In earlier posts, I’ve talked about what to look for, how to utilize, and what to avoid in an advisory board and a mentor. In addition to the value this collective group and these mentors can bring to any organization, I find that leaders today seek individual advice. Whether you call this a coach, advisor, confidant, or some synonym, I believe there are important considerations in formalizing this relationship.
Start by asking yourself “what do I want from this relationship?”
Be clear if you are seeking advice, looking for a sounding-board, need someone to confidentially confide in, need an expert to guide your development, or want someone who can challenge you. While these may sound similar–they are not. The nuances between these are important to note and can help you begin to determine who can help you.
Consider the following checklist to guide you in determining why you are seeking such a relationship (mark any and all that apply):
- trying to improve performance
- building my confidence and assurance in making decisions
- seeking personal growth
- preparing for a greater scope and breadth of responsibility
- dealing with a new, increased role and responsibility
- facing a complex challenge
- building a new future for me/my organization
- coping with a disappointment
- planning for a future transition and goal
- seeking advice from someone who has already experienced what I am now experiencing
Being clear in what you want and, more importantly need, is perhaps the most important step in selecting a coach or advisor.
It should be noted that there are a few pitfalls in making this choice. These include:
Expecting therapy–coaches and advisors are not qualified for this role. If you have personal needs, seek a licensed professional counselor or therapist. Be wary of people who want to be your therapist without professional training.
A substitute–whoever you select should not be expected to act on your behalf or, even worse, to do your own work. Rather, they should help you determine your needs, provide ideas and solutions, and keep you on-track. They are not simply another “pair of hands”–that is what an assistant does.
A crutch–they should partner with you on your development and not become a gatekeeper, medic, or best-buddy. Independence is critical to your success (and they should work towards it with you).
A buddy–seek people who can objectively provide advice, ideas, and information. Doing so provides you with unfettered and uncluttered attention while ensuring confidentiality, honesty, and perspective. You’re not looking for a pal or someone to hang around with–you’re looking for someone who’s role is to challenge you.
Beyond this, consider the level and type of expertise you need. Ask yourself, do I need someone…
- who has been in a similar situation?
- with expertise I lack?
- who is not familiar with my exact situation but who can give me a new, different, and perhaps unbiased perspective?
- with connections to other people and organizations that can also help me?
- who will bluntly challenge me, my ideas, and my performance?
- who is unfettered by alliances, allegiances, and is not beholding to me, my organization, etc.?
- with a proven track-record of success?
- who has the willingness to meet with me and help me?
- with professional credentials?
And once you have found an advisor or coach, follow these steps:
- Formalize the relationship–set objectives, schedule meetings, document expectations
- Respect the relationship–make it a priority, keep appointments and commitments, monitor progress
- Evaluate the relationship–periodically ensure progress is made and objectives are met
Keep in mind that often these relationships are finite. It’s rare that your coach or advisor can provide you with ongoing advice and expertise. Plan for a transition to a new person. Plan for how you will keep in contact with your coach and advisor once the formal relationship ends.
Such relationships provide an opportunity for leaders to enhance their abilities, provide feedback on ideas, provide information on direction, and present an opportunity for candid conversations. Strong leaders consistently will seek such advisors and coaches throughout their career.
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