Monday, October 29, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - last day

It should say "last week at the mentoring conference" as it appears I drafted my last post but - alas - never posted. I did, however, make it home and slept for 18 hours.

The final day of the conference was probably the best. Folks were freely talking in the hallways and debating ideas; no one was a stranger anymore. We understood how to pick sessions, reading between the lines of the abstracts to find presenters with topics that mattered to us. It was a bittersweet day because the week had generated so much energy and passion that it felt like we needed one more, larger, facilitated discussion to create some concrete "next steps"... both for the conference and for ourselves. (I should have put that on the evaluation!)

Three notable shout outs from Friday:
  • Christy Pettit of ODScore gave a great presentation on an algorithm they've developed to help mentoring pairs (and teams in general) navigate the communication gaps that can occur with conflicting agendas and approaches.
  • U of Colorado talked about "Including Mindfulness in the Mentoring Relationship" which acknowledged the need for helping people move through emotional stress and refocusing with purpose.
  • U of Massachusetts presented their efforts on "Supporting Faculty of Color and Women through Network-Based Mentoring". They found peer-to-peer and having a community around one made for greater career success. (I am not alone!)
Then we packed up and took advantage of the late Friday afternoon sunshine to drive to Sky City and visit NA's oldest continually inhabited pueblo. At almost 6900ft above sea level, surrounded by pinyon shrubs, wild sage and rocks, it was an incredible experience.

All that was left was to gather up the business cards, let the airline lose my luggage (I just knew it!) and fly back along the advancing edge of hurricane Sandy.

I am humbled by the reception of my fellow attendees. I felt at the heart of the activity and discussions and I look forward to deepening a relationship with many of you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day four

Ever have a day that shines? The people, the events, the food, the sunshine.... all remarkable.  The conversations sparked new conversations sparking new ideas which drew in new people....

Great quotes from today:
"People don't resist change; they resist loss."
"I'd rather deal with chauvanism than a surfeit of estrogen."
"The coffee is cold but the topic is hot."

All this around hot debates on mentoring and what it really means - and how it relates to the diversity agenda, the glass ceiling and how the brain learns.

Did we reach any conclusions? Yes - the much of the research out there is not inclusive or does not map to the real (messy) world. And that it isn't important to nail down one lexicon or one meaning that applies to all... as much as it is important to state expectations and assumptions for each situation. Success doesn't come from control; success comes from flexibility.

To all of you who were part of this shining day: thank you.

This week at the mentoring conference - day three

(with a shout out to @delta_dc for the blog post I will write...) 

Nothing is more fun than debating with smart people. (ok really it ranks in my top 10 but it took top spot today)  After a disappointing key note, I wondered if I had stumbled into the wrong conference. With ideas like "women need mentors to help them acceptable behaviours in a male-dominated world" or "the problem with having your direct supervisor as your mentor is they could be accused of nepotism"... well, you can imagine the sour face I was starting to make :-)  Then it hit me...the problem with some research (and researchers) is that the conclusions often only map to yesterday's question.

So, understanding some of the folks presenting live and work in a 'bubble', I relaxed and mined for the gems.

One presentation on E-mentoring limited the concept of using technology to email (I would have called it 'text-based' mentoring?)... but the in-depth look at mentoring coupled with the study's struggle to understand the medium it was hoping to unlock gave me all kinds of ideas to bring home. Further, the study reinforced that either a prior face-to-face relationship must exist or technology should be included that allows for relationships to be built (web cams, phone calls, etc.)  Obvious to those of us practicing; new to some folks still trying to bridge the gap between the checklist and the messy reality of mentoring in real life.

The emotional intelligence discussion - once the fellows got past their hard core sales pitch on how brilliant they are and how one should buy all their books - was a terrific level set on the expectations one can have for creating EI and how nothing can succeed without it.

Kudos to the Mentoring Institute Director Nora Dominguez who has brought together such an eclectic and passionate group of people. It will be worth watching how this conference continues to grow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day two

It's odd ...the things we notice first about new places... Albuquerque has made its first impressions on me as a series of endless Walgreen pharmacies and lots of tattoo parlours. Mountains in the background. Not much traffic. Lots of sunshine.

