You may believe that your boss holds the key to your career growth, but he or she isn’t the only one you should be investing your time with. Here are the key types of relationships you’ll want to cultivate at work:
Mentor: a mentor is someone who has been in your shoes and is available and willing to provide you advice as you grow in positions of increasing responsibility. This is someone who wants to give back and sees you as a high potential talent. They may be someone higher up in your department or division, or someone at a senior level in a completely different discipline than your own. Ideally, your mentor will meet with you at least once a month for an hour to check in, learn about your most recent wins and challenges, and provide advice on how to navigate current events. The alternative perspective they can provide is deeply valuable.
Bonus points if you form a relationship with a mentor internal to your company and one external. The external mentor can also serve as a valuable networking agent when it comes time for you to make a career move.
To kick off a relationship with a mentor, send an email to the individual you’d love to learn more from and inquire if they might have the capacity to serve as your mentor. Chances are they’ll be deeply flattered.
Stakeholder: a stakeholder is someone who is more senior to you within the company who is also your advocate. Behind closed doors, in key organizational meetings, a stakeholder is someone who will actively advocate for you to be promoted into positions of increased responsibility. They are someone who is familiar with your personal brand and want to see you take on more responsibility because they know you’re more than capable. An ideal stakeholder is a leader in a department you work closely with who is familiar with and admires your contributions and work ethic.
To develop a relationship with a stakeholder, think about key senior people within the company you admire. Cultivate relationships with this leader by being the best version of yourself possible. Show up each day and be productive at work, in meetings, and in your contributions.
How is this different from a mentor? A relationship with a stakeholder is more organic and natural. You won’t begin an email to them with, “I’d like you to be my stakeholder,” as you might indicate in a note to a prospective mentor. A stakeholder relationship happens more fluidly. It happens through an email you might send to them about an insightful article you thought they’d find interesting, thanking them for the input they provided in a meeting, or complimenting them on their team’s contributions and the great impact it had on you. This relationship happens over time and as a result of many positive data points about you and your contributions.
Separate from these two key relationships, and one not to be overlooked, is a relationship with your company’s CEO. The CEO is a brilliant person to be able to observe and form a relationship with. Make sure your CEO knows more than just your first name.
In many companies, access to the CEO isn’t possible. Perhaps she works in another city or the company is really just too large for you to feasibly get in front him/her. If it’s not the CEO, then why not your boss’ boss’ boss’ boss? Your mission is to identify the most senior individual within the company you have access to who you can also build a mutually beneficial relationship with. This person could be your mentor, but if nothing more, this individual will be a valuable person for you to observe during meetings, make note of how they deal with challenging issues, how they carry themselves each day and how they build relationships.
In the title you’ll note that I suggest your most important relationship isn’t with your boss. Why is that? Certainly, it’s an important relationship and one you should focus on ensuring is the most positive and productive it can be. That said, for true and significant career progression, it’s important for you to cultivate relationships at a level outside of your boss so you can promote your personal brand external to your current position and department, and develop advocacy.
So, where do you start? Your focus for the rest of the week is to get out from behind your desk and start engaging with interesting, available, and outstanding leaders you can learn from. Bring some unique ideas forward … and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You’re a rising star, and it’s time to get the visibility you deserve.
– Jackie Simon