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?

"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.

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?

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.

[polldaddy poll=6316659]

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.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.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 Dad Doesn’t Say

The Dad Conversation Continues

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, 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. 

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

Listen Well: Better Get a Bucket

I believe that after integrity, listening is the second most important leadership skill.

And it is also one of the most difficult.

Listening well is hard.Listening well, consistently, is even harder.

Lately, I have been paying more attention to what is happening when the listening is good.

The key is having some good buckets– categories to help you organize what you hear, and to feed it back.

People need to know that you have heard them that you are with them and that you got the gist.

Buckets help you organize your listening and feedback.

One on One

Imagine an emotional co-worker coming to you with a long story about why a project is in jeopardy. You listen intently to what she has to say, and look for the main ideas.After she is done, you can respond with empathy and understanding.

“I am hearing three main concerns here let me see I have this right “and then spill your buckets.

Helping someone to organize their own thoughts makes them feel better, and usually calmer. Situations seem easier to tackle when they are simplified into groups.

Bigger Groups

This also works in larger contexts as well. I recently watched an executive who was hosting a big conference get up every 3 hours and feedback the big ideas he heard from each speaker. He put his buckets on display, reinforced key messages, and modeled the level of listening that should be happening.

I have also used this technique in large town hall meetings. Rather than respond to every comment, I listen intently and then share (and respond to) the main buckets of issues.

There is value in the trying

Of course sometimes, your buckets will be wrong. That’s okay.

It at least helps the conversation along in a productive way.

Try taking a bucket to your next meeting. It’s exciting to see what might fill it up.