Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mentoring Misery

Sounds like a good title for a murder mystery.

Really, it's about the fad that seems to have taken over offices all over North America: "My job/boss/situation is worse than yours".

When I found myself playing this new game with my mentor - and having had a few weeks of it with mentorees - I shut down for a moment, trying to figure out how it became trendy to one-up each other with stories of misery.

We, men and women (but especially women), are losing any ability we once had to talk proudly and happily about our accomplishments (big/small/personal/professional) without feeling slightly shameful. Worse, it appears to be socially acceptable to compete - yes, compete - for the "most badly treated/unrecognized" prize. We seem to be taken pride in how well we cope with stupidity or unfairness instead of how we create change and positive ripples in our communities.

I would like to receive a phone - or three - this week with someone happy to share their own good news with no qualifying introduction or apology.

Leading in the misery competition is not leadership. Mentoring misery is not looking forward. I resolve to refrain from joining in the chorus of moans, pitching mine as a solo while others take another breath to continue. When I was growing up, my father used to call such situations "p*ssing contests." Well, every time - and I do mean every time - we should be grateful to let someone else win and remember the good things that also flow our way every day.

Monday, April 16, 2012


The best advice I ever got from a mentor was "Before you open your mouth, ask yourself: does anyone in this room need to know that I know that?"

It's a difficult question to ask yourself. Listen to other folks and wonder if they're sharing from passion, from need or simply to show they thought of the same idea/concept/angle and don't want to be seen as left out.

I try to ask myself "Who really needs to know this?" "Why do I need to share this?" "What happens if I don't say anything on this topic?" Sometimes I even sit in meetings with my hand over my mouth.

It is ok to speak up for any of the reasons above - as long as it is by choice and not by habit of chiming in.

Keep in mind....Part listening skills, part personal brand, staying silent can be a powerful choice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thanks for the advice

At work yesterday, one woman turned to another and said "You know, you gave me really good advice last week."

We all stopped to listen. Some because they hoped the advice might be shared and still relevant. Some because the compliment, so easily said, resonated with so many.

How many times do we go back and thank our peers or mentors for the advice or the idea that worked? We always hear about what didn't work, the door that won't open. But circling back and letting someone know they helped encourages everyone to keep helping.

Help and support is at the heart of peer mentoring. It's not altruistic - it's practical. Like any good leadership behaviour, it's best fed and watered with encouragement and thoughtful choice.

Thanks to all of you who have helped me this ever chocolate is on my desk for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

No good way to respond?

Certain interactions for women cry out for a snappy come-back or a withering look. But, in some situations, there is just no good way to respond...

One fellow turns to the woman next to him at the meeting and says "You're being too emotional."
Possible come back?  "Sorry, Mr. Spock; it's close to Pon Farr."

"They would listen to your ideas more if you were a man."
Possible come back?  "But then they'd find me unsuitable in a skirt."

"Women have to be ready to be called a bitch if they want to lead."
Possible come back?  "Tough decisions don't mean applying solutions with (or as) a battleaxe... but for you I can make an exception."

"There's no glass ceiling."
Possible come back?  "There's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny but yet the gifts come anyway."

"You shouldn't be so upfront about your career aspirations."
Possible come back?  "Why not take the guesswork out of managing me?"

"When you told us the story of that thing you did, it sounded like boasting."
Possible come back?  "Boasting is when I tell you how I learned to sky dive/ make French pastry / speak 12 languages. Sharing accomplishments is like offering a taste of my chocolate bar - we both share a little sweetness."

"You shake hands like a man."
Possible come back?  "I bet you curtsey like a girl."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Participate in today

A plan is always a good thing to have. I know how to get out of my house in fire. I know our budget for the year. I know the big themes of my department and the pieces to develop in support of seeing those themes come to life. I have a view to my career five years from now and where I'd like to be and how I might get there (possibly changing my mind along the way). A plan offers some control over coming events and how we'd like to influence the outcomes.

The other "plan" we all own exists in our daytimers and calendars. It's the way we book up our days/nights/weekends and hours/minutes. A month or quarter that starts as a blank slate often ends up filled with tasks and outings that we include as asked. Suddenly, you've only time for your best friend in six weeks time or a hair cut in month. Recently, I discovered my day was so tightly bound as to give me three minutes to run between buildings set 10 minutes apart (unless I run and some days I just don't feel like jogging through the sea of suits).

The overburdened calendars aren't so much a plan as they are a map of our time - one that isn't always deliberate and made with choice. This isn't planning; it's a takeover that can leave us feeling a distinct lack of control.

Good planning is not just about contingency and influence on the next month/year but being able to see what is happening today - to take the time to be present. If we're are able to create enough space in our minds and agendas to participate and evaluate what today might teach us, then we'll only get better at directing future outcomes.

It's a bit of a balancing act but to focus only ahead often has us lose too much in both the short and long-term. Appreciate the four-year old and not just the college student he will become. Honour the uncertainty of a new friend before rushing to fill the void with intimate information. Allow some questions and chaos before creating a solution for a project or problem.

I'm all for planning. (I'm told it's my main trait as a Libra :-)  But if listening and learning are also leadership skills, then we must be willing to let go of the agenda and participate some of the time in order to have better planning skills.