Your Mentor May Not Be Helping Your Career

Mentors are an essential component of any development strategy. In “Won’t You Be My Mentor,” we discussed how to find a mentor. In “Don’t Get a Mentor,” we explored the importance of developing a cadre of mentors. And, in “Nemesis Mentors, I challenged you to find a mentor who makes you crazy.

Great mentors prepare you for the next level by challenging, teaching, sharing stories, and offering perceptions. However, many people assume that their mentor is also their sponsor. This is not necessarily the case.

Mentors prepare. Sponsors promote.

Your mentor can help prepare you for the next level. Your sponsor puts their name on your career and advocates for you.

A sponsor may…

  • suggest your name for new opportunities
  • defend your decisions
  • speak up the loudest during succession planning discussions
  • invest their own political capital in your success

I first realized the serious two-way responsibility of having a sponsor several years ago. A senior leader was being asked about me as a candidate for a potential job. She called me,

“Here’s the deal. I told them you were a rock star. The thing is you have to nail this job. My name is now on this as much as yours. Don’t screw it up.”

I take my sponsor relationships very seriously, whether I am being sponsored or sponsoring someone else.

Research shared in the HBR article, The Relationship You Need To Get Right, reinforces the importance of handling both sides of a sponsoring relationship with care.

“We conducted three national surveys of nearly 4,000 professionals in large corporations, held focus groups with more than 60 vice presidents and senior vice presidents, and interviewed nearly 20 Fortune 500 executives. The best sponsors, we found, go beyond mentoring. They offer not just guidance but also advocacy, not just vision but also the tactical means of realizing it. They place bets on outstanding junior colleagues and call in favors for them. The most successful protégés, for their part, recognize that sponsorship must be earned with performance and loyalty—not just once but continually.”

Herminia Kirby shares more about the difference in her HBR interview Women are Over Mentored But Under Sponsored.

“When we use the term sponsoring, we focus in on that one specific function of mentoring, which may or may not be a part of a relationship. And sponsoring really is a very targeted thing. It has to do with fighting to get somebody a promotion, mentioning their name in an appointments meeting, and making sure that the person that you’re sponsoring gets the next assignment, and gets visible and developmental assignments.”

How to Find a Sponsor

Having several solid mentoring relationships will help you on your road to finding a sponsor. While mentors at every level of the business are valuable, it helps to have one or two people at a senior level looking out for your best interest. You can help attract sponsors by…

  • Building a strong track-record of results
  • Working to deepen your mentoring relationships based on mutual support
  • Seeking out special assignments and volunteer for more
  • Seeking out opportunities to present at the senior levels
  • Mentoring and sponsoring others
  • Having an updated elevator speech

If you think your mentor may have turned into a sponsor, ask. It’s important to know where you stand. Either way, the feedback will be valuable.

The Biggest Recruiting Mistake

The recruiting process for my first job was intense. The sales pitch began with shiny brochures and a promise that once I “graduated” from this “elite” and “intense” management training program, I could move to any aspect of the company. “It was a great start for HR, training, or frontline leadership.” From there the recruiting and interviewing continued; interviews, simulations, case studies, presentations, personality tests, cocktails with senior leaders.

I accepted the offer and graduated at the “top” of the class.

Then I was told I had no options, but I should be delighted that the finance track they had laid out for me was a prestigious one.

I left the company. Our mutual investment wasted.

Beyond the Benefits

When recruiting top talent, you must sell the benefits. It’s a competitive environment and employees want so much more than money. Convince them why you are the best.

Most recruiting efforts do that well.

Before you make the offer, get real.

Over the years, depending on the job I have said things such as,

  • “I am in intense boss with high-expectations”
  • “There are times when the pressure will feel crazy”
  • “You will start work on Black Friday at 3 am”
  • “You will spend much of your life in airports”
  • “You will likely have to move again.”
  • “…”

Get others involved

  • Let the candidate talk to seasoned employees.
  • Let her shadow and hang around
  • Encourage him to ask tough questions
  • Tell them all the downsides

I have talked one or two candidates out of the job. Thank goodness for all that saved time

Mostly, the “real deal” recruiting talk seems to have an opposite effect. The right candidates appreciate the candor and are invigorated by the challenge.

