Friday, April 24, 2009

Having a mentoring conversation?

Help chunk information and advice to each other:

1. Connect.
Conversation is 2-way.
• Ask open-ended questions.
• Share stories – they are key to building a relationship.

2. Listen. This is the greatest gift we can offer each other.

3. Inform and explain.

Informing = things they might not know yet. It’s a supportive action, allowing your partner to make their own decision if the new information changes anything.

Explaining means helping understand - providing background and context. You can explain your opinion, your choice or your action. It’s not defensive – it’s the logic behind your decision.

4. Challenge assumptions. Help prepare everyone to answer questions and arguments outside of the circle.

5. Celebrate together. Recognize or acknowledge successes. Find what did work from ideas that didn’t come to fruition.

6. Be accountable. Commit to actions and follow up. This ensures the longevity of your relationship and allows you to put the ideas into action.

Just do it

Success is not measured by how many hours you put in or how many projects went in under your watch. It is measured by the legacy you leave and the value you provided along the way through both your influence and achievements.

Aim high. Build communities. Expect participation.

More Thoughts on Mentoring

Someone sent me a snippet list (I don’t know where it came from or I’d credit it). It made me think… (don’t laugh)… and I reworked it for myself. I’m sure I’ll be adding to it in the months ahead.

• Think of mentoring as series of dates rather than an "arranged marriage".

I get asked a lot about ‘what if I don’t like my mentee/mentor?’. Well, don’t agree to the relationship. Forced partnerships are difficult at best. Instead of assuming you must progress straight to ‘bonding’, approach the first meeting as a date. Give each other a chance. Offer openings. All you have to decide is ‘yes, I’ll do a second coffee.’

• Think of a mentor as a wilderness guide who facilitates a learning process (helps you blaze a trail), rather than as a guru who passes down "the word" to a favored individual.

I shudder at the old-world apprentice view. That’s where ‘clubs’ and ‘ceilings’ come in. We’re a community sharing knowledge across, up and down with many folks at different times. And when someone figures out a new/cool way through the trees, we applaud and we learn.

• Think of personal growth as acquiring new ways of thinking and capabilities - and a few skills and behaviors - with the focus being on an over all approach and attitude.

This is a tricky one to do. School teaches us to follow a list. Work teaches us process. And here’s me saying it’s about attitude. If building a community and mentoring had a 10-step process, there wouldn’t be all of us stumbling about trying to get there.

View development as coming through open dialogue and free-form thinking, rather than a set agenda.

See above. I bet there’s a few HR departments that would disagree and I get that. Large companies require process. But ideas come from free-association thinking and the permission to do things differently. Look at how parenting books have changed in the last 25 years.

• Think of assignments, rather than promotions, as a way of creating next steps for yourself and your mentee.

Let’s go back to my earlier dating metaphor… Marriage doesn’t have to be the next development from a dating situation. Friendship. Work association. Finding a lead on a project. A chance to try something and find it not to your taste. If you don’t leave room for experimenting, you can’t be sure your end result is as fulsome as it could be. You also don’t have a breadth of experience from which to gauge new situations.

Remember - mentoring isn’t a process - it’s an evolution.

My Friday List

Remember: listen; ask; offer; listen

Take responsibility: these are your choices; you are your own champion

Seek learning: or don’t - but then why are you reading this?

Expand reflection to include your community: we don’t interact in isolation

Pick your battles: some are worth fighting for

Laugh: there’s little that can’t change

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What do you want to be?

I've had a few folks lately ask me how to handle the question "What are your career goals for the future?" ... which is often another version of "What do you want to be when you grow up?".

I don't know about you but, I find when that question is asked, it's not because the person is genuinely interested in you and your journey (unless of course it's your mentor!). They're generally more interested in seeing if your answer fits their needs. That's only human.

Lately, I've been trying out a new approach to this age-old question. I take the opportunity to outline my approach to my life and see if that fits the team/network/community of the person asking.

* I want to be excited by the things that make up my month - I'm prepared to have boring days here and there
* I want to be learning new things on a regular basis and teaching/coaching what I already know
* I want to have the chance to showcase my core talents (add your top 3 here)
* I'm really interested in (add the questioner's area here)

I then ask- are you following a specific path or a philosophy?