Had breakfast at The Frontier - an institution here. As a wuss, I couldn't even handle the red sauce (most prefer the hotter green)... though I did have white bean and green chili soup for supper. In between, I did some calls for work, got an internal campaign kicked off and finished my slides for my 1st presentation. I walked the campus (so I know where to go tomorrow) and did some networking with a few conference attendees. I'm very glad I came a day early - arriving now after the 15 hrs to get here would have been cutting it too close!

I also took a stroll down a few streets and talked to shop owners... finding out where they're from (met someone from Quebec!), why they came here, what they love about this neck of the woods. It's amazing how willing folks are to share their story if you just ask. One fellow drives in 4 hours every day to sell silver bracelets on a blanket. (they're exquisite) He explained his entire process and how each piece was made. I could have sat with him all day. One shop owner told me about each trip she has taken this year - where she went; what she bought - and how she needs to be surrounded by beauty. Another woman made her studio into her sanctuary and it was a priviledge just to stand there and appreciate the warmth and silence in which she grows her art.

We talked about 'mentoring'... since many asked why I was in town. The word "mentoring" has no real meaning in the worlds outside business towers and academia. I explained it as a form of teaching and sharing between master/student or equals - depending on the need and the approach. Many of them explained how many "mentors" they have had to become proficient on their chosen path and thought the idea of a conference dedicated to talking about mentoring sounded kind of silly. We don't need to be taught to be mentored or to mentor, was the general thought...only to listen. "Unless, of course, you want us to follow a bunch of rules and all do it only one way," said one woman.

I like it when the world lets me know it gets along just fine without me and my ideas. Makes me laugh. Makes me have faith that goodness and sharing exist and it's really only a struggle if you complain about the delivery mechanisms.

Monday, October 22, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day one

This week, the posts will be a little different. I'm going to blog (and tweet if I can get my ipad back up and running) as I attend ...and present... at the UNM Mentoring Institute's 2012 Mentoring Conference.

Day One

Got everything into a carry on - I'm paranoid the airline will lose my luggage on the transfers and I'll be stuck presenting in jeans and a sweatshirt :-)  I decided to forgo real shoes in case my ankle swelled with the traveling so I'm still in the bright red sneakers I've been wearing since the walking cast came off. My cat refused to "speak" to me all last night onece she saw the suitcase. My kid slept on the couch so he wouldn't miss saying "bye" at 4:30 am when the car came to get me.

I have been having complete attacks of self-doubt around presenting. I've never attended this conference and here I am with 3 papers. Of course, the outcome either way probably won't resonate back to my life up north but, being an overachiever, I still want to knock their socks off.

The last leg of the flight - in the last hour - saw my face pressed to the tiny airplane window. The landscape was light brown, like bloom on dark chocolate. Strange circles of green and tan were scattered below. Some divided like pie slices with greens and some incomplete. It was like a giant had carefully placed confetti. The circles passed away and the ground below resembled frost patterns on a window...but in black. My mind kept trying to make sense of what I was seeing but it simply looked like imprints of 2-dimensional tree shadows on the land. Is that the desert of New Mexico? I had a sudden desire to call my manager and tell her about this... which is when I realised how stressed I must be :-)

My laptop has gone silly on me and I'm trying to recreate my slides in the business centre. Really I want the chair beside me to burst into flames with a disembodied voice saying "They'll like what you have to say"... however, all I hear is the guy next to me complaining about a sales call.

This is what it means to be discombobulated. I hear a glass of wine call my name....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Large events and being able to hear...

Most people don't know sign language. I know only a few signs; I certainly can't hold a conversation. Since my fall from my scooter in June (thanks for all the good wishes...I'm walking just fine now), my hearing in my right ear is almost gone.

As a former musician, I could hear flies buzz in another city. Over the last 10 years, I've been limited to flies in the same room as me. Lately, I can't even hear my cat purr next to my head on the right side.

I attended a meeting where the executive speaking had his hand over his mouth. I panicked because suddenly I didn't understand what he was saying! Seems I've been lip reading.

Which begs the question, how do those of us with hearing impairments function at large events where the noise level is high and we can't understand half of what's said to us? I now miss names, questions and certainly if you come up on my right side (but out of my peripheral vision), I tend to scream in fright as you grab my arm :-)

Part of the onus is on me to explain that I'm unable to hear well. Yes, that gets tiresome for me but the person to whom I'm speaking is hearing it for the first time. I also fake 'hearing' since the conversation in large events is rarely in-depth or very personal. A smile and nod goes a long way. I make a note to follow up with the folks I found interesting and talk with them in a quieter setting after the event.

