Helping Hands

Who can you benefit from? A coach, mentor, advisor or consultant?

by Chia-Li Chien | 06/14/10

courtesy of T.C. YenWhen I was in third grade, I had a passion for dance, so despite my mother’s resistance, I signed up for the school dance team and started my dance journey. I was so drawn in by my dance teacher that I followed her every move and learned how to dance like a Chinese princess. That year, our school team took third place in the City of Taipei, home of 2.8 million people. I continued to learn under different teachers throughout elementary school, middle school, and all the way to college. 

When I was a Director of Information Technology at an $8 billion publicly traded company, I was stuck in a job I did not like, even feeling like I knew more than my boss (who was the vice-president of IT). I had a strong desire to learn more. So, I requested a meeting with the Chief Information Officer, my boss’s boss, and asked her point blank, “Would you please be my mentor?”  She said, “Yes.”  Athough at the time I did not know what mentoring meant or how it worked, this person opened up many learning channels for me, even sending me to the Society of Information Management’s (SIM) nine-month leadership forum. I was one of the first two people in our firm to attend and graduate (even before my boss). Since SIM was an invitation-only forum and part of a center for creative leadership, without my mentor, I would never have received this type of opportunity, and most importantly, would not have been able to broaden my professional network.

Just like when I was learning to dance, I followed my teacher closely. I copied and mimicked her moves until I had perfected the role I played. Do you have a teacher to follow? If you work for a company, chances are that you think your boss is the best choice to follow. But think about it first. Is there someone besides your boss? Is there someone you know who does not come from a typical MBA program to offer you a unique perspective? How do you find the right person to emulate?

Today, you may find a wide variety of people who would be able to act as your career or life guide. Consider the following people:

1.    CoachA certified coach can help make you answer the tough questions. They can guide you through professional, business, personal and even spiritual development. If you decide a coach is the type of guide you are looking for, it is best to identify which area you want to develop, and locate the coach who specializes in that area. When I reinvented my business in 2003, I had no experience whatsoever in sales and marketing. So I hired a marketing coach and we worked together for two years. Then I hired a sales coach to help me improve business development and prospecting. 
2.    Mentor – A mentor is someone who has been in your shoes, and knows intuitively how to help you get through the tough times. They will help you find answers with the knowledge of what is best for you, since they’ve been in a similar situation. They also can guide you strategically to the next level. In addition to my corporate experience with a mentor, today I have several mentors. Each of them helps me with a specific strategy. I may not talk to them all the time, but somehow we manage to communicate often enough to help me with the right moves for my business. A mentor may or may not tell you what to do, but instead serve as your strategic guide.  Most importantly, a mentor is a connector, networking you in the right place or with the right people.
3.    Advisor – An advisor is someone who specializes in a specific area such as law, accounting, finance, architecture, etc., who can you advise you professionally. If you’re in business, you probably already have a CPA, business attorney, financial advisor, etc. These advisors play a key role in my business. They provide the advice that best guides me in strategy implementation. 
4.    Consultant – A consultant can provide advice, too, as well as implement the advice you receive from them. When my strategy is finalized and ready to implement, I often seek a consultant to do the work. For example, I hired a marketing firm in 2007 to rebrand my business. Upon the delivery of my strategy, they acted as a consultant to communicate my message through brochures, a website, logo design, etc. Think of a consultant as your temporary staff.

In my career, whether self-employed or an employee, I have worked at different times with each of the above. The key is not to focus on which one to pick, but instead, determine what it is that you want to accomplish. In each stage of your career, there will be something missing, and you will need help to push you forward in the right direction. Once you find out what the missing piece is, deciding who can help you becomes easier. 

Become a mentor too! There are many people who call or email me looking for strategic advice. You don’t only have to mentor a colleague or peer – you could guide a child, too. What a great reward to be a youth’s mentor or coach. 

No matter where you are in your journey or in your career, having a professional, personal, spiritual or family life sounding board of sorts always comes in handy – especially when you find yourself in unfamiliar waters. A coach, mentor, advisor or consultant can help you navigate through. You already know how to succeed – they will guide you if you ask. Everyone can learn to dance!

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