Friday, September 26, 2008

Mentors - consider this

I’m lazy.

Now for those of you that know me, you’re probably thinking my definition of laziness is different from yours. Not so.

Yes, I put out a great deal of effort - words, projects, parenting, keeping house, volunteering, mentoring, etc. and reading at least 4 books a week. But consider this: what I do, I do because I’m interested in it.

When I’m not interested, I want to play Solitaire or read or watch tv. Not being interested at 10 am on a work day can be problematic. Looming deadlines and a full mailbox (voice and data) can’t get me to sit at my desk. I wander into the hallway for tea. I organize a file. I visit with colleagues. All things that also must be done (hydration, relationship management and have you seen my desk?).

Don’t get me wrong. I do everything that Must Be Done. However, I’m really good at avoiding those that Should Be Done. Usually because those things bore me or I don’t see the value. Or because I can think of other things to do that have more interest to me. Which is the traditional view of laziness. No one will suffer because of what I’m avoiding but I’m definitely not making the extra effort.

So as a mentor, I forget this basic in human nature. I can pontificate for hours on what Should Be Done - and no one will do it. I can’t fault anyone for it. People will focus on careers if their career interests them (corporations, please note: it doesn’t interest everyone). People will do the work they Must and most likely do the minimum on the work they Should.

This blog is full of ideas on what Should be done. I can’t prioritize for you. I am planning to re-examine my own career plan with my mentors and determine what’s a Must and what’s a Should. I will try and work with my mentorees on the same thing.

It’s the Should Be Done pile that fascinates me though. Given my nature to be lazy, I need to figure out what might interest me in all that muck. If I can pique my interest, I might do a few more items. If I’m interested, those items move from the equivalent of doing laundry to the comparable enjoyment of a good book. Of course, then it’s not effort and I can maintain my assertion that I’m lazy.

Mentors, consider this: help your mentorees find what’s interesting to them in that Should pile. Because the Must is a minimum. It’s the Should pile where we will all discover real value and progress for ourselves.

“One of the things that may get in the way of people being lifelong learners is that they’re not in touch with their passion. If you’re passionate about what it is you do, then you’re going to be looking for everything you can to get better at it.”
Jack Canfield

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Weddings vs. Work Functions

I was at a lovely wedding last weekend. Yes, the dress was divine. The whole wedding party looked terrific. The reverend running the ceremony was a great public speaker. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale sang (I still have shivers). The food was good.

However, it was lovely because the entire room came together as one community in support of the couple. Now, every wedding is supposed to be about that but not every wedding pulls it off.

At one point, there was a search for some Tylenol - not just at my table - but folks walking from table to table helping the search, not even having met the guest who was hit with a sudden headache.

I saw folks interacting like kids in a sandbox. Everyone was welcome and there was enough cake and merriment to go around. Sometimes no one even exchanged names - the basic grown up fallback. Strangers paid unsolicited compliments and wandered off to their next random flattery moment. By the end of the evening, the room was full of old friends who had, in many instances, just met.

So why does such seamless interaction at an event take on such awkwardness when it’s a work or industry function? We come together for a common cause or theme and we’re there to possibly share a cocktail or understand a strategy. Not as much fun as a wedding but the basic human interaction should be similar.

I think it’s because a work/industry function makes us feel like we have to prove ourselves in some vague way. A social function strips us of titles and focuses on ‘how’ we are vs. ‘who’ we are. Personally, I find the latter function scarier.

Next ‘professional’ function - try breaking the ice as though you were waiting in line at the coffee shop. Comment on the product offered. Comment on the atmosphere. Pay a random compliment. Find the personal connection and enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Things I can’t tell my manager

That I’m not sure this job is the right one for me anymore
That I don’t know if this career path is the right one for me anymore
That I don’t have a key skill you assume I have - or I don’t have it to the extent you assume I have it.
That I don’t know how to manage you.
That my methods of dealing with department politics are failing me this month.
That I am questioning the validity of the assignments I’m getting.
That recognition is not given in ways that are meaningful to me.
That my friends/family think I’m in the wrong space.
That I’m not challenged. That I’m too challenged. That I’m bored. That I’m antsy. That I’m questioning myself.
Why should I do this? Why should I do this?

