MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important to have a mentor? is written by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Anyone who is building a career needs help along the way. Mentors/coaches/sponsors–regardless of what you call them–we can all benefit from the wisdom and insight of others further along in their careers. There are three important contributions that these relationships can provide:
What feels like a big deal initially, may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It’s important to know what to sweat and what to forget–when it’s okay to let something roll off your back and when you should stop and reflect more deeply. Colleagues with more experience–who are further up the career ladder–have a better view of the broad landscape. They can help you make sense of your current situation in a broader context.
Great coaches and mentors excel at asking questions, specifically the types of questions that lead you to reflect on your performance, behavior, and goals–to learn from your mistakes and successes. They don’t tell you what to do, instead they use questions to teach you how to reflect constructively on your own. In the process, they help you realign your objectives with the current situation, to see the smoothest, most fluid path forward in a way that is authentic to who you are.
Every one needs positive energy to move forward in their career. Especially when you are expected to learn from your mistakes, it’s important to be able to view that process in a positive light–to see how valuable and rich hard-won lessons can be. We may gain confidence from our successes, but it’s our failures that develop our leadership muscle and offer the most powerful insights.
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