Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Mentoring in Circles

In my earlier post, Don’t Get a Mentor, I talked about my preference for finding a mentor organically rather than waiting for formal programs.  On the other hand, throughout the years, my favorite formal programs have always been in the form of circles.

These are groups with a leader as guide and a small group of people learning together.   I have experience with this in 2 contexts:  (1) as a formal HR program and (2) as skip level development for my own teams.  Both informal, with lots of options for customization.

HR Program

In this context  we paired execs  with cross-functional groups of leaders learning together.  This structure helped to create a space for natural relationships to occur… and if someone did not necessarily click with their mentor, they might develop a cool relationship with one or more of their peers.  We did all this in-house, at very low-cost.  We gave the groups tools, but also lots of latitude to do what worked for them.  Each group was given an action learning project (a real problem to solve) which worked quite well.

My internet research shows that there are a lot of companies offering support for this online these days. I would love to hear comments from anyone using these programs and the success that they have had.

With My Own Team

Over the years, I have had a lot of fun running mentoring circles in my own teams.   I do this as a skip level experience, giving me an opportunity to get to know 8-10 high potential managers by working together.  I always start with teaching them about “elevator speeches”, and having them create one.  Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.

We talk about the business…and we all share the challenges we are having and share best practices.  The fun begins when we take field trips to struggling areas of the business and offer support.  We also do a project together to give back to the business.  I have found that these circles (called various names, usually “academies” or “leagues”), are a great way for me and my team to share our vision, work on work, and really get to know the managers in a deeper way.  An added win is having a direct report involved with this as part of their leadership experience.   I have seen a good track record of successful promotions coming out of these scenes.

Of course, some would argue it’s not “mentoring” if it is your own chain of command.  Perhaps.

Please share your stories of mentoring circles.  I would love to learn more.

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?

Dad Says: Best Advice From YOUR Dads

In the spirit of Fathers Day, my son Ben (17) and I set out to collect as much fatherly advice as we could in a week.  We asked everyone we knew or ran into… friends, work, school, church, airports, restaurants, and random encounters …“what’s the best advice you ever got from your dad?”  

The question also became a conversation piece in a wide variety of contexts and our whole family got involved.  We had people talking about this in team-builders, men’s breakfasts, church meetings, fire stations, summer camps, executive dinners, knitting groups and through our social networks.  One friend got so engaged in the process he collected responses from 4 generations of family.

Sebastian (6)  also got into the game, taking his own notes “be a taim plare (be a team player)” and “folo yor hirt (follow your heart).”

Ben and Mom’s Top Picks

  1. Don’t listen to your father (Karin’s Dad, from his Dad, MD)
  2. Have faith– but there is no RIGHT faith (Ben’s friend, Matthew who collected 4 generations of advice, MA)
  3. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (Sean, our waiter,  CA)

We received hundreds of responses from 5 countries.

The folks we talked to fell into 3 clusters:

  • the eager to engage

About two third of the  folks we asked were excited to engage, and had compelling and interesting stories that came along with their advice.   A few got choked up, as did we more than once in the process

  • those who preferred not to talk

MANY others had almost the opposite reaction.  In these cases  our questions were answered with silence or a quick attempt to change the subject.  This was the most troubling and surprising part of this process

  • and “gee… my dad didn’t SAY a lot but showed a lot in his DOING

Our favorite was from Magesh in India  “he once helped a poor child in the area by paying for him to have a heart operation. I sure learned a lot from him.”

“Sorry Ben. This is one that I can’t contribute to.  Not many words were passed from my Dad to me that would fall into your category.

The only thing that I can share is, don’t let it happen to you- always talk to your kids and encourage them without shouting or threatening.

Love you guy…

So when Dads DO talk… what do they say?

Top Topics (and some good -or fun- examples)

Tried and True  (19%)

“Do unto others..”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff”

“Measure twice, cut once”

School & Knowledge (14%)

“If you don’t ask, you won’t know”

“Girls are just as good in math as boys”

“Never listen to the damn doctor”

How to Be and Improve (11%)

 ” Du kannst dich drehen und wenden wie du willst, der Arsch bleibt immer hinten” ( you can turn around as much as you want, the ass always stays in back)

“Figure out what people need and give it to them”

“Names are important. Really important.  Never bluff. Ask again”

“As you know, my parents escaped from Vietnam to come to America….The one advice that my father gave me that stays with me is… Ask yourself what you would do if you were not afraid…My parents taught me to not let fear stop you, but rather move you.”

Dreams, Inspiration and Spirituality (11%)

“Believe in yourself and continue to inspire others… the way you inspire me”

“Put your effort and time into the things you love doing”

“Talent is handy, it’s not essential”

Integrity and Respect (10%)

“Strive to always tell the truth, regardless of the consequences”

“Don’t worry about what others say if you are doing it for the right reasons”

“Be honest, open and upfront about anything and everything.  You may not be liked today, however you will be respected tomorrow.

Relationships and Dating (9%)

“Girls like to be kissed”

“If you want your wife to be pretty, you’d better clean your plate.  When you leave bits of food all over your plate, that’s what your wife’s face will look like.”

“Marry this one”

Family (8%)

“What did your mother say?”

