Approaching Developing Others Like It is Your Job

Topic presented at Insurance Nerds Day on 10/06/18 as part of the 47th Annual International Conference for Gamma Iota Sigma in Chicago, Illinois. Article originally published on LinkedIn.

It’s funny how seemingly simple interactions can unknowingly change the course of your career. I was very lucky early on to have a teammate who’s one sentence shaped not only our relationship but subsequently mine with countless others.

That one sentence was …. It is my job to get you to my level.

Let me set the stage. I had just moved into my first role off the call center phones. I was quickly learning how much I didn’t know and wondering if it was even the right move. I was excited to be challenged but adjusting from a front-line position to staff role. He was helping on-board me. As we were going over items, he paused and looked right at me. Then, in his very direct redhead nature said, as far as I am concerned its my job to get you to my level.

To be clear, he wasn’t my direct leader. He was simply taking it upon himself to not just teach me what I needed to thrive at the job I just started but prepare me for the next one and also the role beyond that as well. Stylistically, we were very different. But I recognized he was willing to invest in me so I took full advantage of it and also tried to give back to him when I could. Some who know him might even be surprised at the impact he had. All I will say is he ended up in IT and that would shock no one. He wasn’t known for being warm and fuzzy which made us very ying and yang on our team. However, there was a mutual respect that was strongly built on knowing he was always in my corner.

We have both acknowledged the positive influence we had on each other’s careers. I count him among one of the most supportive informal mentors I’ve had. We still try to meet up from time to time even though its been nearly a decade since he said it was his job to get me to his level. We are in different organizations and different roles but I know to this day if I reached out needing help that he would respond and be there.The ripple effect of it’s my job to develop others continued the dynamics of that very team. It became a tradition when the next person joined that we instilled that on down the line. I had the opportunity to invest in our new teammate like it was my job to help them succeed not only immediately but into the future.  It was a badge of honor to be able to step up and bring another along.

This experience has continued to shape how I handle interactions with others. I have incorporated that philosophy into my own actions with peers, mentees and mentors. There’s something about the directness of a focus on developing others as if it is one of your primary job duties. It gives you a different perspective and it makes helping others a first thought instead of an afterthought. It dissipates any human nature to worry only about me, myself and I and places an emphasis on others.

It is my job to develop others has led to opportunities to mentor up, down and across hierarchies. For example, I graduated with degrees in corporate communications and marketing which means I am skilled at putting together presentations and executive communications. This has allowed me to share that with others who have a financial or actuarial background. At the end of the day, you can have the best data but if it doesn’t tell a story it isn’t useful for decision making or gaining buy-in across a wider audience. I have been able to utilize my strengths to build up others improving their written and verbal communications.

Another example of developing others came along when I knew a former colleague desired to move into a more strategic role. I knew him well because I had invested time. I was able to assist with sharing a role that aligned with his strengths and also his long-term career goals to move from running reports to building strategy. I never would have been able to line up those connections if I hadn’t continued viewing it as my job to develop others. I still view it as my job to help him develop and am thankful for all I have learned from him too.

In the past few years, I have been able to develop future talent through student mentorships and summer internships. I have found over time that my investment in others has expanded across program requirements and reporting relationships. I view it as my job to develop them in the moment and beyond whether that’s sharing leadership articles, grabbing lunch or reviewing resumes. We have had meaningful discussions about women in business and considering graduate school. With the focus on developing others, it has built lasting relationships that wouldn’t have formed organically without my outward focus. They even were willing to provide feedback on this topic to make sure it would resonate with college students.

A research study published by the Journal of Vocational Behavior interviewed mentors to learn more about their perspective from a qualitative approach. The study explored why individuals mentor and found the reasons categorize into other-focus and self-focus. Other-focused stemmed from the previously discussed desires to help others and share information which builds a better workforce. The self-focused reasons centered around personal learning and self-gratification. The findings aligned with prior research that showed individuals mentor due to altruism and upward striving. Research supports that mentors recognize the benefits to others and self from being a mentor.

