Don’t Get a Mentor

I have developed and implemented plenty of mentoring programs over the years.   I have done the match-making and developed and led the workshops.

The truth is, after 2 decades of living and leading in organizations, my feeling is, these programs typically don’t work.

What I do believe in is investing time, energy, and commitment into real relationships with great people you stumble on throughout your career.

Like any other friendship, if you keep your eyes, heart and mind open, these folks will show up.

The classic Harvard Business Review article, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, highlights the importance of having deep two-way mentoring relationships.

“Many leaders have had a mentor that changed their lives.  The best mentoring interactions spark mutual learning, exploration of similar values, and shared enjoyment.  If people are only looking for a leg up from their mentors, instead of being interested in their mentor’s lives as well, the relationships will not last for long.  It is the two-way nature of the relationship that sustains it (George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer, 2007)”

My advice to young leaders:

  • find a mentor early
  • keep adding them along the way
  • invest time and energy
  • care about them as much as they care about you
  • be deliberate about keeping the magic alive

Why have more than one?

I was recently on a hiking tour of the Utah National Parks with my son.  After the first big day of hiking, Seb (6)  looks at me and says, “if we are going to do this again tomorrow, we will need some help…let’s each pick 3 Pokemon to take along…we can summon them up as needed… they’ve got some good skills that can help…”

Turns out he leverages Pokemon like I engage mentors.

I have wonderful “mentors” turned life-long friends who I can rely on (and they can rely on) as needed.  At this stage, I can pretty much anticipate the reaction I will get depending on who I call.

  • One keeps challenging me to take weird jobs
  • Another encourages me to develop my interest and practice of spirituality in leadership (ironically, because it’s important to me,  not because it’s particularly important to him)
  • Another I call when I need to be humbled, or get ahead of myself
  • And, another I call when I am down and need someone to tell me I am “wonderful”
  • And others…

Once I find a good mentor, I never let them go.

One of my favorite such mentors, Gary, died several years ago.  I keep his help alive by thinking “what would Gary say…”   Sometimes his advice just seems to surface when I am on a long run, or really stuck…  I know he is still impacting my life and career.

Give it back

The best part of having had great mentors, is the chance to give it back (same rules apply).

And when it’s real, I never let it go.

This is mentoring week on letsgrowleaders.   I will address a mentoring topic each day.  I hope you will join in the conversation.

Where have you found great mentors?

Saturday Salutation

I was clearing security this week at the Denver airport, particularly annoyed since the TSA agent had just dumped the entire contents of my purse out and then walked away.  Turns out “too many pennies,” can leave you racing for your gate.  When I looked up to see an attractive, poised, and confident woman walking proudly through the sensors.

I thought, “Who get’s that happy at TSA…there must be something fantastic going on in her life.”

She  must have seen me looking at her, so she told me,  “It turns out that there is a real advantage to being old.”

If you are born before 1937, you can now keep your shoes and jacket on.

Talk about appreciating the small stuff.

She had joy.

I bet it’s that approach that keeps her looking that good.

Coming Next Week:

All about mentors.  Each day will take on a different perspective.  I hope you will join the conversation.

Namaste.

Two Things That Will Get You Promoted

I am often approached by leaders looking to work on my team.

 “what characteristics do you look for when hiring for the top positions in your organization?”

So, I run down my list…

  • unwavering integrity
  • confident humility
  • passionate vision
  • strong track record of results
  • teamwork down, up, and sideways
  • energetic creativity
  • change leadership
  • zealousness for employee development

Which then leads to the next question…

“How do I become better positioned for a leadership role?”

Again I have a list…(all subjects for future posts)

  • Develop a gaggle of fantastic mentors
  • Look at leaders you admire, and learn those skills
  • Pay even closer attention to leaders who annoy you, and figure out why
  • Take lateral moves that make you an all-terrain player
  • Volunteer for special projects
  • Talk to people who are doing your dream job, learn what it takes, and express interest

But that’s just me.

The other day I was sitting in a leadership development meeting… (this time, being developed) …and those same questions came up.

HR began their list of advice… Similar to that above….

Then, one of the most senior leaders in the meeting stood up and said.

“I hear all that… But at the end of the day if you are looking to work for me,

I want to know 2 things:

  1. What are your results?
  2.  What do your people say about you?

Hmmm, that’s pretty clear.

And in fact, all the other things I chat about are all means to one of those ends.

Kind-of like an elevator speech, see (Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.)

Next time, maybe I will use those… (or maybe not, depends if I am in an elevator).

Please comment:  What matters most when selecting the right  leader?

Is strength your weakness?

One of my first yoga teachers was fond of saying, “too much strength makes you inflexible… too much flexibility makes you weak…always balance.”

At work, the same is true. 

Strength can make us weaker.  

Here’s how…

Over-reliance on one skill

 I love to speak– with energy and enthusiasm.   This comes naturally to me… 

But if I am not careful, that energy can become overwhelming… “is she for real, who gets that excited over this stuff?” 

Since I heard that comment (which ticked me off),  I tone it down (occasionally). 

 I have also been watching for signs of over-used skills around me…to see if I can help.  The number 1 over-used skill has been relationship building.   I have watched folks who are fantastic at building relationships and consensus,  lose credibility when that becomes too much of their focus.

