In a variety of companies and industries, and in a range of roles involving direct reports, I have been responsible for decisions related to training and career pathing, Over the years, I have also learned the value of maintaining focus on my own professional development.
As you may have experienced, there is a palpable feeling of high stakes in many organizations – you work in an increasingly competitive industry, operating globally and therefore 24/7 (at least in terms of accessibility), and technology is rapidly changing the way you conduct business. Consequently, so much is needed to stay relevant, confident, and authentic amidst the stark realities of change management, process improvement and customer satisfaction against which you are measured.
You can choose from certificate programs and advanced degrees to workshops to volunteer work on a Board. Your medium might be in-person or online, and your target may be depth or breadth on a particular topic. The likely resources are through your employer, an institution of higher education, an industry-specific society or association, or even the self-help section at the bookstore.
Getting oriented to the abundance of options and weighing them sometimes requires additional perspective, whether you’re focusing on your functional and technical skill set or you’re looking for ways to hone your leadership competencies.
Coaches and mentors are invaluable resources to have in your network. These labels are often used interchangeably, however, in the world of talent development, we make some important distinctions, which were aptly articulated on Management-Mentors.com.
Coach – Their perspective is mainly task oriented. Their focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately, and learning how to think strategically. This requires a content expert (i.e., coach) who is capable of teaching the “coachee” how to develop these skills.
Mentor – Their approach is relationship oriented. They seek to provide a safe environment where the mentee shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include such things as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.
Additionally, there is another type of influencer I’d like you to consider:
Role Model - A person you look up to and try to emulate. You may know your role model and actually have a two-way relationship with them (like with a coach or mentor), but it is also very common to choose a role model you have never met and never will meet, simply because in some way you idealize that person's image.
I have had the benefit of working with mentors within my organization as well as coaches on the outside. The theoretical and tangible teachings have made lasting impressions. Furthermore, the experiential lessons over time have encouraged me to go back to the well and draw the knowledge or the courage to face challenges.
That said, more recently I’ve been thinking about another influential person in my life - my maternal grandmother. She passed away in 1998; we always had a very close relationship, though in truth, it’s only in recent years that I’ve considered how some of her most remarkable qualities are those that I aspire to, both personally and professionally.
For context, my Nana was born in 1910. She completed high school and earned her license as a beautician. She left her parents home in Massachusetts and headed to New York City, which, for a young woman in those days, was considered quite bold. She worked part-time as a hand model (among other things), and eventually returned to MA and got married at age 29 (another astonishing move for that era). She raised two children and worked part-time at a salon while my grandfather sold produce, drove a taxi, and delivered film to movie theaters. She became a caregiver, first to her mother-in-law, who moved in for two years after suffering a stroke, then to her husband. My grandfather was struck with Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disease, from which he eventually died in 1968, making my Nana a young widow at age 58.
Nana returned to work as a manicurist to support herself. She never remarried and she lived alone though regularly had company or traveled, even internationally, to visit family. She drove a car until she was about 85.
I was in my late 20’s when my Nana passed away. While I was well beyond graduate school and had held several jobs by that point, I look back and realize how much maturing I still had to do.
Another twenty years later and with plenty of experience under my belt, I consider myself a self-confident professional. I also consider myself a work in progress. And when I face different types of challenges, I try to pause for a moment and consider: What would Nana do? How do I muster the perseverance Nana displayed? If I choose X, would Nana be proud of me?
Life is complicated and there are challenging times along your journey. You need, or at least benefit from having resources to help guide you at the crossroads. I am grateful for so many influential people I’ve met in my life, and am especially proud of my role model –my Nana- and all that she continues to teach me as her memory endures.
Who is your role model and what about that person inspires you?