It turns out I am a blend of both motivations in the study. I am a bleeding heart who is altruistically motivated so the early exposure to it’s my job to develop others worked well with my personality and values. It quickly became part of how I approached the day-to-day at the office. I found that I also often learned something while developing others which was a great bonus. And as time passed, I got to also see ripple effects. It was amazing to be the one who was mentored who then had the chance to mentor someone else. But the best part was seeing my own mentee then mentor.

It’s fall which means the leaves are changing, the boots are out and Saturdays are for college football. We are a house divided as I am a Nebraska Huskers fan and my husband cheers for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Why do I bring up football?

Coaches are a great example of the ripple effect of developing others. In football, they call it a coaching tree. It is assistant coaches under a head coach who then also become head coaches. Tom Osborne was the longtime head football coach of the Big Red and his coaching tree has 4 assistants who became head coaches with the most famous being Turner Gill and Frank Solich. Nebraska’s newest coach Scott Frost even played for Tom’s championship team.  His homecoming isn’t going the way I’d like but as a faithful Husker I believe he can rebuild the winning tradition and bring back the real blackshirts.

Legendary Hawkeye coach, Hayden Fry is famed for his 1983 coaching staff that include big names Bob Stoops, Bill Snyder and current coach Kirk Ferentz. Collegiate sports are the perfect example of leaders taking the approach that it’s my job to get you to my level.

The ripple effect of creating a developing culture shows how it can benefit others and the organization but what is in it for the mentor? Are there career benefits from helping others succeed like it’s your job?

To answer this question, researchers from the University of South Florida conducted a study on Career Success Outcomes Associated With Mentoring Others. The study was published in the Journal of Career Development and examined whether mentoring others impacted salary, promotions, career success, and job satisfaction. To isolate the impact of mentoring, they accounted for demographics and human capital variables. Mentors reported 4% greater salaries, 5% greater promotion rates and 9% stronger career success. This evidence supports the notion that career benefits are associated with serving as a mentor to others.

In addition to these quantitative factors, the previously mentioned interview study found that mentors benefit from building a support network, increasing mentor knowledge and increasing mentor visibility. I have personally experienced these factors. When you offer to help others, you are more likely to have others offer to help you. You also are more likely to gain information that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise which can lead to innovative solutions. My leaders have noticed and recognized me for developing others which has presented additional opportunities.

Steven Spielberg is recognized as one of the most influential directors in Hollywood with his films grossing over $9.3 billion dollars according to Forbes. He had an excellent quote on the job of developing others.

He said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

A man with $ 3.7 billion dollars in net worth sees the value in investing in others to become their best self. When you approach developing others like it’s your job, it is important to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how those can be utilized to assist others with improving their skills. Developing others doesn’t mean making a clone but instead encouraging others to reach their full potential. You don’t need to be perfect to mentor others. You simple have to care about others and invest your time and skills to help them be their best.It is valuable to have an outward focus and see how you can help others. It can be informal or formal. It is offering your talents to assist others on their career path. It can be lending a listening ear or sharing a specialized skill. Or it might be encouraging development or brainstorming solutions. It will never hold you back to be someone who seeks out raising the skillsets of others around you.

The old adage of strong as the weakest link is very true and in the case of teams strengthen the weakest or strongest still makes the team stronger as a whole. Think about how you can add value by building others up. Leadership is often developed by choice to lead than granted by title. Do not wait to lend a helping hand until you feel your tenure or title dictates you to do so. I challenge you to start operating like it’s your job to develop others because it is.

About Alicia Gross

Living in Des Moines, Alicia unexpectedly and ironically found a career in insurance. She graduated with a Bachelors in Corporate Communications and Marketing and also obtained an MBA in Executive Development. Alicia started as a licensed agent in 2006 and then transitioned into sales operations focusing on project management and continuous improvement. She shifted from direct sales to product management in 2015. Today, she is responsible for the growth and profitability of auto and home lines in her assigned states. She loves that the role is a mix of analytics, collaboration, communication, and strategy. Alicia is involved with various associate resource groups, mentoring opportunities and recruiting efforts. Outside insurance, she is passionate about family, traveling and giving back.

1 thought on “Approaching Developing Others Like It is Your Job”

  1. I love Alicia Gross’ approach. We should all be willing to train and mentor our replacements! After all, if you’re REALLY indispensable, why would your company let you advance?


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