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February 2009

Finding the right mentor---for me

Close vote this week, but this topic was the winner. Please vote!


Spent an afternoon with some very ambitious and clear minded employees of Lockheed Martin last week. Enjoyed their challenges and questions. Most of them merely received reinforcement from me, others may have endured a sharp nudge to do what they have been wanting to do. I wish them all well. Mentoring dominated our discussions and this question was one of our focal points. Working in large multi-level organizations like LM presents different challenges and opportunities. The key is maintaining a high level of self awareness, not letting yourself succumb to the mindset of limits that a large hierarchy can impose. How do I become an intraprenuer?--someone who innovates, takes responsibility for their own destiny, creates value beyond the norm--yet is without separate capital and finds themselves in a large and seemingly intractable culture. The other strategy is to never be limited by your "day job". Pursue interest areas, your ideas, join others in social or commercial ventures on your own time, outside of work. Never let your current environment dictate who you are and who you can be. And one of the most powerful ways of achieving success inside a big corp or on your own is to have fabulous mentors.

But finding the right mentors can be daunting. I think more often than not, people try and align their current career path with their mentors. While greater expertise can be a valuable goal, the mentors to which I refer can be very different. Let's review this mentoring thing. 

Mentoring is the process of helping each other get better. It is a 2-way street. While it can be arranged by others, like your employer, mentoring requires a relationship that depends on chemistry and trust. Mentoring is a reality check. Helping one another see the truth, it is not merely encouragement or support. It is a reflection in the mirror of life to guide you to what you want and who you want to be. In all walks of life mentoring is recognized as one of the most powerful sources of transformation.

Some basic myths about mentors:
  1. My mentor will always be an older/wiser person. There is a mythology that mentoring can only be conducted by gurus or the super successful. Mentoring can come from many sources and age, status, years of experience will never guarantee good mentoring. Since we are defining mentoring as real and honest feedback, if you are open to it, can come from anywhere. I have been mentored by at-risk youth under my care, or young ambitious employees who shared with me insights and un-filtered observations that helped me become more aware of my shortcomings and weaknesses.
  2. Arranged mentors have just the same chance of success of any I create. Maybe, maybe not. Corporate assigned mentors have one major drawback, if they do not work--very hard to change or stop without some political consequences. Because mentoring is so dependent on compatibility, chemistry, the establishment of common interests for success, often your mentor selections may be more effective and flexible. 
  3. My boss, my spouse, my best friend can be my best mentors. Again yes and no. Clearly under the right circumstances and your relationship, these can work. But sometimes distance creates more objectivity, more chance for the required reality checks of honest exchange. Mentoring is not unconditional encouragement or cheer leading for your team. In fact this is irritating at times. It is the relationship that offers the unmitigated reflection of what you do, not what you say.     
  4. Demographics are irrelevant, I can be mentored by anyone regardless of their profile. Absolutely true. However, you may need a special understanding that a woman, new immigrant, or culturally specific group member may be able to understand. But never limit your mentoring to these categories.  
  5. Having more than one mentor takes too much time and will be distracting. As implied above, multiple mentors is always better than one. Just as you are many personas and possess many goals, you will need several mentors to help you achieve your goals. In fact, suggests Kathy Bram, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Boston University School of Management, putting all your mentor eggs in one basket can be a mistake. "I think people really ought to think in terms of multiple mentors instead of just one," concludes Kram, the author of Mentoring at Work.  And they don't all have to be grizzled business veterans. "Peers can be an excellent source of mentor-ship," she says.   
  6. A good mentoring relationship should last a year or so. Different from a mentoring program that has time limits, mentoring will last as long as it is valuable to both parties. It may be a couple of sessions, it may be for life. Having a pre-set time limit is foolish. In my work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, we routinely turned down mentors who came with set time limits. We knew that these people were not interested in building a relationship and helping a kid, they were most focused on a limited and selfish experience. Never did these potential mentors ever ask, how long would be best for the kid?!!!!!
  7. Can't I find a mentor online? As you know, you can find anything online. And there are sites offering mentoring services and matches. No eHarmony for mentors yet! Mentoring has to have a substantial face to face component. Certainly relationships and the ongoing give and take can happen online, but the foundation of the relationship starts in person.  
Before you go off and seek your mentors, consider these Pre-requisites: 
Pre-requisites:
  1. General goals or at the very least curiosities and interests. Something has to drive your ambition to be mentored. It can not be"I was hoping you could tell what I am supposed to do."
  2. Acceptance of your responsibilities as a mentee and being prepared to help the mentor
  3. Actively networking to clarify your goals and meeting more people, some of whom could be mentors 
Meeting people, interesting people in every facet of your life is the best strategy to find mentors. Your church, your alumni association, your professional trade group, your hobby club are all potent sources for mentors. You will meet and hear about people who seem to have a greater idea about your area of interest or your career path than you do. Connect with those who seem like mentor candidates and explore the process. Be introduced to other candidates by seeking referrals from your trusted colleagues and associates. "I am interested in (subject/ambition/organization), who do you think could help me understand it better?"