(If I spoke rudely) “Mom is your mother, but she is my wife… don’t forget that”

“Find something specific about your daughter to like every day.  Let her know you found it”

Sports (7%)

“Don’t throw like a girl”

“Whenever possible, throw strikes”

“When in doubt, grab a glove and go out back”

The Basics:  Finances, Food and Drink (6%)

“Cheese and crackers and a beer make a nice snack”

“Don’t complain about your weight while eating a snickers bar”

“Never walk over a penny”

Cars and Driving (5%)

“Don’t date a man with bald tires on his car”

“Always remember where you parked your car”

“Turn your head when you change lanes”

Thanks, Dads.  Happy Fathers Day.

Namaste,

Karin and Ben

Please let us know your Dad’s best advice….

Felons, Leopards, Spots and Feedback

Last night I accidentally had dinner with an old college friend. It was one of those fun chance meetings which quickly leads to a run down of every mutual acquaintance and what they are up to.

“… and Joe (not his real name) is a convicted felon.”

“What! Story please.”

Joe is a bright, talented guy who quickly became a successful businessman. My interpretation of the story is that his white-collar crime was not an oversight or an accident, but a substantial breach of integrity motivated by greed and vengeance.

I looked at my friend, “I am embarrassed and sad to say, that I’m not shocked.”

So why wasn’t I startled by this news? In my interactions with Joe there were times when things just didn’t feel right… in the way he treated his relationships… or stories that just didn’t stick together. At this point, the details are fuzzy… but I do remember thinking, “I should give him some feedback.”

I never did.

What if I had?

What if others had in the 20 years between then and now?

What if friends and colleagues had called this leopard’s’ spots as they saw them emerge-when the stakes were low. What if he had more ticked off people  calling his bluff along the way?  Would he have failed sooner and softer? Or, perhaps they did… I will never know.

What is our responsibility to hold up mirrors for our friends early in the game?

Do you think leopard’s can change their spots?

Early calls

“Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, causal blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.  Expect that through the right lens, all our encounters will appear full of thunderbolts and instructions; every bush will be a burning bush”

– Sam Keen, Hymns to an Unknown God

One of my favorite parts of being a mom is watching my kids discover what they love to do.  The other day, Seb (6), looked at me with an epiphany.  “Mom, when I am talking and everyone is listening to what I have to say, my heart feels happy,  and I feel totally in control of myself.  My life feels good and easy.”   Yikes.

The truth is, he is right.  He has a natural gift for speaking,  and people light him up.  I am so glad he is paying attention.

I love to talk with adults that seem that happy and engaged in their work.  It’s fun to ask them when and how they “knew” what they wanted to do.  It always leads to fantastic conversation, and people who are jazzed about their work are even more jazzed to talk about why.

I keep a running list of themes I hear from folks who are in love with their work.  Here are a few…

  • It’s okay to not have found your calling, be patient
  • Create space and time for reflection
  • Listen carefully to your heart
  • Build a strong network and community of support
  • Take some risks
  • Don’t discount it because it feels too simple; it may feel easy because you have a gift
  • One thing leads to another, pay attention to signs along the way
  • Know that it will be hard, involve sacrifice, and come with it’s own junk
  • Be grateful for the journey

Are you doing what you love?  How did you know this was what you wanted to do?

What advice do you have for those in search of…

How can we best help our children identify and develop their callings?

One Dip or Two?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”  – Thomas Edison

Every now and then a young leader will approach me for my story, “what did you do to get here?”  When I share a bit about the less than glamorous journey, including commuting to the Bronx from Baltimore for months on an almost daily basis during my stint as a single mom… or the travel I am doing now to small towns across the country where you can be sure to find a Waffle House, I get the same reaction.  “Oh.”

Seth Godin writes well on this subject in The Dip.  He describes the value of slogging through the tough times on the right pursuits, and knowing when to quit the wrong ones.   As Kenny Rogers would say, knowing when to “fold em,” frees up time to work on what will make you great.  He compares 3 scenarios and how to know them when you see them.

  • Dips (hard times you need to get through to learn, grow, and achieve)
  • Culdesacs (dead ends, where more hard work and slogging is unlikely to help)
  • Cliffs (dangerous pursuits leading to disaster)

I am very familiar with the dip.  I am currently in the deep throws of at least 2 or 3 big dip servings, and am keeping a keen eye out for some early signs of culdesac.

It is vital to pay attention to where you invest your time.  His concept of quitting with integrity is important.

However, I disagree with his premise that “being the best in the world” is always a useful objective, and a reasonable criteria to judge quit worthiness.

Lots of important contributions are made from folks who are great, but not necessarily “the best.”  If we have too much quitting going on, the world will lose out.

He uses the analogy of the Boston Marathon, and how most quitters, quit in the middle of the race, during the “Dip.”  True.  I’ve run it, and the middle is tough, and it feels great to get through it.

What I think he is overlooking  is that just qualifying for the Boston marathon is a huge deal for many runners, a great goal and a fun achievement.  Lots of regular folks have big fun and become stronger working toward this goal.  They have already pushed through a few dips.  Most will not be the best in the world, and it doesn’t matter.  There is value in journeys that do not end in greatness.

Godin shares, “the problem with infinity is that there’s too much of it.”   That’s the fun part.

We have so many choices and so many chances.  For ourselves, and to offer as options for those we lead.

Conversation Question:  How do you know when it is time to quit?