Archive for the ‘Take Risks’ Category

Nemesis Mentors

The natural tendency when looking for a mentor is to turn to people who look like us, think like us, or value  the same things we do.

It’s easier, and often precisely how people are matched in some formal mentoring programs.

That can be fantastic.

On the other hand, what about seeking out a mentoring relationship with the person that REALLY frustrates, annoys and angers you? A nemesis who ignites and  challenges you?   Who questions your motives and assumptions? A person that makes you so angry at them, you wonder if you could really be mad at yourself.  One of those guys.

More tricky.

More entertaining.

And likely, more valuable.

In Greek mythology a Nemesis will “give what is due.”  That doesn’t turn out so well in some of those stories.  But what if what is due is just what you need?

I watch this dynamic at play in our church youth group.  And looking back, a similar phenomena happened back in my youth group days (but I was too involved to see it).

Unlike school where you can pick who you hang out with; in the church scene, kids are pretty much required to do stuff with everyone and be nice about it.

The kids that inevitably drive one another crazy, can help each other the most.  They think differently… they care about different things, and often have something that might be missing or underdeveloped in the other.  The growth happens when they spend time really digging in and opening up to one another.  I have seen some amazing peer mentoring magic happen here, one on one– after the storm.

At work, we are all trained to get along, be team players, and work collaboratively to get stuff done, “you don’t have to like each other, just respect one another and work as a team.”

But what about seeking out the person that most annoys you in the group or organization?  Of course, there is a 3.75% possibility that the guy’s just a real jerk.  I’ve met him.  But barring that, how about approaching that person with the Won’t You Be My Mentor? list?

Then, wait for the magic.

“Where There is Chaos, Seize Control”

One of my early bosses and mentors, Gail Parsons,  said this to me almost daily.

I was young and newly promoted in an HR role in the midst of a big merger. There was much organizational realignment.  Everyone had a new boss and a new team.  Most leaders were in the midst of relocating their families.

We were merging systems, polices, programs… you name it.

Every time I walked into her office with an idea, she would say the same thing: “where there is chaos…”

When I questioned the political ramifications of not getting the right buy-in she would say:

“Do we need this?  … Uh, yes.

“Is it a sound business decision?” Yes

“Do you have a strong implementation plan?”   Of course

“Is your team behind it?”  Yes

“Has anyone told you not to do it?”  No… but…

“Karin, look… by the time everyone figures out that we need to do this, your team will  already  be doing it… and have great results to prove it in.  Just do it well and tell me if you are going to break any big rules.   I’ve got your back.”

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So, this weekend, I called on Gail to offer some perspective on this time in our careers–and to ask what advice she would offer to new leaders today:

 “It’s all about understanding the corporate culture.  In newly merged companies there is often the opportunity to redirect the culture in an expedient manner.  There is usually so much confusion that one can seize control while no one is looking.  Control in this scenario is about getting things done.”
And…
“Where culture is well defined, get buy in to your ideas across, below and above organizational structure.  It is much easier to tear down than it is to build.  Be patient and resolved.”
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“Where there is chaos seize control,”

A once sentence mentoring program which encouraged me to…

  • Do what needs to be done
  • Not wait
  • Take risks
  • Be empowered
  • Ask before breaking the big rules
  • Do it well
  • Have their backs

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Is Tom Sawyer Slowing You Down?

I recently went to see my sister and her family in a fantastic performance of Big River, the musical based on Huckleberry Finn performed by the Adams County School of Musical Theater in Gettysburg, PA.

I was struck by the scene where Tom and Huck are making plans to free Jim, their friend (and recently captured runaway slave) from captivity.  Huck has a solid and easy plan.  Tom convinces him they need to spice it up.

“I should HOPE we can find a way more complicated than THAT, Huck Finn….That’s more like it… It’s real mysterious and troublesome and good.   But I am sure we can can find a way twice as long.  There ain’t no hurry.  Let’s keep looking around”

The scene is funny because of the total absurdity.  And yet, I couldn’t help reflecting on how frequently I (and those around me) do just that.  Instead of going with our instincts to the easy solution, we build in unnecessary complexity.

My most painful memory of over complication was a long time ago  in grad school.  I spent many sleepless nights pouring over reams of data,  lots of time preparing  the presentation, and writing and stakeholdering…only to defend a premise that a  committee member said was “either trivial or obvious.”

Of course I was doing what I had to do, as was he. I graduated, we both rolled on.

In hindsight, it was not trivial, but I would give a solid vote at this stage of the game for obvious.

So, years later… I still find similar scenes. How do we cut through quickly to do what needs to be done… with out the over analysis or dramatization.  How much time and money is there to save if we just get real more quickly?

6 Signs Sawyer’s Involved

  • You don’t have a clear VISION, and spend too much time working on peripheral stuff
  • You don’t have ALIGNMENT, so it takes too long for a path to emerge
  • You’ve got plenty of DATA, but you keep looking for more and more
  • You wait too long to include the RIGHT PEOPLE
  • You over-include the WRONG PEOPLE
  • You work on “exciting” and “mysterious” PRESENTATIONS, when a simple discussion would do
So when things are getting to complex, try Hucking it up.

What tips do you have for keeping things simple?

Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter

Yesterday I attended an important meeting with important people.  I was not scheduled to speak. 

 Until… a  good friend of mine in Finance (p.s. always have a good friend in Finance) batted the conversation my way. 

A gift.

  • What’s our channel’s  mission? 
  • How are our results?
  • What’s our team best at? 
  • How have we improved?

The buttons on the figurative elevator were pressed… time to roll.

You see, I am familiar with elevators, and what can happen in them.

Early Elevators 

Very early in my career, a VP several levels above me asked me to attend a very controversial meeting on his behalf.  To this day, I don’t know if it was deliberate (because he thought I could add value), or  if he really didn’t understand the controversial nature of the meeting, or if he was just scared.

The minute I walked in, I was questioned as to why I was there ( instead of the VP).   I stayed (not knowing if I should), and it was down hill from there.

I listened to all the ideas for the major undertaking that were being presented.  Being completely naive about how to approach such things, I said everything that was on my mind… no filters… to everyone in the room.  This involved questioning the entire methodology of some very well-thought out plans of some amazing leaders.   I was discounted, and should have been.  I did not approach it well.

Sooo…. later that day… when I ran into that VP  in the elevator (huge building, crazy coincedence), I looked at the floor.  The next thing I heard… Karin, I have been thinking.  You may be on to something.   Please tell me what you wanted to say….

I told her and got involved.  That project transformed my career, and she became a fantastic mentor.

A bit later

So years later, as I grew in leadership responsibility, I wanted the best folks on my team to always be prepared to tell their story and share their ideas in a meaningful and concise way.   From time to time, I lead  “mentoring circles” on the subject of elevator speeches.

I always begin these sessions with my latest “elevator speech” as an example

  • what our team is about
  • how we are making a difference
  • real statistics of how we are improving
  • and my leadership vision to lead that team

One time, after doing the session with a great group of front line leaders,  I got into the elevator.  We had just been through a reorganization that week and I had a new senior leader that I had not yet met (but he must have seen my picture). 

He looks at me and says, “Hey, Aren’t you on my new team?  What’s your story?”

So I shared my newly minted elevator speech. 

That worked too.

Since then, I always keep one fresh.

Tomorrow morning

 I am attending another important meeting in a very big hotel… lots of elevators…lots of people.  

 Keeping it fresh.