Saturday Salutation: A Trail of Blessings

There is a man who walks slowly down the trolley path near my home each morning. I often see him on my morning run. He ritualistically tips his cane to everyone as he passes, and says, “God Bless You.” When he is not there, the crickets seem to sing more loudly. Perhaps they are filling in the void left by his absence.

Namaste.

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.

Nemesis Mentors

The natural tendency when looking for mentors 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.

Won’t You Be My Mentor?

So, you want a mentor. Now what?

Where? Who? How to approach?

First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).

Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.

If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.

Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.

Some questions to consider in your preparation:

  • Why are you here? Why them?
  • What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
  • What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
  • What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
  • What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
  • What worries you most open up a bit
  • Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?

Won't You Be My Mentor?

So, you want a mentor. Now what?

Where? Who? How to approach?

First, let me say this. I have NEVER been offended by anyone who has asked me for career advice , or wanting to know me better. I love to help. I have always said yes to anyone who approached me with the “M” word (although those folks usually don’t stick around when they approach that way it’s normally because someone told them to, or they just read a book).

Also, I have NEVER had someone tell me they are too busy to talk about such subjects. Every time I ask, I get a great story, and often a life long friend.

If you are feeling scared just ask. The results may surprise you.

Once they say yes, like a good first date, have a plan.

Some questions to consider in your preparation:

  • Why are you here? Why them?
  • What do you want them to know about you? (Once again, time for that Elevator Speech)
  • What do you want to know about their story? Ask some questions.
  • What is your big career plan? What are your next steps?
  • What do they already know about you (what is your brand with them, with others?)
  • What worries you most open up a bit
  • Does this feel right? If so, ask if it would be okay to meet again?

“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 nd 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.”

Continue reading

"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 nd 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.”

Continue reading

Don’t Get a Mentor

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

Why Mentoring Programs Don’t Work

Stop looking for formal programs and mentors. Such programs seldom work. The matches are artificial. The “rules” forced. I’ve built such programs over the years. I’ve mentored and been mentored in such scenes. The truth is, the best relationships develop organically.

Invest 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.

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

Hang on and Give Back

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.

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 Let’s Grow Leaders. I will address a mentoring topic each day. I hope you will join in the conversation.

Don't Get a Mentor

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

Why Mentoring Programs Don’t Work

Stop looking for formal programs and mentors. Such programs seldom work. The matches are artificial. The “rules” forced. I’ve built such programs over the years. I’ve mentored and been mentored in such scenes. The truth is, the best relationships develop organically.

Invest 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.

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

Hang on and Give Back

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.

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 Let’s Grow Leaders. I will address a mentoring topic each day. I hope you will join in the conversation.

Saturday Salutation: Joyful Movement at the TSA

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 get promoted.

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

Stairway to Promotion

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.  What are the things peopled need to work on to get promoted?

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).

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?