Even mentors ask these questions. None of us are alone. No questions are negative if you are willing to hear a difficult answer.
Questioning is good. Not questioning leads to no change.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exercise: Skills Inventory

The marvel of this list is 2-fold: it’s a great way to view your strengths on a day when you’re not sure you can do more than tie your own shoes (badly); it’s a terrific list out of which to create a personal development plan or understand the pro/cons for you when considering a job change.

It’s tempting to rush this inventory exercise by doing it only once (vs. making it a living document) or taking short cuts such as bundling skills under one skill name. Take your time and update it every few months.

• First, make a list of all the skills you have in excruciating detail. Ask yourself ‘what does that word mean’ and if it breaks down into several smaller skills - list those.
• Don’t just list what you love or what you’re good at. List what you’re capable of.
• Ask people you trust to contribute to the list.
• Don’t edit skills by what you like/don’t like doing. I don’t want to be known as a ‘project manager’ anymore since I moved my career over. However, it’s still something I do very well. It goes on my list.

Once you’ve got a comprehensive list (to which you can continue to add at any time), move the skills on to a 4-square grid.

Top left:
- take these skills to the bank - am in the top % here.
No false modesty - these are the skills you use to sell yourself as unique/amazing. They make up your personal brand.

Bottom left:
Solid skills
- table stakes - we all do these

Bottom right:
Skills I could use more training on
- you can do them but we wouldn’t go out of our way to ask you

Top right:
Skills for which I want some/more training
- not what your manager wants - what YOU want

Top right is my favourite square. Identifying existing languishing skills you wish to beef up, pinpoints your interests for either enhancing your current job or helping you select your next challenge. It’s also a great list to figure out where you might want some coaching from your peers or long-term planning with your mentor. You can, with this ¼ of the grid, also add skills you don’t even have yet for the same planning purposes.

I also divide my original list in two pieces - skills I have that I love doing; skills I have that I do because I must. Facilitating falls in the former; updating spreadsheets falls in the latter.

Where I’ve really found this list and the grid useful (if I keep it up-to-date), is helping me not simply jump at new opportunities but approach them strategically. Does this project/job/opportunity help me dive into something on top right part of my grid? Does it simply showcase my existing skills across the left? Does it lean too heavily on the things I don’t enjoy doing (even if I do them very well)?

The list and grid have many applications - but the trick is to make one at all!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starting a Booklist

I have many books I return to often and some that are new discoveries. Send me your top 3 books - a treasured favourite; a constant reference; a new discovery!

1 - A treasured favourite
Do What You Are : Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
Paul D. Tieger

I think this book is in its 20+ printing and has finally moved to paperback. I may have read every printing. (They’ve got a website now but I find it is mostly to sell the product vs. having more information to share.) This is the first book where I had an “ah ha!” moment instead of something that just reaffirmed what I already knew.

It’s aimed at the job seeker but I find it useful to even figure out what skill set to aim for when changing jobs. It’s an easy read, respectful and the exercise I developed for myself out of it was creating the ‘skills inventory’. The language the book uses around skills helps to focus my list instead of taking shortcuts.

It’s also a great mentoring tool - creating some common language, a potential assessment and a good starting point for discussion.

2 - A constant reference
The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron

I actually know folks who have done this program in its entirety. (I would not be one of them.) I do know many of the suggested exercises are terrific for writers and non-writers alike. This is a book that really helps one question the way information is processed and how best to put information out. It’s a lovely personal development tool.

My favourite way to use this book is to let it fall open to a page where I read the quote and try out the suggestion. All random and always relevant.

3 - A new discovery
Corporate Intelligence Awareness: Securing the Competitive Edge
Rodger Harding

I confess - I’m only halfway through this book but even so, Rodger, you must have had cameras in my department.

One promo reads: "In this compelling new book by a former diplomat, you will learn the secrets (step by step) to developing an intelligence strategy by effective information gathering and analyzing, and then to delivering credible intelligence to senior management."