3 Easy and Practical Team Building Activities

It’s been a rather heavy week on Let’s Grow Leaders, talking about Courage, Fear, Transparency, and Chaos. So I am going to end the week on a lighter note. I had my team in town this week, working on business strategy and plans. We also made time the day before for a few practical and easy team building activities.

These activities are not original, but they worked quite well, with little prep, and without an external facilitator. If you are looking for a good way to kick-off the year, you might find value in giving them a try.

Making it Personal

We held the team building session at my house, followed by a home cooked dinner. I am a huge believer in having my team to my home, a tradition I have done for over a decade. There is value in wearing jeans, eating together, seeing the natural habitat, and meeting my family.

I now have a National team, so including significant others in the dinner is not practical. However in years past, I have included spouses and friends in the evening activities. A few years ago, my son ended up on the shoulders of team member riding a unicycle on my deck, so you have to be prepared for surprises. 

Vision Board and One Word Double Header

I combined the “one word” exercise that so many are doing this year with a vision board exercise (see, What the Heck’s a Vision Board and How it can Change Your Life). All you need is some old magazines, poster board, and glue and a bit of creativity.

I asked each of us to identify one word that we would focus on for the entire year (across all aspects of our lives), which served as the center of the boards. We then spent the afternoon sifting through stacks of magazines, cutting out words and pictures, sharing hopes and dreams, recognizing common interests and plans, and finding humorous suggestions for one another.

My word for this year is “inspire.” What’s yours?

I’ll pause here.

Book Exchange

In lieu of holiday gifts we elected to draw names, and we each purchased a book for one member of our team. The reasons for selection made for interesting conversation, some were strategic and business focused, other’s were more personal. I chose to give How To Work for an Idiot to one of my direct reports 😉

“What I Get From This Team” Matrix

We also did an exercise designed to talk about how we were doing as a team. I can’t remember where I learned it, so I apologize for not knowing the original source.

We used a 4 quadrant matrix, and asked one another 4 questions in the context of the team. and also in the context of my leadership.

  • What I get that I want.
  • What I get that I don’t want.
  • What I want that I don’t get.
  • What I don’t get that I don’t want

That simple structure led to rich conversation. It also led us to share some of our struggles and leadership philosophy
What Are Your Team Building Favorites?

4 Ways To Ensure Your Successor’s Success

The same mentor that jokingly told me, “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.”

I’ve seen it go both ways. It’s painful to watch your team’s hard work unravel.

For the last week, we’ve been talking about Building Results that Last Beyond Your Tenure, including, Building a Strong VisionEstablishing the Right Behaviors  and Encouraging Interdependency.

An important piece of this puzzle, is leaving a remarkable successor.

4 Ways to Ensure Your Successor’s Success

This process starts early. Once you are ready to leave, it’s too late to search. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. Mentor, teach, have them subscribe to Let’s Grow Leaders 😉 The biggest mistake I see here is that leaders focus on developing one protegé. Timing might not work out. If you are doing it right, others will come knocking looking to recruit her before you are ready. Work on building an entire farm team.

Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and how you navigate.

Consider What’s Needed Most

My favorite Monte Python saying is, “and now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. They’ve had that. When choosing a successor consider what the team really needs most. What has changed in the business environment? What kind of leader would most challenge the team at this stage of their development?

Get Out of the Way

Yes, you must transfer knowledge. Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. Keep lists, contacts, and how toos.. in case they want to use them. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to always be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way. She doesn’t need to worry about what you are thinking or saying.

4 Ways To Ensure Your Successor's Success

The same mentor that jokingly told me, “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.”

I’ve seen it go both ways. It’s painful to watch your team’s hard work unravel.