I don't often get pressed further on specifics as suddenly the conversation will veer into the philosophies of whoever is having the coffee with me. Then the connections start to happen and the original question is moot.

That's how I handle the question... but look at the question itself.

The question, I think, assumes a single track mind. A straight path. The last job a direct build on the next job. The next friend a copy of the friend before. etc.

Most folks I know re-examine their choices. Allow for new directions. The world isn't the same today as it was 10 years ago and it will be different again next year. I will always be a strategist/artist/facilitator (as surely as I will breathe) - but I can find myself in different roles and industries while applying those loves. My interests and abilities are as varied as my friends.

What I want to be is interested in my life and my community. How I achieve that is by participating and be open to change. Sounds cliche? Not to headhunters who go crazy when I refuse to be pigeon-holed. LOL

Monday, April 20, 2009

Achieving "Yes"

I've been teaching at a local college this winter and the course is drawing to a close. We talked about networking, relationships, negotiation, mentoring, facilitation and a myriad of topics that took us back to the same question: "how do I get someone to say 'Yes'?"

There's no one method. There's not one path. There are as many right answers as there are combinations of people to create the question.

It all comes back to you - your passion, your commitment, your research, your style and your timing. Sometimes all those factors will be in your control and sometimes not (especially timing).

"Yes" comes from your partner(s) feeling they can handle the risk involved. From feeling like the effort involved is worth it. From wanting to support the person they like (even if the proposal is lacking).

"Yes" isn't about an airtight argument. "Yes" is a show of support. "Yes" is an adventure together.

The next time you are inclined to say "No"... ask yourself why? What's missing? What would have tipped the scales? Learn from your own hesitation to eliminate for others.

Achieving "Yes" is as much about self-awareness as it is about any method.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Common Points of Reference

How do I uncover common points of reference to build a relationship?”

I get asked this a lot. No one ever asks this in relation to building a friendship, but when it comes to work-related interaction, folks get weirded out.

The pressure to connect faster in a professional setting is bizarre, but it’s there. Those reference points do allow us to relax with each other and that’s important when a project might not have months to allow a relationship to develop. And we already know we only like to work with people we like! (see posting “Please Like Me” Nov.08)

The buttons we use to find common points are the same regardless of intent: direct shared history; direct or indirect shared experience; directly shared friends. Amusingly, a common project goal isn’t enough to bring people together as a community.

Obviously, history is hard to build if you’ve just met. Or hard to ignore if the previous encounter didn’t work out well.

Directly shared friends can work as a great bridge - like a letter of reference. Feel free to ask those friends to speak up on your behalf to smooth the transition from stranger to acquaintance. We do this all the time in job searches - why not use it as a regular tool all the time?

My preferred method is finding our shared experiences. This can be accomplished during a simple coffee chat. By asking good questions to uncover what’s important to your new partner, you can offer your own experience or view and find some shared ground that is meaningful.

I have a dear friend (also a work colleague) who hates kids - so obviously we didn’t bond over my placing parenting in my top accomplishments. And she loves coffee and I am a tea drinker. We first bonded over a love of language and how one can use it as a weapon or a gift. Language is important to us both. We could have bonded over the silver jewelry we both admire - but that wouldn’t have taken us past the first day as jewelry doesn’t drive our days like language does.

Shared experience - even if you’ve never met - is a great point of reference on which to start building conversations. Uncovering it can take mere minutes with thoughtful questions and honest replies. Even if you don’t uncover much, you’ve created an open conversation and offered your ear to someone which has now created a shared history.

My Ideal Place for Building Community

I think many folks have an idea like this hidden away - a hang out to meet new folks and grab a moment with friends. Open, inviting and comfortable.

Mine is a café that would be a combination of used and unusual books with deep armchairs and little tables and a counter with a few stools that served brunches and lunches. A specialty sandwich each day, a soup, a pie, a cake... teas and coffees... eggs, cheeses and biscuits. Maybe one late night a week with live music and silent auctions for local charities. Local potters and artists' work.

Sort of Sleuth of Baker Street ( with a wider book selection and food/drink. Or Hugh’s Room ( with more mingling and some books.