At first glance, it may seem not immediately relevant to your own world but Rodger points out that ethical business intelligence is vital to our ability to think creatively in a crisis or facing a fresh challenge. This book is about how we think - always a fascinating topic.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sales Pressure

You’ve seen the ads about those terrified by sales folk on commission - people diving behind couches and bringing lawyers all to avoid being pressured.

I’d like to state for the record that I receive no money if you take any advice from this blog. LOL

Seriously, the issue I’m hearing more and more is how the workplace is ‘urging’ and ‘directing’ folks to be mentored. Toolkits and networks are set up (or not). Meetings are called.

And once again the words mentoring and networking become
1 - used interchangeably
2 - without definition
3 - thrust upon the individual who enters a potential networking or mentoring opportunity because they feel they must or that it’s politically savvy to do so - vs. because they want to.

I do understand that for some to realize they want to add mentoring and networking to their lives, it takes a catalyst. Dragged to an event by a friend or co-worker. Told to upgrade their skill set or risk lack of advancement by a manager. However, they are won over by seeing others model positive and proactive networking and mentoring behaviours in the workplace. This modeling can create as much influence (and more positive) as being mandated.

Mentoring is not coaching for an immediate job issue. Mentoring doesn’t require lists of skills around which the workplace would like you to better yourself. Your workplace values are what your manager coaches you on. Your career and personal self within that career are where a mentor comes in.

You don’t have to mentor or be mentored. It isn’t network or die! Mentoring and networking are a choice. A sensible and wonderful choice in my opinion - but a choice. It’s not brussel sprouts; it’s a dessert buffet.

Yes, the workplace should get involved. The more who espouse building community in all its forms, the better. But it’s not mandatory and no salesperson should call.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why would Oprah care about my book?

(Yup, I’m working on a book about building a personal community: networking and mentoring.)

Yes, someone asked me that recently. No, I didn’t consider it impertinent.

Not that I expect Oprah to ever read it when I finish. But it’s still a really good question.

Why should anyone care? (oh.. that’s a slippery slope filled with ‘who am I to think I have something new to say’ etc.) But really - why?

You know, it’s not the book itself, nor the blog, that drives me to sit at the computer. It’s that I really believe building a personal community - with sincerity, commitment and real relationships (filled with people you honestly Like having coffee with!) - leaves us all with better neighbourhoods, better friendships, more resources to share and more openness to new experiences.

The concept takes us beyond the value of one, the benefits for one, the ambition of one and opens doors that ripple out beyond even the folks you try to directly affect. You don’t have to be altruistic to be successful in this equation; you have to be genuine and dedicated to the effort required.

My dedication is taking the form of a book these days. I’m calling on the experiences of my network for it. I’m sharing the mentoring advice I’ve been given and have offered. I’m trying to extend the reach of these ideas and counsel beyond those I can actually touch personally.

Because I care. I’ve based my whole way of life on it. I don’t know if anyone, including Oprah, feels the way I do. But I sincerely hope so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Winter Prep

No matter how old I get, September will always be the real ‘new year’. School starts; work gears back up; and winter preparation begins.

You’ve heard of spring cleaning but not winter prep? That’s where you look at your home and get it ready for winter (gardens, closets, boot trays - whatever your routines are). You look at work and *sigh* think about all the things that will now pile up. You make a resolution to stay on top of things this fall because, before you know it, the holidays will be upon you. And, if you’re like me, you look at yourself and wonder how come you didn’t start/finish all the personal projects you had planned to complete by Aug.31.

If you’re really like me you might even do some mental self-flagellation over that last item while eating copious amounts of dark chocolate.

I believe we spend a lot of time worrying or fussing over all the things we don’t get to. How many of you - in recent memory - made a mental or actual list of everything you have accomplished in the last month?

That’s the best ‘winter prep' and school-year resolution I can offer you. Make a list of what you have done lately. Keep it up-to-date. Review it often - not for gaps - but to feel proud.

One day, when you’ve had that list for a few months, you can use it to show your boss your accomplishments, your loved ones your successes or a potential new employer your capability for projects that span across all aspects of your community.

We don’t remember what we accomplished. We do remember what we have yet to do. Spend some time making a useful reminder for yourself and celebrate it on a regular basis!