who she always got along with splendidly, said “You don’t need a doctorate for what you want to do.”
It turns out, he had no idea what her career goals were. She excelled at her work, and he assumed that if she attained a higher degree, she would eventually seek a role further up in the hierarchy. He was right.
While your boss wants you and your department to succeed, if you leave, even to another division within the organization, replacing you is expensive and a great deal of work. A successor needs to be recruited, has a steep learning curve, and may not know the culture of the organization. If your successor doesn’t arrive before you leave, your boss may need to pick up the slack, train the new person, and simply manage one more thing in their growing list of obligations. Subconsciously, and without ill intent, your boss might be stopping you from moving ahead by not effectively mentoring and sponsoring you for opportunities.
Many bosses are superb and mentor the people on their team with aplomb. I’m not advocating that a boss should not be your mentor. Rather, they shouldn’t be your only mentor.
So how can you move ahead in your career while optimizing your mentoring relationship with your boss?
Identify your next career goal
Meet with your boss and let them know what your next career goal is so that they are not caught off guard. Don’t worry about the “where do you want to be in 10 years” goal as that may change several times. Focus on what is next.
Develop a plan
Develop a plan to help you meet your goal. Ask your boss/mentor what you think they should do to develop that goal. Is there a course you should take? A person you should speak with? Don’t worry if you don’t know them. As I’ve previously covered for Forbes there are strategic ways to approach people you don’t know. You can also ask for an introduction.
Identify a successor
What can you be doing now to develop a successor so that when the time comes, they can seamlessly slip into your role? Let them know that by doing this, there is a higher likelihood you will stay in the organization and are there to answer questions long after you leave the role. You will also be developing other people within the organization which illuminates your ability to find and develop good talent.
If you look good, they look good
Remind them that their success as a mentor is directly related to the success of their mentees. In other words, if you look good, that makes them look good.
Develop a mentoring team
Develop a mentoring team, a whole group of people who can help you with different facets of your career. Your boss should be one of the people on your team, but not the only one. Ask your boss who else they think should be on your mentoring team. If they know the person, ask for an introduction. Remember, when you meet this new person, work on developing a relationship. Do not ask them upfront to be your mentor. By doing so, you are asking them to take on another obligation and you have yet to prove yourself to them.
Many bosses are great, fantastic even. They recognize that they can play a small part in your success. Having several diverse people guide your career can eliminate blind spots, leverage opportunities, and develop collaborations. Your boss could and should be one person on your mentoring team, but nobody should have a mentoring team of one.
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