By Allyson Burroughs

Allyson Burroghs

Allyson Burroughs is vice president of marketing and communications for the Xerox Government Health Solutions group. She’s also a mom, wife, runner, Girl Scout troop leader and healthcare access advocate.

I’m a bit of a study in “How to Learn Things the Hard Way.”

I didn’t always believe I needed to ask for help, think about what professional skills I needed to hone, or critically consider how I wanted to shape my career. My mom likes to remind me of my favorite turn of phrase when I first learned to talk: “I do myself!”

Developing a relationship with a mentor can be incredibly rewarding, and an important component to developing your professional skills and managing your career. I’m lucky to count some talented executives and amazing colleagues as mentors.

I’m hard-wired to think I should figure things out and do them on my own, so thank goodness I crossed paths with them.  Which brings me to my first tip on building your own board of directors and using mentors to help you manage your career development:

You don’t have to do it alone

It’s important to remember that everyone needs to ask for help. In this season of March Madness, does a basketball team win without great coaching? No way. Do Oscar-winning actors get on that award stage without a host of input from directors and acting coaches? Not a chance. You might feel like you should be able to figure everything out on your own – that’s certainly my first reaction to just about everything. But professional development doesn’t happen without positive influence from outside sources. Don’t hold yourself back: Ask for input, assistance and constructive criticism.

Assess yourself

One incredibly powerful planning tool in business is the SWOT analysis. The SWOT – a process for identifying an organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – is a great way to assess where a business is, what it needs to work on, how it can grow and what market changes might put it at risk.

You can use this assessment tool to take a close look at your own personal strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and challenges; it will also help you identify the types of professionals who can help you grow. Are you really good with financials and budget planning, but perhaps you haven’t managed staff and would like to grow into a management role? What are the immediate opportunities for advancement and growth in your organization? What are some challenges you face that might hold you back or that you need to work through? Take a hard look at these elements so you can build a great plan of action to identify the types of professionals you should approach about mentorship, and how best to work with them.

Be clear and creative – and be honest

Be clear with what you hope to get out of the relationship. Set goals with your mentor on what you’d like input on, and work together to come up with ideas for how you might get the experience you need — or at least set yourself up to be considered for stretch assignments and projects that can help you grow.

Honesty goes hand in hand with clarity. You have to be honest with yourself about where you are and what you need to work on so that your mentor can truly be of value. Establishing goals that you both agree to in writing is helpful, as is setting a timeline and a regular cadence for meeting. Your sessions can be in person or over the phone, but regularity is critical.

Getting what you want out of your career takes work, focus, enthusiasm and all those other wonderful words that get repeated a lot. It also takes input from great people who’ve had experiences you haven’t – because no one person knows everything or can do everything by themselves.

Just ask my mom.

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