For the last week, we’ve been talking about Building Results that Last Beyond Your Tenure, including, Building a Strong VisionEstablishing the Right Behaviors  and Encouraging Interdependency.

An important piece of this puzzle, is leaving a remarkable successor.

4 Ways to Ensure Your Successor’s Success

This process starts early. Once you are ready to leave, it’s too late to search. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. Mentor, teach, have them subscribe to Let’s Grow Leaders 😉 The biggest mistake I see here is that leaders focus on developing one protegé. Timing might not work out. If you are doing it right, others will come knocking looking to recruit her before you are ready. Work on building an entire farm team.

Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and how you navigate.

Consider What’s Needed Most

My favorite Monte Python saying is, “and now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. They’ve had that. When choosing a successor consider what the team really needs most. What has changed in the business environment? What kind of leader would most challenge the team at this stage of their development?

Get Out of the Way

Yes, you must transfer knowledge. Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. Keep lists, contacts, and how toos.. in case they want to use them. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to always be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way. She doesn’t need to worry about what you are thinking or saying.

Who’s Really Writing Your Performance Appraisal?

The best leaders I know have one song stuck in their head as they enter performance appraisal season.

“I can’t get no satisfaction? Nope

“You can’t always get what you want?” I sure hope not.

I see them humming, that old Christmas classic, “Do you Hear What I Hear?”

Where The Input Begins

Great performance appraisals are not written in a vacuum.

Chances are your boss is looking from a good bit of input into your performance appraisal.

Great leaders know they only have one perspective.

They go for more, and ask around. Hopefully, that starts with you. Here’s your chance to influence the situation. There are at least four places your manager is looking to for input.

You

The tangible results are the most important part of the performance appraisal. You are in a position to highlight some of your key accomplishments. Hopefully you had a performance agreement, or list of goals and measures you agreed to near the beginning of the year. If not, take the lead and share tangible results with your boss. Position it carefully as helpful input to lighten the load.

Focus on outcomes. What is the % improvement over last year? What is the retention and success rate of the new hires you mentored? Avoid highlighting results that just measure activity. “I visited 25 locations.” “I trained 15 classes.” It’s also fine to share some of the behind-the-scenes work your boss may have missed– particularly work you did for other workgroups or special projects.

Your Peers

A recent study by TribeHR of 20,000 employees found 85% of the recognition employees receive throughout the year comes from peers, not bosses. And, the amount of recognition correlates to end-of-year raises. I don’t know the ins and outs of the study, but I believe the premise. While employees are not supposed to talk about ratings or pay, I always assume something will leak out. It’s important that the people rated at the top are viewed as key contributors, and their peers would smile and say, ‘well deserved, that makes sense.”

Other Key Stakeholders

This is important no matter what kind of role you are in. Are you in HR? You boss will likely ask those you support about your style and impact. Are you in a field job? Your boss may go to Finance and ask how you are to work with. No, it’s not time to go buy pumpkin cheesecakes for all your staff support. However, it is good to know that others may be asked for input and to consider that in your interactions throughout the year.

Their Peers

Not everyone does this. I always do. Before anyone submits a rating, I always meet with my direct reports as a group to go through anyone being rated on either end of the performance spectrum. It always leads to interesting dialogue about perceptions and hidden interactions. Ideally, you do it a few times a year, so nothing new surfaces this late in the game.

You want everyone in that meeting nodding enthusiastically when your boss submits you for a top rating.

Who's Really Writing Your Performance Appraisal?

The best leaders I know have one song stuck in their head as they enter performance appraisal season.

“I can’t get no satisfaction? Nope

“You can’t always get what you want?” I sure hope not.

I see them humming, that old Christmas classic, “Do you Hear What I Hear?”

Where The Input Begins

Great performance appraisals are not written in a vacuum.

Chances are your boss is looking from a good bit of input into your performance appraisal.

Great leaders know they only have one perspective.

They go for more, and ask around. Hopefully, that starts with you. Here’s your chance to influence the situation. There are at least four places your manager is looking to for input.