When leaders over-use this strength,  they can lose sight of the real work that needs to be done.  Or even worse, surrender their own instincts or opinion in the spirit of consensus and relationships.

Thinking You Have It “Handled”

Another way a weakness can become a strength, is a feeling that you’ve got that skill handled, and don’t need to work on it.  Can you ever be too good at public speaking, strategy, or finance?  So often I see development plans focused on a person’s weaknesses, overlooking on how they can build on their natural gifts.

Over-reliance on the strength of your team

As a leader it is absolutely vital to build our teams to complement and supplement our weaknesses. That is a strength of a great leader.  The challenge is that over-relying on that strength can also make us weak, not investing at becoming stronger ourselves in those arenas.

An exercise that can help

  • Make a list of your greatest strengths (as an individual or as a team)
  • Next, brainstorm how each of these strengths helps you perform as a leader (or as a team)
  • Then, take that same list and do an honest assessment of where this strength is getting you into trouble
  • Identify some key actions to get a more balanced reliance on that skill

Please comment:  

What strengths are you over-using?

What strengths should you be developing even more?

Are you skipping to work?

One of my favorite mentors always asks… “are you skipping to work?”

When you are skipping to work, you wake up before the alarm, and are excited about the day.  When skipping, the most challenging part is juggling and prioritizing all the creative things you want to accomplish.

I find that when I am skipping,  others are attracted to the scene and generally are excited to skip along.

I skip when I am in the right job.  And usually, I can skip when I am in the “wrong” job because somehow I work to transform it into the “right” job by focusing on the aspects that make it fun.

For me, skipping always involves developing people and turning things around.  When the politics get too thick, or the hardest transformational work is done, I find my energy a bit harder to muster.  When energy gets low, I look deep to see what I can change about me, or my situation.

I have found it useful to stay in touch with my own energy barometer.  It is tough to lead well, or achieve good results unless the answers to these questions are “yes” most of the time.

Skipping Barometer

  • Am I excited to wake up in the morning, and energized about the possibilities for my day?
  • Does what I am doing feel important?
  • Do I come home wanting to share stories I am proud of?
  • Am I constantly thinking of what to do next?
  • Am I sharing an engaging vision that others are excited to follow?
  • Do people comment on my passion and excitement?

Gretchen Rubin has a great book about taking an intentional project-based approach to finding happiness in your personal life.  (http://happiness-project.com )

I use a similar approach at work.  It is helpful to make a deliberate list of what is bringing us joy, and what is not… and making plans from there.   Often there are small shifts that can make a big difference.  Sometimes, this approach can lead to more dramatic change.

What changes could you implement that would lead to more skipping for you or your team?

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?

What Dad Doesn’t Say

Thanks to all who contributed to my last post “Dad Says: Best Advice from Your Dads.” For those who read closely, you may have noticed that I did not share any advice from my father. Why? Because he swears he doesn’t give it.

I have huge respect for his approach. He believes that “It’s hard enough to live your own life…and you never know the full context…”

The truth is all of my siblings and all of his siblings know… if you need advice, just tell your story to Dad, and look at what his face says. He can’t really hide his pride or lack of enthusiasm.  My brother Brad explains:

“The silence reads… be thoughtful.  Always.  Consider the options, the implications, the people involved. the answer is somewhere in the middle.”

So for Fathers Day, Dad… I share the top 10 things I learned from you… 10 things I took away from advice not given.

10. Be patient

Oh yeah… still trying to learn that one.   My sister, Jill, is a quicker study.

 “I learned about exercising patience in teaching and finding new and creative ways to show others something that seems obvious.  For him, it included hours of algebra and geometry on the coach.  For me it comes in hand in speech therapy and with my own children.

9.  Go to church

Thanks so much for not caring about which church.  A huge part of who I am came from growing up in a fantastic church community.  And an important part of who I am becoming is influenced by the church I now attend.

8.  Wear a wig

Mom was wary about me including this one, so let me explain.  The fact that every year you would dress up at work for Halloween as whatever project you were working on (even after you were a senior leader) taught me a lot.   Have fun at work.  Take risks.  Making people laugh builds teams.  I now have a closet full of wigs that I happily wear and never regret.

7. Support people’s passions

You become genuinely interested in anything others are doing  and support it full steam.  Thank you for being the first subscriber to my blog.

6. Document the family story

I am amazed at the work you have put in to research and track the lineage, pictures and stories.  Thanks for always being there with a camera to capture just what needs to be remembered.

5. Show up

Thanks for being REALLY available when we need you the most.  Thanks for always digging in and helping at just the right time.  I know hundreds of people would say this about you.

4. Try the less obvious next step

I learned that a career path can be complex… that if you can lead people, take some risks and try things you know nothing about.  How else does someone  go from studying the mating habits of striped bass, to making power plants safer, to building space telescopes?

3. Fight for the underdog

You always fight like crazy with your words and actions.  You make real sacrifices and invest in others.   And mostly,  in a subtle and elegant way.  Never looking for credit for your contributions.

2. Have an opinion

You always have one… and it is always passionate.  And you are very careful about how you share it.

see http://www.isoclarity.org/

1. Do it well

Everything.  Always.

Thanks Dad.  I learn from you every day.