So, just what is a confidant? A confidant can take many forms, be it an executive coach that one pays for or a best friend you run ideas past from time to time. There are many definitions depending on the source and your belief, so, for the sake of argument, let’s look at the definition from dictionary.com. It defines a confidant (confidante) as: “a close friend or associate to whom secrets are confided or with whom private matters and problems are discussed.” That is not a bad definition. It's basic. But a good confidant goes much deeper in context.
Here is The Executive Arena definition: A confidant is a person who is or was a colleague from whom you can seek advice with certain problems, or solutions to problems, in complete confidence, without the fear of judgment or reprisal. As the word confidant denotes, it’s someone you can confide in and who in turn can give you sound advice. Some call their confidant a mentor or personal coach, but whatever name you give that person, don’t confuse a confidant/mentor with a certified or executive coach. An executive coach is someone you pay in return for a service. They are normally from outside your industry, and their goal is to help you achieve your full potential through thought-provoking conversations and processes. They have no attachment or commitment to business outcomes, as their main focus is motivating and coaching you as a person. Some call executive coaches “business shrinks,” as some conversations can touch on childhood experiences, past failures, and other performance blockers that can have an effect on how you handle certain situations. An executive coach can be a valuable asset in relation to your long-term goals, but that is another topic for another article.
The ultimate goal with any confidant is the transfer of knowledge from them to you. While some confidants may have more business experience than you, that’s not always the case. While “more” can be good, “different” can be even better. Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes (or ears) to consider a situation from a different perspective.
Selection: So how does one go about finding and developing a confidant? What type of person would be most beneficial towards achieving your goals and aspirations? While the answer to these questions can vary depending on your personal needs, here are some important guidelines to help you find and cultivate that perfect mentor relationship!
1. Ideally, a confidant should be someone in your organization or at the very least in your particular industry. They should be someone who has walked in your shoes (been there done that) and can teach you about the sometimes unwritten rules and culture of the company/industry.
2. They should be someone you admire personally and professionally, not just someone who is at a higher level or position than you. In other words, they should be someone who is an inspiration to you. Ask yourself these questions:
a. Do I want to achieve what that person has achieved?
b. Would I be happy, and/or do I aspire to hold that person’s position someday or achieve that same level (e.g., director, vice president, etc.)?
c. Because of this person’s past experiences and positions, would I value the advice from them?
3. Your confidant should be well respected and have credibility within your particular organization or industry. If your confidant is considered abrasive, standoffish, or just not respected within the organization, regardless of their current job performance, they will not make a good confidant, nor will your association with that person deliver a positive perceptional message. They must have credibility in the organization, so don’t let your choice of confidant be tainted by a person’s title alone. For example, throughout my career, I’ve known many at the director level that has earned more credibility in the company than those with a VP or senior VP title. A title is just that, a title. While it can denote a specific level of achievement, sometimes it does not. I knew an outdoor sales company that gave the title “vice president of sales” to all their salespeople. Another called their sales reps “area sales managers” in an attempt to give them some sort of credibility in the eyes of the consumer. So do not rely on the title alone; look at the substance.
Lastly, and perhaps the most important element in a successful confidant, is trust. Can you trust your confidant, and can he/she trust you? In short, can you both keep a secret? Throughout your career, you will be exposed to and perhaps might even need to share sensitive information. It’s vital to be able to discuss sensitive topics and situations with your confidant without the fear of information leaks. Imagine if you were considering the pros and cons of replacing a specific employee, and you discussed the options with your confidant, only to find out your intentions were now spreading throughout your department. You were not sure it was a good idea, so you wanted another opinion. But now, rumors have begun to fly about how you are going to fire someone, and now everyone is on edge. Not a good picture. Make sure you can trust each other and don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of trust with your confidant directly. It will set the stage for a long-term beneficial relationship.