You

The tangible results are the most important part of the performance appraisal. You are in a position to highlight some of your key accomplishments. Hopefully you had a performance agreement, or list of goals and measures you agreed to near the beginning of the year. If not, take the lead and share tangible results with your boss. Position it carefully as helpful input to lighten the load.

Focus on outcomes. What is the % improvement over last year? What is the retention and success rate of the new hires you mentored? Avoid highlighting results that just measure activity. “I visited 25 locations.” “I trained 15 classes.” It’s also fine to share some of the behind-the-scenes work your boss may have missed– particularly work you did for other workgroups or special projects.

Your Peers

A recent study by TribeHR of 20,000 employees found 85% of the recognition employees receive throughout the year comes from peers, not bosses. And, the amount of recognition correlates to end-of-year raises. I don’t know the ins and outs of the study, but I believe the premise. While employees are not supposed to talk about ratings or pay, I always assume something will leak out. It’s important that the people rated at the top are viewed as key contributors, and their peers would smile and say, ‘well deserved, that makes sense.”

Other Key Stakeholders

This is important no matter what kind of role you are in. Are you in HR? You boss will likely ask those you support about your style and impact. Are you in a field job? Your boss may go to Finance and ask how you are to work with. No, it’s not time to go buy pumpkin cheesecakes for all your staff support. However, it is good to know that others may be asked for input and to consider that in your interactions throughout the year.

Their Peers

Not everyone does this. I always do. Before anyone submits a rating, I always meet with my direct reports as a group to go through anyone being rated on either end of the performance spectrum. It always leads to interesting dialogue about perceptions and hidden interactions. Ideally, you do it a few times a year, so nothing new surfaces this late in the game.

You want everyone in that meeting nodding enthusiastically when your boss submits you for a top rating.

Development Deluge: Are You Working Too Hard?

Bob (not his real name) pulled me aside after the meeting.

Another subscriber told me, “I’m going to have to stop reading your blog, it’s getting too expensive”

“Huh?… ummm… the blog is completely free,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but I’ve gone out and bought all the books you referenced.”

“You do know, I am not selling any of those right? That they are just references?

“Yes, but they all sound so good.”

“I’ve been reading your blog and all the books you talked about. I went out and got 5 mentors, all of whom are giving me feedback. I’ve been trying out new behaviors and asking for feedback on how I am doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about my development and career plans and next steps. It’s completely overwhelming.”

Hmmm…perhaps that is why Chris Brogan is inviting his readers to join him on a 3 Book Diet this year. His movement has gained traction.

I told Chris I can’t do the 3 book thing, I need great thinking to inspire my leadership and writing. Reading other people’s work is also helping me build wonderful relationships. But somewhere between 3 and everything in sight seems like the right range.

Have You Ever Been Bob?

Leaders must work on their development to grow. Most folks I know don’t work on their development enough. On the other hand too much development can be overwhelming, even paralyzing.

It’s like working on a marriage. Sometimes you need to talk about stuff. But sometimes, you just need to go throw a frisbee.

Back to Bob, and so I asked him, “what if you just stopped?”

His shoulders relaxed. I am pretty sure he started to breathe again.

“Development work takes time to steep. What if you just steeped in all this for a while?”

Bob is steeping now. That seems to be working well. The truth is, he seems to be growing more than ever.

What’s the “Right” Amount of Development

It depends.

Development should…

  • expose you to new perspectives
  • challenge you to try new behaviors
  • feel a bit uncomfortable
  • involve feedback from others
  • ????

Development should not…

  • feel completely overwhelming
  • involve trying too many new behaviors all at once
  • require constant feedback 
  • ????

What about you? Have you ever suffered from a development deluge? What happened? How did you steep?
 

leadership retreat idea: speed mentoring

Speed Mentoring: Jump Starting Deeper Connections

Finding a great mentor is hard. A lot goes into making mentoring work, but above all it starts with finding a great connection.

