Sunday, January 29, 2012

Be opinionated

Have you noticed lately that more folks offer a gentle opinion over taking a position?

In some instances, that's a great way to open a conversation if we think the other person may be reluctant to discuss a topic (so we don't force them to start out on a limb). "I believe we should give every child in every North American school a hot breakfast!" might be something for which folks would prefer to prepare before answering that open challenge. "Breakfasts for school kids might be a place to put our efforts," would be a softer opening.

Perhaps it's an incredibly delicate topic and requires all parties to first approach from the softer edges so folks can find a common ground before moving on to decisions. "All rapists should be castrated!" might not open the debate in the way you hope or expect.

More often though, we soften positions even on simple things. Have you tried planning a breakfast or a movie with friends lately? Everyone being so accommodating that no decisions are reached? "I'm ok as long as the place offers eggs." Really? So if someone picks the Mexican greasy spoon that you secretly hate, it'll be ok?

Check out this youtube video on how even our verbal approaches have default exit strategies built in. How long has it been since you heard someone say "I believe that..." or instead of "I think that..."  It is not the same thing.

I'm all for collaborative approaches but maybe taking a position might help us dig deeper into what's important or, at very least, remind ourselves where we personally stand? Being controversial isn't always bad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Asking for help - a lost art?

Asking for help seems to be hard for folks (including me) to do.

We are able to share stories after a personal event (prompting a "why didn't you call me?" from the listener). We support each other through the "lessons learned" debrief of a project. But many hesitate to ask for support during a crisis, large or small.

I'm not convinced it's a gender thing. (The stereotype that men don't ask for directions notwithstanding) Is it a worry about being seen as weak or vulnerable? Are we entering an "every person for themselves" mentality?

We all have relationship on which we rely - personal and professional. Yet, we hesitate to call upon their expertise or good will.

Maybe part of the problem is in how and when we offer help? Are we so caught in our own busy-ness that we require someone to solicit help to pull us out of our own worlds? So we're not asking and not offering and creating a circle where giving and receiving support is a lost art on both sides?

Shouldn't the giving and receiving of support - and the coaching thereof - be another leadership deliverable?

I'm not sure what the answer is. I know I probably will not get better at asking so I've resolved to try more offering.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What prompts us to pick up a book by an unknown author?
For me, it's the title - provocative, explanatory, amusing... the sort of book I prefer to read... upfront about its position, full of facts and stories, willing to offer a smile even at the expense of the premise.

So what would be a good title for a book on mentoring and networking that would not only get someone to pull it off the shelf, but take it to the check out?

What Colour is Your Bra-Strap?
101 Business Card Tricks
The Brazen Careerist
The Nutcracker
The Fixer-upper: renovating your approach
Down the Rabbit Hole, Through the Glass
Diary of a Reluctant Networker


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mentoring...revisiting definitions

The questions that come up most often are:
1 - What is mentoring?
2 - What's the difference between mentoring and what my manager does when they coach me?
3 - What's a mentor vs. a sponsor?
4 - Why mentor?
5 - Why be mentored?

All questions should have their answers re-visited ocassionally - sometimes the answers evolve; sometimes you need to reaffirm the answer; sometimes the question is prelude to a debate for which there is no single answer.

#1 - Is an developing area. In the past five years, mentoring has become a growing topic in the business arena while mentoring itself has been around for hundreds of years. (if not more) Google the topic. Form some opinions. There is no one answer.

#2 - There is a difference. A mentor is someone removed from your immediate/current situation and who is helping you look long-term. Asking your manager to mentor you is like asking your spouse to mentor you on parenting....

#3 - I don't think I've tackled this topic yet. A sponsor is someone who will be a positive reference and is willing to talk about you in situations where you may not be in the room yourself. Watch for my next posting.

#4 - You can only answer "why" for yourself. I wrote about some of the reasons here.

#5 - Again, it's a personal choice (unlike being coached by your manager). Be willing to do the work - it isn't up to the mentor to make it easy for you - especially if you only see your mentor four times a year. But I'm also just asking: why be mentored? Tell me...

National Mentoring Month is a great time to revisit some of the assumptions and conversations!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why mentor? to learn vulnerability...

A room of us were recently asked: Why mentor?

Silence descended for a moment.

The first hand went up. "Because it's good to give back." Heads nodded.

"Because we learn in return." More nods.

"Because it helps everyone's career."

"Because you don't know how to mentor, until you try!"

Everyone was warming up to the topic at this point, so our moderator asked: And what makes a good mentor?




"Vulnerability," said one woman. "The willingness to explore, to be open, to share, to listen, to be wrong, to not lead but to simply be present."

By her definition, the greatest gift we can offer each other is vulnerability... which is, in a meaningful way, incredibly powerful.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Take a sick day

I don't mean play hooky, although that's another topic for another day. I mean: if you're feeling unwell, then stop and rest. (yes, that's my mom's voice)

I'm guilty of the keep-going-till-you-drop syndrome and ... well... it isn't working anymore. By the time the fever/ ache/ pain/ upset has reached epic proportions, it takes more than a day to recover. (and yet, we usually only give ourselves a day). My habit has been to go into work "just to see how I feel by lunch" (which is usually still lousy) and "power through it". I look like I should have a starring role in Old Yeller but no one notices because many others are doing the same pale, hangdog jive.

I think both men and women do this - though GenY seems to have this issue better in hand? Boomers and Xer's alike add this topic to the work/life balance discussion; it really belongs in the "hidden rules" dialogue.

I took my own advice yesterday. It was hard. I did answer email via my Blackberry in the afternoon, not wanting folks to be inconvenienced because of my illness. I still have to figure out if bed rest should or should not include electronic devices, handheld or not.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Worth a thousand words and a million dollars

I actually do believe it's this simple:

  • Offer what you can of the talents and joys you have - that's really what networking and mentoring is about.
  • Remain passionate and willing to learn from life and the community you build around yourself.
  • If the glass seems half empty, use a smaller glass.

This is the real wealth and hope for both the present and future.

Sometimes there's a photo that says it best.

Followed by

These are both as posted on Google+ by Tim Moore CEO & co-founder Crush IQ.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

National Mentoring Month 2012

While mentoring is a year-round life-long activity,  it is still not as well known or understood as baseball, as widely used as email or discussed as much as "networking".

Like baseball, you can make mentoring as simple as a group of friends with a stick and a ball in the neighbourhood or as organized as uniforms and coaches. It should be a common tool like email, and twin to building a community. And sometimes we need a little PR to spread the word.

January 26 is also "Thank Your Mentor" Day.  Perhaps we could also pick a day at the beginning of January for "Thank Your Mentoree(s)" Day because it's a two-way conversation of mutual benefit.

January is our month to the spread the word.... by saying thanks; by asking questions; by talking about mentoring; by simply making sure one more person knows how simple and effective mentoring can be.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mentoring resolution

I resolve to continue to speak up and out and Loud for the rights of women and children - in every day situations and extraordinary ones.

It is not a new resolution - or one that surprises anyone. It is a vow I think I've renewed since graduating from "teen-at-risk" status.

I believe mentoring helps alleviate difficult situations of any kind.
I believe networks - built by actually networking - raise the profile of both individuals and communities so it's harder for the darker things in life to hide behind corners and prey on those standing alone.
I believe technology helps us reach out, giving and receiving.
I believe a career and passion in one's life and day helps keep us connected to ourselves and each other.

I believe that everyone - men, women, old, young, smart, silly, worried, hopeful, wealthy, struggling, challenged, blessed - can come together and create change. The world doesn't have to be fair but it does have to be considerate.

May 2012 be the best year for all of us yet!