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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mentoring Part III - The Mentor

In an earlier post I wrote about the responsibilities of the mentee, but what about the mentor? How as a mentor can you ensure that you are helping the mentee to grow? Will the relationship work? I have applied the following guidelines to my successful mentoring relationships and hope that by sharing them you can build a great mentoring relationship.

Have Reasonable Expectations
Have you ever thought about what you might expect from someone who comes to you for advice? Are you expecting to much from yourself? The best part of a mentoring relationship is that it is an opportunity for everyone to grow so you do not need to know all of the answers. It also means you will be asked questions that might be insightful, angry, simplistic or even naive; this is okay, your job is to be a guide. A young mentee is looking to grow and will have an immature view of the world but will be confronting with very difficult questions. You are not the mentee's manager nor sponsor; you are a teacher, a coach, a friend, and a confidant who will help them shift their paradigm or way of thinking. Just remember that most of the time the mentee will not implement your suggestions properly assuming they follow them at all. Why the warning, it has taken years for some of the advice I was given to sink in to the point where I could apply.

Be a Good Resource

Yes, there is Google for most of our questions, however, Google is only one type of resource (the one I use when I am trying to help with homework). Most management and career challenges involve the subtle intricacies of people relationships and these can only be worked through with the help of others who have experienced them. When issues and challenges arise please use your network of contacts to help the mentee learn to seek out advice. Encourage them to use critical thinking skills to assess the validity of their statements, arguments, and actions. Bring together different sources of information to serve or challenge an argument or idea you are working through and then work with them to make the logical connections. How can you be a good resource? Show them how to leverage the knowledge of others.

Use Active Listening

The best mentorship I have have provided is when I was able to admit my lack of understanding and then had the sense of curiosity to explore the conversation further. You may think why would I admit to not understanding; because it made the relationship more real, we stopped pretending to be what were not and focused on the challenges the mentee was facing. The mentee is expected to drive the relationship but it is important that they learn to look at all the various angles of the challenges they are facing.

So then how do you actively listen? Ask pertinent questions, assess the statements and arguments made by the mentee. I always have the objective to be a mirror and not add new content to the conversation until I confirmed I understood the message correctly, however, that also means that I do not let the mentee "move on" until we have explored their challenges. I make sure to suspend judgment until all facts have been gathered and considered; without being critical of the events or actions. Active listening allows the mentee to better express what they are looking for from you. I found that the concepts of repeating, paraphrasing , asking clarifying questions and summarizing work best for me. For example I often ask, "Let me make sure I understand you correctly..." or "What would your next step be...". Work at setting aside your other thoughts and business/personal priorities so you can concentrate on the message, ask the questions and paraphrase.

Provide Constructive Feedback

The mentoring relationship is to help the mentee to learn and grow, they don't need to be criticized or disciplined. Be direct and to the point when giving your feedback. Remember that criticism attacks the person to which it is directed, is negative, judgmental, labeling, and accusing while constructive feedback is collaborative, informative, specific, and actionable. If you are providing feedback in a straightforward manner it will be much easier for the mentee to absorb. The best feedback is sincere and not a mixed message. If you are giving negative feedback it is important to express concern while avoiding anger, frustration, disappointment, and sarcasm which tend to send a message of criticism. Provide your observations to back up your feedback; avoiding characterization of behavior. Observations are what you see occur; interpretations are your analysis or opinion of what you see occur. Share what you've noticed, not what you think of it, and report the behavior you notice at a concrete level, instead of as a characterization of the behavior. Observations have a far more factual and nonjudgmental aspect than do interpretations.

Explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are are discussing. Allow the mentee to examine the problems closely and reject information that is incorrect or irrelevant

Allocate Time

If you are going to be a mentor then this should be a priority. Allocating time for a mentorship means hard choices will have to be made and some things will have to be postponed or not done at all to allow for mentoring to happen. In this age of fast fix sitcom solutions Mentorship stands out in stark contrast. This is a journey and will develop over time; when time is given for the relationship to mature. Mentorship is a very rewarding process and allows you to give back by sharing your successes, failures, and life experiences. Keep your commitments and be certain to follow up on agreed actions. I am a dedicated note taker even in my mentorship relationships I keep notes and after each session summarize how I thought the session went. It is amazing to see how the mentees progress from when they first walk into your office to their next level and beyond. But to observe this progress will require a commitment of time.

Leverage Learning Opportunities

Each experience is a learning opportunity. Share stories of the struggle, challenge, and setbacks and how you were able to overcome them to get to where you are. Show how you leveraged challenges into opportunities. But most of all share when no matter the effort but in sometimes things don't work out. Life is a harsh task master but also willing to reward you with anything you ask of it. The mentee is here to learn how to ask of life and receive while dealing with the challenges placed before them and not get off track. To often we are taught that failure is bad, however, it is the failures we learn the most from. So that when the challenges of life start to confront them they will be well equipped to deal with them.

Keep Discussions Confidential

I cannot stress this enough. The worst thing a mentor can do is share what was discussed outside of the relationship. Being a mentor should be treated on the same level of confidence as a doctor or attorney. Don't pass judgment and don't share outside of the relationship. If there are activities or potential actions that could lead to someone getting hurt then yes you should act in the appropriate manner, however, I have yet to have a single mentorship relationship that ever put me in this situation. When a foundation of trust is built the mentorship relationship will grow and prosper.

I have found these guidelines to be very effective in my relationships. Even when i am working with my own mentors we take the time to discuss these guidelines as part of the goals for the relationship. In my next post on mentoring I will provide the guidelines to manage mentorship meetings for maximum results. Mentoring is one of my passions and years later it is great to look back and see how effective the times spent together resulted in incredible outcomes. I hope that by using this guideline others can have successful mentoring relationships also. I look forward to your comments.

Related Posts:
8 Rules to Maximize the Benefit of Mentorship
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I just got a new HP Mini

I just got the new HP Mini net-book after doing a lot of research on possible candidates for highly mobile laptop. In Hong Kong there is a large selection of net-book manufacturers and when I was researching this small form factor devices I found that they all had roughly the same features and were the same price range. After careful consideration I chose to go with the brand I was most comfortable with HP (they provide the machines for the office and the rest of my household).

The HP Mini is feature rich for its size and after testing the machine for some time these features were the deciding factors in my choice:
  • I Like the light weight and small form factor, that allows me to take this net-book where ever I go. The beauty is it isn't much bigger than an average book. I wanted was ultra portability after hauling a laptop around the Asia Pacific region every time I travel I recognized the importance of having as little weight as possible.- It has a nice keyboard. I am finding that the keys have a nice feel to them and am able to type easily. Many of the other net-books I tested did not have a nice of a feel especially when you "touch type".
  • The screen is 10.2 inches and is remarkably easy to read. The competition had a less "glossy" look to the screen and I was a bit worried about glare but have not had any issues.
  • The battery is a six cell model and should provide about five hours of usable time. I does stick out of the casing giving the net-book a slight angle when sitting on a table. I originally thought this would be a problem, however, the angle works well for table top typing.
I really look forward to the increased productivity brought on by the use of this small factor machine. I am writing this post on it now and expect to write many more. I definitely recommend the HP Mini series.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There is Abundance Don't be Afraid to Share

Paul Zane Pilzer says that we should not look at our work as a scarcity of resources, one person's gain does not have to be someone else's loss. Success should be scene as an ever abundant, expanding pie with enough for everyone. If we are all working together for a common goal and we share our findings and abilities so that others can then expand their productivity we all benefit from the success.