I spent today launching a new mentoring circle, with a bit of a twist. Instead of a pure skip-level experience, all of my direct reports were involved, along with high-potential managers from across the organization.

We worked together on business problems, identified key priorities and challenges for the coming year, and came up with some fantastic strategies and plans. There is so much power in collaboration.

And then we tried something new “speed mentoring.”

Speed Mentoring

As a caveat, this is a group that has worked together at various levels. Some of us have deeper relationships and have had developmental discussion before, some were just getting to know one another. We asked in advance, and the team agreed they were game to try something new.

The Design

Although none of us had any experience with “speed dating” we were intrigued by the concept of short, focused interactions to look for areas of common interest.

Each participant was asked to come prepared with any ideas and questions they had for the leaders on the team. The mentees were in complete control of the conversations, and could use the time however they wished.

We set up small tables around the room, and each of the leaders manned a station and the mentees flowed through spending 10 minutes at each station. The mentees controlled the conversations, and each took on a different flavor.

The Questions

I was intrigued at how deep the conversations went in just 10 minutes. Each mentee took a different approach. Nearly all conversations sparked dialogue that will continue.

  • “What’s my “brand with you?”
  • Why wouldn’t you promote me?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
  • What makes you fail?
  • What are you working on developmentally?
  • Did you ever take a job that was a bad fit? What did you do?
  • What characteristics are you looking for in a leader?
  • How do you think I am doing?
  • Just what makes you so passionate about leadership development?

The Feedback

The feedback we received was amazing. I was worried that the time was too short, or that the feedback from so many people in a short time frame would be overwhelming. Participants agreed that it was “intense” but would do it again with the same design.

  • “It was helpful to see the patterns and consistency in the feedback”
  • “I could tell everyone was being really candid and had my best interest at heart”
  • “I liked that we could control the questions and decide where we wanted to take the conversation with each person.”
  • “It was great to see so many different perspectives on the same question”

The conversations continued later that day, on a break or walking to dinner. Can you mentor in 10 minutes? Of course not. Can you spark a connection worth exploring further? I believe you can.

The best is yet to come.

Get Noticed: Start By Building a Strong N.E.S.T.

These are all phrases I’ve heard used in succession planning and other discussions over the years. The tragedy is that the folks being described in these conversations work extremely hard, have fantastic results, and are highly committed to the company. The trouble is, they are working too hard to get noticed.

“She’s more focused on her career than the business”

“He’s applied for so many promotions. He doesn’t seem to know what he really wants to do next, he just wants the title.”

“Every time I talk to that guy he tells me how great his team is doing”

“I’m not sure what it is, she’s just a bit over the top.”

Scott Eblin’s recent post, You’ve Got To Speak For the Work, was timely. I had just finished a conversation with a leader facing this same issue. A woman on his team had GREAT results. The trouble is, she was constantly telling everyone. She was getting tuned out, and worse, her results were being ignored because she was seen as needy. Her work to get noticed was backfiring. Scott shares how to “speak for the work” vs. promoting yourself.

Speaking for the work is not about jumping up and down saying, “Hey, look what I did!” You’re speaking for the work, not speaking for you. More specifically, you’re speaking for the work of your team. Part of your job as their leader is to advocate for them and get them the exposure they need to succeed. Another part of your leadership role is to make sure that your boss has the information she needs to successfully brief her boss.

I concur with all his points. Worth reading if you want your work to get noticed I have shared this article broadly.

I also believe a great way to “speak for the work” is to use it as a nesting place to help others to grow.

Four Build a Noticeable N.E.S.T.

N- Notice what is working and why

Channel some of your need to get noticed into a pursuit of continued excellence. The more you understand what is working, the easier it will be to replicate. Stay humble and open to ways to improve you own nest, so that it can be an incubator for future growth and ideas.

E- Extend Support

Extend your support to struggling peers. Share your tools and resources. Offer to lend them your best talent to help with a struggling project. They will likely be grateful and tell others about what you are doing and how it helped. It will give your best talent a chance to get noticed and they will be learning along the way.

