Tom Brady has a QB coach. Lebron James has a shooting coach. Mike Trout has a batting coach. These athletes are literally the best in the world at what they do. Yet they still have coaches to help them. Should financial advisors have career coaches?
Being an Expert In Your Career Versus Being an Expert About Your Career
Scott Young wrote an interesting post where he suggests that it is not enough to be an expert in your career. You also need to be an expert about your career. He asks the following:
Do you deeply know the answers to the following questions?
- What’s the next step you need to take to reach the next level in your career?
- Which metrics actually matter for success and which ones don’t?
- If you only had time to master one skill, which one would allow you to advance?
Even if you did have some answers to the above questions, how sure are you that they were correct? Sometimes the truth about how careers actually work can be very different from how most people pursue them.
A Career Team & Two Types of Friends
A coach is just one part of a career team. Other parts include a boss, a study group, multiple mentors, and support people. While some of these roles probably overlap, it is important to have a variety of personalities and relationships. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers the author, Ben Horowitz, describes two types of people you need in your corner:
No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong - when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be?
These two people would likely fall under the support person category, although they may also play other roles.
Having mentors is another important part of the career team. But how does one find a good mentor? By being a good mentee. Ryan Holiday has a lot of interesting thoughts on this. Essentially, it boils down to this quote by Sheryl Sandberg: “Instead of telling people, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel,’ we should be telling them, ‘Excel and you will find a mentor.’” She has an entire chapter on being a mentee in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. It would be a huge mistake to think “what can this person do for me?” when searching for a mentor. Rather, one should think “what can I do for this person?” In The Start-up of You Reid Hoffman says the following:
Old-school “networkers” are transactional. They pursue relationships thinking only about what other people can do for them. And they’ll only network with people when they need something, like a job or new clients. Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help other people first. They don’t keep score. They’re aware that many good deeds get reciprocated, but they’re not calculated about it. And they think about their relationships all the time, not just when they need something.
Mentors are essential when it comes to being an expert about your career, and these people may or may not be your boss.
One of the final pieces to a career team is a study group. You can read about our study group here and here. While a study group can take many forms, a mix of three to six peers at a similar career stage is ideal. However, the key to having a successful group is not to focus solely on the professional side. Personal development is often closely intertwined with the professional development and the personal aspect is what will make or break the group.
Why Does This Matter?
The hero that achieves it all by his or her self does not exist. Even with a herculean effort, it can’t be done in total isolation, no matter the profession. Hoffman writes that it is a combination of the individual and the team:
The nuanced version of the story of success is that both the individual and team matter. “I” versus “We” is a false choice. It’s both. Your career success depends on both your individual capabilities and your network’s ability to magnify them. Think of it as I^we. An individual’s power is raised exponentially with the help of a team (a network). But just as zero to the one hundredth power is still zero, there’s no team without the individual.
Relationships matter because the people you spend time with shape who you are and who you become. Behavior and beliefs are contagious: you easily “catch” the emotional state of your friends, imitate their actions, and absorb their values as your own. If your friends are the types of people who get stuff done, chances are you’ll be that way too. The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.
Be cognizant of who you are spending time with, both professionally and personally. They impact you more than one might guess. Furthermore, it is important to note that assembling a career team and forming relationships in general can’t be based on a “what’s in it for me?” mindset. In reality, it will likely be a bit on the informal side.
It is crucial we become experts about our careers in addition to becoming experts in our careers. A huge part of this is assembling a career team consisting of multiple mentors, coaches, support people or friends, and a study group. Some of these roles may overlap. As Hoffman notes, “Networking has been replaced by intelligent network building.” Know that the people we surround ourselves with have a huge effect on us. As a result, it is crucial to think about who we spend time with, both professional and personally, when assembling a career team. While one’s own efforts are a deciding factor, a team is an essential part to becoming an expert about one’s career.