Sometimes It Takes Someone from the Outside-To help you see what is going on in the inside.Chia-Li Chien, Ph.D., CFP®, PMP®, CPBC
Chia-Li Chien | Mar. 29, 2013
When I was a Director of Information Technology at an $8 billion publicly traded company, I was stuck in a job I did not like, and even felt like, most of the time, I knew more than my boss (who was the vice-president of IT). Perhaps like you have felt before, or are even feeling now, I had a strong desire to learn more. So, I requested a meeting with the Chief Information Officer in the company—my boss’s boss—and asked her, without pretense, “Would you want to be my mentor?” To my surprise, she just looked at me and said, “Yes.”
Although at the time I did not know what mentoring meant or how it worked, this person opened up many learning channels for me, even sending me to a nine-month leadership forum. I was one of the first two people in our firm to attend and graduate (even before my boss). Since it was an invitation-only forum and part of a center for creative leadership, without my mentor, I would never have received this type of opportunity, and most importantly, would not have been able to broaden my professional network.
Years later, when I reinvented my business in 2003, I had no experience whatsoever in sales and marketing. So I hired a marketing coach and we worked together for two years. Then I hired a sales coach to help me improve business development and prospecting.
Coach – A certified coach can guide you through professional, business, personal and even spiritual development. If you decide a coach is the type of guide you are looking for, it is best to identify which area you want to develop, and locate the coach who specializes in that area. The best coach can help make you answer the tough questions.
In addition to my corporate experience with a mentor, today I have several mentors. Each of them helps me with a specific strategy in my business, as an author and as a wife and mom. I may not talk to them all the time, but somehow we manage to communicate often enough to help me decide on what is right for my business and my life.
Mentor – A mentor is someone who has been in your shoes, and knows intuitively how to help you get through the tough times. They can help you find answers with the knowledge of what is best for you, since they’ve been in a similar situation. They also can guide you strategically to the next level in business. A mentor may or may not tell you what to do, but instead serve as your strategic guide. Most importantly, a mentor is a connector, networking you in the right place or with the right people.
Take a look at your core competencies. Would your time be better spent networking than doing payroll? Couldn’t you be providing content for your blog that will be read by 1,000s rather than looking over a contract? I rely on advisors, who play a key role in my business. They provide the advice that best guides me in strategy implementation as well as allow me to use my time in a way that suits my strengths.
Advisor – An advisor is someone who specializes in a specific area such as law, accounting, finance, architecture, etc., who can you advise you professionally. As a businessperson, you hopefully already have someone in the roll of your CPA, business attorney, financial advisor, etc.
When my strategy is finalized and ready to implement, I often seek a consultant to do the work. For example, I’ve hired a marketing firm this year to rebrand my business. They will act as consultants to communicate my message through brochures, a website, logo design, etc.
Consultant – A consultant can provide advice, too, as well as implement the advice you receive from them. Think of a consultant as your temporary staff.
As you can see, in my business, I have worked at different times with each of the specialists above. Don’t focus on which type of outside insights would work best , but instead, determine what you want to accomplish.
Flashback to when I was in third grade, and found myself in love with dance. Despite my mother’s resistance, I signed up for my school dance team and started learning to dance. I was so drawn in by my dance teacher that I could just follow her every move, and found myself learning how to dance like a Chinese princess.
That year, our school team took third place in the City of Taipei, home to 2.8 million people. I continued to learn dance under different teachers throughout elementary school, middle school, and all the way to college.
Do you have a teacher to follow? Is there someone you know who does not come from an area you are familiar with—who may be an outsider— to offer you a unique perspective? How do you find the right person to emulate?
In each stage of your business, there will be something or someone missing, and you may need outside help to push you forward in the right direction. Once you find out what the missing piece is, deciding who on the outside can help you becomes easier.
No matter where you are in your business or life journey, having a professional, personal, spiritual or family life sounding board of sorts always comes in handy—especially when you find you need an objective—outside—point of view.
A coach, mentor, advisor or consultant can help you navigate through. You already inherently know how to succeed – or else you wouldn’t be in business. Someone with an outside perspective will guide you if you ask or engage them. Anyone can learn to dance!