I had an excellent project manager who worked from me a few years back, she produced a project summary document that was very good and it was quickly adopted throughout the organization. However this project manager was not happy and came to me to express her displeasure with everyone using her self developed tool. Now we would have developed a project summary document anyway. The summary would not have been nearly as nice or as easy to use as the one she developed; at the very least she got to continue to use her very effective solution rather than one created by committee. As many of you are aware the ones developed by committee are far more complicated and much less effective.

I happily explained that a solution was badly needed within the organization and we were using hers rather than assigning a committee to develop one and how I thought it was a great to see so many people using her summary document and getting great results. Unfortunately this project manger did not see it the same way, which was too bad because her knowledge and skills in delivering projects were outstanding. If our business and technology mangers adopted her techniques for project delivery it would have resulted in one of the more successful technology delivery organizations.

This project manager made a major contribution to the organization by showing the effectiveness of good project management and reporting. Why was she so upset? This was a win/win situation and everyone in the organization benefited. Rather than seeing abundance she only saw scarcity and pushed away other managers. Ultimately she left the organization and explained her departure saying that it was not a good fit for her. I was deeply disappointed to see her go, however, she was right: we wanted abundance from our managers and this did not fit her world view. Today I still keep in touch and she continues to manage projects as an individual contributor.

Abundance versus scarcity in the workplace, what are your views?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

8 Rules to Maximize the Benefit from Mentorship

In my previous post, Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship I said, "effective relationships happen when the mentee is actually initiating and driving the relationship with a set of personal goals in mind." I believe that high achievers need mentors; a mentor will help channel a high achiever's energy in the right directions, avoiding having to learn through the school of hard knocks. Mentoring provides a powerful resource for personal and professional growth by facilitating development through the sharing expertise, skills, perspectives, experience, and knowledge. To maximize the benefit of a mentorship relationship I recommend the following eight rules for the mentee:

1) Identify your mentorship goals
Before entering into a mentorship relationship determine what your goals are. Ask the question, "what do you want from the relationship?" Are you looking to better your career, make better decisions, achieve better results, increase your capacity, develop your leadership skills, or just guidance, support, and advice.

2) Be realistic

Don't enter into a mentoring relationship expecting to get a job offer or find the solution to all of your problems. Mentorship is about you as an individual taking a journey of self discovery; a mentor will act as a guide but cannot walk the path for you. Your journey is your own and it is for that reason that you should be realistic and recognize that the responsibility for your goals is yours. This may include changing much of what you have learned or already done. Be open to suggestions and let go of the past so that you can internalize the advice you will receive. The best part about mentorship is you don't have to have the solution figured out. There are many ways to get to the top of a mountain so don’t lock yourself into only one path before you have a chance to understand the other options; you may find a much easier solution than the one you were considering.

3) Initiate and drive the relationship

It is your responsibility seek out a mentor, you are the one who has the most to gain and you know what you are looking for. I do not recommend looking to your immediate relationships for a mentor.
I you work for a relatively large organization ask your manager and the human resources department if they have a formal mentorship program. If you are not able to find the right person or your goals are outside of your current workplace then these following websites may be of some help:

Academy of Achievement
International Mentoring Network
Gotta Mentor

4) Take an active role
Mentorship is about personal growth and to achieve growth requires effort. After each meeting review your notes and write out your actions and next steps. If your mentor gave you names of people to contact or items to research put them on your schedule and make sure to make the effort to complete them before your next session. Before each meeting set aside time to review your goals and objectives and write new ones for the meeting. Then review your notes from the last session, check the work you have done and the research. It is also a good idea to summarize your work from the last session, showing your mentor that you are applying her advice.

5) Allocate time and effort

Making time for a mentoring relationship when your schedule is already full can be difficult and the tendency is to let a relationship drift after a few meetings. This is I recommend that you review your goals, take notes, review them, and act on the advice. By continuing to review your goals you are reminding yourself of what it is you are looking for. Remember you seeking expertise, network contacts, and ideas. When a mentor provides these things it will often require additional work; from researching information and reaching out to contacts. After each session summarize your notes and action items. Much of what you will be working on might not come natural and to realize the value of the relationship set aside time to work through the guidance you are receiving.

