Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

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.

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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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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?

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?

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….