I'm starting to feel like my deafness is like being short... can't hear properly... can't see over anyone's head (usually I can tell you if they're wearing deodorant though)...but I like people and a smile goes a long way in a loud room and I'm able to slip through a crowd pretty quickly.

Because it's not likely that my ear or the noise level of events will change.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Leading from any level

One of my role models just asked the question around what does leading from any level mean?

Leading from any level strips the restraints of hierachy away from the leadership concept. It asks folks to speak out from all their perspectives/experience/view points. It requires not just offering a good idea - but ownership of the idea and its execution. It's a collective approach to keeping the ball rolling.

It also is a clear message to women (or anyone feeling disempowered) that the opportunity is there to be seized.

I wonder though if there doesn't  need to be 2 conversations - one about leading a situation (project issue, niche idea, problem solving)... and one about leading in general - relationships, inspiration, big picture. I think women hesitate over both those aspects - and for different reasons.

Situations often stall due to lack of ownership - which is a form of leadership - someone who steps up and says "I will help and make sure this happens."  General leadership might entail no problem solving but gentle overall steering/cheering/mentoring and long-term guidance.

If leadership is personal, situational and an evolution - then folks need to understand what leadership means to them before they can take the 'permission' to do it from any level?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I lost my book

I lost my book - halfway through the story - left it in a hotel lobby. It was an excellent book about a magical circus; the dust cover is in my suitcase so I can find it again. I hope whomever picked it up enjoys it as much as I did.

Grousing about losing my book just before getting on another plane, someone asked "What was so good about it?" The image that sprang to mind was how the author described a "wishing tree" as part of the circus. In the middle of the craziness a night at the circus brings, there was a tree covered in candles. Each candle was a wish and one candle lighted the next wisher's taper.

The tree was a network of wishers and wishes... which is exactly what a good network contains.

I probably don't need to belabour that point :-) 

A professor once said "Why read business books when the real mysteries of human nature can be uncovered in literature?"  That weird little book of the fantastic was affirming my beliefs while taking me outside the drab world of airport lounges and delayed flights. I feel a little lost because the story was cut short.

Monday, October 8, 2012


It is not easy to make conscious choices every day. If you agree that most of what we do is choice, then a lot of what we do out of 'habit' is simply choice we are not stopping to think about any more. Preference becomes a 'must'; habit becomes 'need'; change becomes 'can't'.

Some days I would like to slip into my habits and blow off anyone who finds them annoying, unhelpful or mediocre. (anyone, including myself)

Some days it takes a nudge to help me find the excitment of discovering something new or re-choosing something deliberately because it works/ brings joy/ makes sense.

But if we surrender to habit and consensus, if we relinquish choice even in the little daily routines, I think we die faster - inside and out.

No one said it isn't tiring some days. No one said you can't take the occasional holiday. No one but you can make this choice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Interviews - the pre-screening

If you've ever been called to the Principal's Office... an interview feels much the same. You sit in a chair waiting for someone to see you who may, or may not, be swayed by what you have to say. You make sure your hair is brushed, your buttons are buttoned and your palms unsweaty.

Preparing for an interview happens well before the actual appointment. It starts with a well-crafted resume and is often preceded by a phone interview. Most folks are happy with hearing they have a phone interview and usually spend most of their effort convincing the interviewer to let them move to the next step. (at least, that's what I do :-)

I also use the pre-screening call to prepare for the 'big' interview and to ascertain that the company will fit me. It sounds pushy but it creates a more engaging conversation to do more than answer questions (a passive conversation). By having some questions of my own ready to roll, I can appear more interesting and more of a leader.
  • First, I make sure I know my current skills for which I wish to be most known. Then, not only can I answer the question of "what skills do you think are your strengths" but I can ask "What skills are currently the hardest for your company to find?" "What is the most valued leadership trait in your organization?"
  • I have an answer ready for "what do you want to be in 5 years"...just in case they ask. Then I ask "What's the company's philosophy on moving people around internally?"
  • Then, depending on my connection (or not) with the phone interviewer, I may ask: "What's the one thing your company did this year that made you proud to work for them?" "What's your company's involvement around Women in Leadership?" "Are employees encouraged to blog either within the company or outside?"
You can google many ways to do a good pre-screening interview. Just add a few questions of your own and make it a two-way conversation; create a connection and stand out for your people skills.