S- Sell your team’s contributions

Nominate your team members for formal recognition programs. Use informal channels to provide shout outs. No one will every fault you for giving well-deserved kudos to your team. Work to promote the careers of others, pushing them as soon as they are ready out of your nest and on to the next adventure. They will carry your vision and reputation forward.

T- Talk about the great work of others

Be genuinely interested in the nest building of others. Be the first one to point out other’s accomplishments. Don’t worry about reciprocation. If you are doing great work, it will come.

Full Potential Leadership: Convincing Them to Bet on You

Are you truly building your full potential? The choices you make now, will impact what jobs are available down the road. Moving up too quickly in one functional area may limit the diversity of skills you learn, and turn you into a specialist with limited future potential.

As Joanne Cleaver, says “over is the new up.”

When a strong, smart employee comes to me looking for help being promoted, I almost always encourage them to also consider “jumping out of an airplane” and trying a lateral job they appear to know nothing about. I ask them to think more broadly about their full potential.

I ask these sorts of questions:

  • Are you building yourself into a specialist, or building a reputation as a leader with broader capacity?
  • Have you tried moving into a new discipline
  • What are your unrealized gifts?
  • Which of your skills are the most transferable?
  • Should you consider moving sideways to expand your perspective and skills?

And, I am truly grateful for the times in my career bosses and mentors challenged me in that same way and inspired me to work toward my full potential.

I’ve told my story of moves across HR, customer service, marketing, sales.. more than a few times. The truth is, I was able to take leaps across functions because other leaders have taken risks on me. My favorite line from a Sales Senior Vice President years ago, “Karin, don’t tell me you don’t know sales you’ve convinced us all to buy-in to these HR and leadership programs trust me, you can sell.”

So, I tell, my story, and people listen and then the natural question but, “how do I convince someone I am qualified?”

The truth is, I can’t break that down. I don’t exactly remember that part and I don’t have a great answer to this question and time and time again. I get stuck.

Time to Ask a Full Potential Expert

So, suppose you believe it’s important, and are prepared to take a risky move.

How do you convince someone to take a risk on you?

So I reached out to Joanne Cleaver, the author of The Career Lattice: how Lateral Move Strategies Can Grow Careers and Companies asked for some help.

They want to “lattice up”, but no one will give them a chance? What should they do?

Here’s her response:

The best way to make your case to a potential new boss is to show how you have already achieved results with a skill or responsibility analogous to the new challenge. For example, if you are trying to switch from a technology role in which you often interacted with marketing, to a marketing role that is a liaison to technology, show how you have managed a project from the point of view of marketing.

Build a concise case study that shows what you can do. (Simply saying, ‘I can do that!” isn’t enough.” )

Here’s how to build a case study:

•       Problem

•       Process

•       Solution

•       Results

•       One sentence each

Voila! You have shown yourself in action.

Use this case study formula to document your accomplishments as you go. You can use case studies in cover letters and interviews as you get to know potential new bosses.

Career lattices the emerging model for career paths because they are both flexible and sustainable. The skill of managing your career laterally is essential for working Americans of all ages and at all career stages, as I illustrate in The Career Lattice. By continually evolving your skills, abilities and peer network, you’ll qualify for tomorrow’s jobs today.

Great advice.

Have you convinced someone to take a risk on you?

Got Results? How to Succeed in Your Next Developmental Assignment

If you are a strong leader, with a proven track record of results and looking to advance, chances are you are going to be asked to take on a job you know nothing about. On paper, you will be completely unqualified. Welcome to the world of succession planning developmental assignments.

Much research has shown that the best way to prepare leaders for broader, more strategic responsibility is to move them into diverse roles and assignments. The Lessons of Experience, High Flyers, and The Leadership Pipeline,  all offer insights into why and how this works. Leaders who can produce results across a variety of organizational contexts become valuable utility players with broad perspectives on the business.Continue reading