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  • Writer's pictureKarthik Lakshminarayanan

Your Dream Team

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

Every star sports player has coaches that help the person bring out their best everyday. Regardless of how good we are in our job, we all need six types of people that can help you achieve the most in your careers. 2021 is around the corner, and if you are finalizing your resolutions, I strongly recommend you invest in building a connection with these 6 types of people.

An Expert in Your Field

The first person you need is someone who is an expert in your field. For example, if you are in product management like I am, you want someone that is excellent in the three “senses of product management” - product, analytical and execution. This is typically the “role model” in your organization or company that you look up to, and try to model in your own behaviors.

Finding someone that is really good in all aspects of your field, as well as having the time to mentor you might be hard. You can modify your criteria and look for experts in your field that are really good at skills that you are looking to grow. For example, you might be a product manager that is quite good at communication and being inspirational. You might need help in getting better at building your strategic thinking skills, so finding a role model in your organization that is great at this skill and is open to mentoring you might be a pragmatic way to find a strong mentor that is an expert in their field. And if you are thinking about changing roles - for example, switching from user experience design to product management, finding a product management mentor can be a great way to jump start this change.

Here are additional attributes you should consider in this expert:

  • Mutual benefit. Helping you is a goal for them too. The right mentors are honest to realize that by helping you, they help themselves become better in their own craft.

  • Time. I recommend expectation setting on time needed (e.g. 60 minutes a month) would further ensure there is ongoing alignment - you get help when you need it.

A Sponsor

Ideally this is your manager but it doesn’t have to be, especially if your relationship with your manager isn't great yet, or if your manager is still building their own credibility within the organization. Ideal backup sponsors can be your skip level manager or a peer of your manager that influences your manager (e.g. for product managers, this might be the engineering leader who is a fan of you and is willing to advocate for you with your manager or skip level manager). The key here is to identify who the best sponsor can be and ask them explicitly. There is no downside in asking, it won’t harm your reputation even if they decline being your sponsor. If they do decline, you can work to deepen your relationship with that person so they eventually become your sponsor in your organization.

An outside “coach”

Besides the expert in your field, you need someone that can highlight blind spots, give you additional factors to consider so you can make the best possible decisions and generally provide support as you work on your goals. Their only motivation is to make you successful, so this is as symbiotic a relationship as it can get.

A few attributes to consider in your coach:

  • Good listeners. They put in the effort to understand you and your situation. They are not trying to turn you into becoming like them and think that their approach is the only way to solve problems. Rather they understand who you are and help you solve the problem in a way that works with your strengths.

  • Act as your guide versus solving the problem for you. Their goal is to help you figure out how to solve the problem and grow your confidence and skills. You are not looking for someone that tells you what to do and solve the problem for you

  • Proven - they have a track record of success in their own field and more importantly, in helping others like you. A referral based coach is ideal.

  • Good fit and feels right - ultimately they should be able to adapt to what you need, and in your conversations, they are sincere about adapting to you and putting your goals first.

For example, I once was dealing with a difficult reorg. I had ideas of how I wanted to organize my team. I also am self aware that I have a tendency to take a slightly more emotional or people-first lens when making decisions. I worked with someone that is extremely logical and will put the business first, above people. No one position or approach is right but the discussion helped me make better decisions and design an org structure that ultimately took both people and business goals into equal consideration.

A Buddy Mentor

It is beneficial to get another perspective to whatever you are going through and need help with. Get a buddy on the broader team that understands you, potentially can provide counterfactual evidence by highlighting blind spots or providing an alternative perspective, or just listen to you venting. This is a person that you trust, knows you well and can just be yourself.

Offer to be their buddy mentor as well and make it a two way street. Make yourself just as easily available to them, when they need to bounce something of you.

The Super Connector

Information flow is important in any organization. Connecting with a super connector, who has their ears to the ground can help you learn more about what is happening in the organization. The important goal here is information about projects or decisions that will help you with your own career goals. The goal is not to get caught up in the office gossip. You don’t want to be one.

Super connectors are interested in connecting with you to understand your situation (for example, are you happy with your job or looking to change roles?) as well as what is happening in your part of the organization, so connecting with them is mutually beneficial.

Your Polar Opposite!

Surrounding yourself with people that think like you can cause group think and you can miss creative ideas. If there is someone in the org that you think is a polar opposite, it is helpful to build a connection with them to get the benefit of holistic thinking. For example, if you are thoughtful and deliberate, consider connecting with someone that is more instinctive and impulsive. They might help highlight a X factor that you might potentially overlook.

It doesn't end once you put your dream team together. Now nurture it.

It is possible that one individual plays more than one role in your dream team. We are talking about investing up to six people here, so take the time to nurture your network. Don’t “dial a friend” only when you need help. Be genuinely thankful for their time with you. Find ways to give back. Identify what is important to every person helping you, and then find ways to contribute back in ways that add value in their own life. At a bare minimum, do the following:

  • Thank them - a simple thanks at the end of each conversation shows you appreciate their investment in you, and are not taking them for granted. We cannot say thank you enough.

  • Be available to reciprocate if they reach out for help. For example, you could write positive testimonials & referrals for your area expert or coach.

  • Setup a regular sync, keep them in the loop and provide updates. For example, if they gave you advice on a strategy presentation, do let them know how the review went and thank them for specifics that helped with your presentation. Don’t do a generic thank you, take the time to be specific.

Building a large network may or may not come easily to you. However, building strong relationships with up to 6 people is very achievable. Connect authentically with them and nurture these relationships. You are the star of your career, and just like Yoda in Star Wars, these guides and well wishers can help you realize your full potential.

If you liked reading this, consider signing up for career coaching. Schedule a complimentary consultation with me to discuss how I can help you accelerate your career.

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