When do you need a mentor, a coach or … a cheerleader?

Executive Coach Exchange mentor coach cheerleader
Photo: Paula Liverani-Brooks

I am not a morning person. And not being a morning person means that the last thing I want to do when I wake up and have to get ready while the rest of the world is sleeping is eating. Breakfast is not something I can do early. So my lovely husband prepares some slices of toast and puts them in a paper bag for me to eat when the sun rises and I start feeling human again. But that is not all he does … he also decorates them as you can see in the picture. He may not be an amazing artist but I have to say I look forward to looking at what he has prepared for the day – whether it is a prompt of the happiness that we feel on a Friday to some funny exchange we had the previous night to a reminder that he believes I am lovely, strong or funny (which for those of you who do not know me personally I truly am). He is able to capture that motivational angle and give me an extra push to take on the day with a bigger smile.

But cheerleaders are not all we need. In this complicated world we need all the help we can get. So here is my list of the type of people we should aim to have in our lives and a couple of hints.

The first is a coach. Most of us have or have had a coach in our professional lives. The coach is someone who helps you acquire skills, overcome challenges and improve your contribution. I prefer to have clear goals when I talk to my coach, as that way I can get more out of our conversation. I also like to have a coach that has lived through similar experiences to what I am going through, similar businesses and similar challenges and who has a clear understanding of my role and the expectations that come from it. Finding the right coach is not always easy so don’t be afraid to shop around until you find the one who is capable of providing you with what you are looking for.

A mentor is also incredibly helpful, they provide long term support, tend to have known you for a long time and have seen you through the highs and the lows. They can be a former boss or colleague with whom you were able to establish that special relation in which they shared wisdom and experience.

If you have found both a mentor and a coach you already are in a good place, so here are some more ideas of people that you can add to your support group.

A connector is someone that does just that, connects you to others, takes you to events and organises for you to meet people who can help with a particular challenge or just to view things slightly differently. Having moved to Australia without connections 10 years ago I was lucky to find many people kind enough to sacrifice their time to connect me to others and I am still deeply grateful to all of them.

A collaborator is someone who is in a similar situation to your own with similar interests and similar goals. With them you can share road blocks and successes and support each other. These are not too difficult to find and you may form friendships that may last more than the job you are in.

If you work in big organisations (but not only), chances are you also need a sponsor. They are the ones that have witnessed your work and are willing to go out and spread the good news and promote your profile. Personally I have always found this a difficult figure to find. My trick has been to try and think outside the box – they do not need to be your manager … or even your manager’s manager. They can be influential people outside your direct line that you have been sharing insights with, and having conversations after important meetings about how to address issues and ideas. I have found this an easier way to create a sponsor.

Of course, you also need a feed-back giver someone who through direct observation can give you honest and direct feedback. As this is even harder than a sponsor, my only advice is to find someone with whom you can lay down the rules of how the feedback will look like: should always be coming from a place of good intention and if you feel it is not you may decide not to accept it. It is easier when you can find more than one feed-back giver and if you practice often on this one.

The last one is the cheerleader or the encourager the one that provides motivation, support and recognition.

My husband is a great cheerleader but is also a very good feed-back giver, which means that one person can have more than one role. So if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with the list, see if you can use the same person for different roles.

My last recommendation is that once you have listed them all you make sure this amazing bunch of people is also diverse. And I am not only talking about gender. I am talking about race, experience, age – I am currently learning “lots” from a millennial feed-back giver. Make sure you surround yourself with different people who will be able to provide you with slightly different views. And while you are at it, also make a list of what role you can have in other people’s lives. At times just being a cheerleader for someone can make a huge difference in their day.

Contributor: Paula Liverani-Brooks is an HR consultant and executive coach, and the latest member of Executive Coach Exchange.

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