6) Be articulate in what you want
Remember you don't have to know all of the questions you should ask, have all of the answers, or a solution when you walk into your meeting; this will allow for a dialog to take place. Make sure that you are clear in what your objectives are for the session, as the saying goes, "if you aim at nothing you will hit it". Start each meeting outlining your goals with your mentor. Don't expect to get all of the answers or to have said the right things that is why you have a mentor to work through your challenges, opportunities, or decisions in an interactive way.

7) Follow through
It is important that when you make commitments you follow through on them. If you are unable to follow through in a timely manner renegotiate. A mentor is volunteering their time to help you and one of the more frustrating mentorship experiences is when advice or commitments are not followed through. The power of a mentorship relationship is that it is a risk free environment to learn and grow; if you are not good at follow through you will not realize these benefits. This does not mean you have
to get it right all the time.

8) Engage in a Dialog

A mentor is not your boss and should not be a person you are looking to get a job from, therefore, be open and candid
in your relationship. A true mentorship relationship is about working through your goals and challenges and being able to learn and grow. What makes this all work is your ability to be open and honest, share what you were thinking when you made particular choices, saw the results, or planned your next step. Talk about how you arrive at decisions, deal with office politics, or negotiate with vendors. A mentor, by being far enough from the situation to not be clouded by it, will bring a third person's view. However, don't expect to get all of the answers, some things will require that you work them out on your own.

leveraging these eight rules will allow your mentoring relationship to be one of the more rewarding professional relationships. I am planning two more posts in this series, the first on what a mentor will gain from the relationship and finally on how to manage your mentorship meetings.

Do you have mentor relationships? Are you actively managing them or passively? I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Related Posts:
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Make your mobile life simple with Muji

Much as I try to use electronic only tools and go paperless I always seem to still have papers to carry; whether it is something I am reading on the commute home, a presentation that needs editing, my personal journal, or minutes from a meeting that need to be typed up, I am hauling the information between the office and home. My daily routine involves a morning workout and I find that my gym bag is my carry-all bag which has issues with keeping all of my stuff easy to find. That is when I stumbled upon Muji. Muji is a Japanese retailer that represents the wonders off Japanese minimalist design and has recently entered the US market in the NY area. They have a online store for those who do not live in the NY area.

Muji has what they call a mesh in bag. This is the one bag I use to keep my paperwork organized between home, office, and travel. I use this indoor bag to keep my journal, office papers, articles, headphones, mobile phone, keys, etc. together. I can then pull them easily when I am in the office and off to a meeting.

The second item that I found to be a lifesaver is the Tarpaulin Zi
p Case. I keep all of my travel documents from passports, id cards, itineraries, maps, and even the various currencies I need for a trip in this zip case. Keeping everything together in one place that I can then pull out for the airline counter, hotel check-in, and then toss into the hotel safe has made things so much easier.

If you travel regularly then the following items will help simplify your airline trips:

Recycled Leather Luggage Tags Having to replace the airline provided tags is a nuisance when I travel so I found that placing a luggage tag with my business card on my luggage is the most efficient way to breeze through the airport.

Hanging Wash Bag This toilet kit is perfect for keeping all of the stuff you need when you travel. I especially like the ability to hang it.

100ml Bottle Containers If you want to avoid checking your bag for a short trip then you need to have all of your liquids placed into small containers. One way is to purchase travel size items, however, I find that I cannot always get my preferred brands in the travel size so these little bottles have proven to be the solution for carrying the toiletries that I prefer.

TPU Cases These cases hold the liquids that you have in the 100ml bottles and can then carry them through the airline security without incident.

The minimalist design that Muji employs works so well in their other offerings as well; take some time and browse their online store. I hope you find these items to be as effective in simplifying your mobile life as I have. Let me know your thoughts.