The Mentor Every Product Manager Needs

You can learn how to do just about anything on YouTube. Change a bike tire, play guitar, or bake a flaky kołaczki pastry. If you are searching for expert career advice, you can even find videos with titles like "How to Jumpstart Your Career in 5 Minutes."

Some of these career advisors suggest a variety of so-called "quick fixes" for professional success. And of course, there are the expected ideas most product managers have already heard, such as spiffing up your resume, joining professional groups, or building skills by obtaining certifications in agile methodologies.

But most career advisors include one more critical suggestion -- find a mentor. That sure sounds simple enough, right?

For some, yes. Thankfully there are still veteran product managers out there who make time in their busy schedules to mentor others, whether those connections happen through alumni events, industry associations, or philanthropic groups.

And mentorship is a natural part of the way great companies work -- everyone is encouraged to invest in their colleagues by offering support, guidance, and feedback. Leaders are identified and promoted based on their ability to coach. But I know that this is a rarity.

In fact, during the first 20 years of my career, I only encountered one company that actually made mentorship a priority. So if you land at a company that encourages coaching and offers growth opportunities, take full advantage and cherish the experience. And if you do not?

You cannot wait for a mentor to appear out of the blue or spend the rest of your career hunting for one.

To get ahead as a product manager in today's free-agent world, you must be deeply curious and unafraid to grow. A mentor cannot do that hard work for you. When I said I met your invisible mentor, this is what I meant -- the mentor is you.

Here are a few ways you can be your own mentor:

Motivate from within
A mentor can give you support and encouragement, but they cannot give you the drive to accomplish your goals as a product manager. That initial spark of curiosity must originate in you, and provide that necessary impetus that propels you forward. Even the greatest mentor in the world cannot manufacture that intrinsic motivation that will help you to get moving.

Take necessary risks
When a trusted advisor shares their professional experiences, you may discover valuable takeaways that apply to your own situation. But that person will not necessarily be around when you need to take risks to realize your potential. You must be keenly aware of your goals and ready to jump on opportunities when they arise. It's up to you to build your reserves of confidence based on your own experience, not someone else's story.

Continue learning
A career in product management will likely take you on an interesting path and throw you into novel situations where there is no mentor in sight (except for you). When that happens, you must be willing to set new goals, acquire skills, and persevere. Acting as your own mentor makes you accountable to you to stay alert and keep improving.

A mentor can be a fantastic resource -- if you can find one. Companies would do well to offer this kind of support to their product managers. But sadly, too few encourage leaders to develop these relationships.

There will be times when you find someone to guide and inspire you along your career path. But most of the time you will be on your own. But no matter who you have in your camp, the leader of your career journey must always be you.

Only you can set audacious goals for yourself. Only you can follow your curiosity and see where it leads. And only you can boldly say "yes" to opportunity when it comes along.

Do you have a product management mentor?