It’s not hard to talk to anyone - friend or stranger - in a place like this. The trick is to import that vibe to the soulless rooms in which we more often find ourselves at work - or to the line ups and gatherings which we try to make impersonal (grocery stores, bus stops, coffee runs, etc.)

The whole world is really that café. It’s only that we rush through it, looking neither right nor left.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Be Real

A while back, I decided to stop hiding my reactions and feelings about items. I am considerate; I don’t overtly wail and beat my chest over the ugly bits and I don’t do my big Snoopy dance for the good bits. I offer an honest and respectful reaction/opinion in order to have an open conversation around requests or news.

So how did that work?

I spend a great deal of my time explaining that, regardless of my excitement or dismay (or lack of either), I will still be able to choose how to proceed. I find folks are assuming that my emotion dictates my choice. For example, I might not be excited to talk to reporters about I.T. (decided lack of excitement there) but, as it is a requirement for the project, of course I will do it and I will do it well.

Rather than opening conversation, folks feel challenged if I’m not chipper and smiling about everything.

Fascinating. Are we really becoming leery of opinions?

This can also be seen with the ubiquitous “How are you?” How many of you actually answer the question instead of saying “Fine. Thanks.”? Which sort of makes the whole exchange rather meaningless. I’m not saying we should kill all social niceties - but we are losing valuable points of connections by passing them ALL by.

If I was thrilled about everything (and all the time) you’d want to lock me away. Conversely, responding to everything with a groan and grimace doesn’t encourage conversation either.

Feel free to express mild dismay or hesitation or cheer over new information and requests. Offer your opinion. Be real. Different points of view don’t discourage community coming together; they strengthen it as long as everyone knows what direction to head in after the discussion. That’s how it works in the playgrounds, forum theatre debates and even on blogs!

That’s truly contributing to collaboration.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Share a little

Trying to get folks to talk about themselves - in print or in person - is like pulling teeth: painful for everyone.

First, reactions tend to be ‘oh that’s too personal’ and thus general and vague statements are made. “I’m interested in reading and sports.”

Second, people stick to the facts and leave out the abstract which is by far the more interesting. “I’m 36 years old and I work in Finance.” booo-ooring

If someone asked you for your favourite restaurant and you said “Oh, there are too many good ones to name...” That might be true, but it’s not a conversation starter.

When you talk about yourself in any medium or situation, you’re not trying to give chapter and verse on who you are. You are trying to start a conversation. You are trying to prompt an interest in what else you might have to say and increase your chances of finding mutual points of reference. Unfortunately, mostly what we see is folks shutting down conversation by keeping it impersonal and arm’s length.

That’s the point: We don’t need to factualize and flatten our identity. We can offer a glimpse inside us to open a conversation.

You are not a product to be evaluated by a label (do you wear your resume on the back of your jacket?). We thrive in relationships and connections. We need to cultivate them. That means sharing in order to receive.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Someone asked me this weekend what qualities I find intriguing in people. My mind immediately went to “you mean those I’d be friends with? those I’d date? those I’d want to learn with?”

We often divide our world - creating different sets of behaviours and expectations in each place. I find myself fragmented as a result of having to cordon off each segment. It’s perfectly normal behaviour but I want to deliberately make a more seamless community.

If I can flow through the various demands and folks in my network with an understanding of how it all fits together, it implies an understanding of myself and my contributions. For example, while I may still be the shopaholic only with my friends, I choose to be a connector in all areas.

Being true to my values, choosing my options rather than letting habit dictate my actions, and acknowledging my strengths/limits is a life deliberately lead.

So focusing across all the area of my life - someone would be intriguing to me if they:
• Appreciate the here and now even while looking towards the future
• Take responsibility - are deliberate vs. being guided by habit
• Seek learning - are fearless about asking questions
• Laugh, a lot

It’s not easy to do the list above at work on a crazy day. It’s really hard to do it when someone I care about is finding me tiresome. It’s exhilarating to do it during an ‘ah ha!’ moment and the options open.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Today I wish you 10 minutes of peace - to remember, to dream, to share or to nap. We all work so hard to do things 'right' when we already do just fine.