As someone who has been fortunate to be mentored by many and to have been given the privilege of mentoring others. It is a process that always yields more than I have invested. As a mentee as a mentor it is the most reward ing thing I have ever done. 

Make it a priority, find a new mentor that helps you answer a meaningful question and pushes you to become better. 

Thanks for reading. John

Is time managing me or do I manage it?

Thanks again for your votes. Keep voting or make requests!

Both Darwin and Lincoln celebrated their bicentennial birthdays this week Feb. 12, 1809! So I begin with quotes from the evolutionist and end with our 16th President.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Charles Darwin

Time is the most elusive of things. Time is relentless, it just keeps going with no regard to what is happening or not happening. It is indifferent to the quality or quantity of our lives. It just marches on to infinity. Seems to me that we characterize father time in such unflattering ways. Time is not our friend, in fact often described as the enemy. We may think that time is not fair and that our shortcomings can be blamed on the clock. If only I had more time....I need more time, there is not enough time in a .......

The fact is we do not value time and treat it as a precious commodity. What if we spent time like it was a finite and valuable resource, instead of taking it for granted? Somehow many of us make this ridiculous leap in logic: Time is infinite, therefore my time is infinite. Huh?!!  

Try this exercise. Count the number of times you will do things you enjoy, cherish, and covet before you die. Yes, you have to assume your age at death. For example, how many more Christmases will I celebrate? How many weekends do I have left with my middle daughter Malia before she goes to college? How many more rounds of golf with my Dad? We just don't appreciate the time we have unless we come to grips with its limits and how to maximize the amount remaining.

Ten years ago I was interviewed by the LA Times (Download LAT article on time mgmt) to reveal my secret in time management. I said that I did not have any secrets, but that having 59 weeks a year helped and that comment triggered this article. After fighting resistance and time deficits for years, I made a commitment to wake up between 45 to 90 minutes earlier everyday. Do the math I gained at least an extra 7 working weeks a year! With kids, I could not stay up later, so I decided to reverse my nocturnal clock and use my extra time to pursue my outside interests and ideas. It forced me to be more disciplined and it has opened up so many new worlds for me. Time to write. Time to reconnect. Time to explore ideas. Time to network.

Three things we have to overcome to make the most of our time.

  • Got Goals?

 Without goals and a vision for the future, no matter how clear, life is either a death march or a unfulfilling hyperspace ride.

  • I am so busy, I don't have time for what I want to do!

Regardless how non-sensical this sounds, it is uttered to me every week. Being busy is the lamest excuse. We are all busy. What keeps you so busy? To paraphrase John Lennon, Life passes you by while you are busy.

I was in Manhattan giving a talk on Mentoring and Networking in a fancy conference room high above the city lights. After years of doing this you have to focus on people's faces to make sure you stay connected with the audience. Near the back I noticed a tall attractive woman dressed in a full Armani/Prada uniform. She was clearly not enjoying herself and shook her head in disgust every time I looked her way. I had to avoid looking her direction to minimize her negative vibes. I finished my session unscathed and was answering a few stragglers questions. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the designer girl critic making her way to the front armed with her scary Italian stiletto heels. I pretended not to see her as she moved into my little huddle. "I have a question for you", she barked out without regard for the conversation that was taking place. The others looked at her with a combination of sneers and disbelief. "Okay," I said sheepishly acknowledging her. She continued without missing a beat, "This networking and mentoring stuff takes time. And I have little time, I work for Towers Perrin as an international consultant and I am traveling around the world saving companies." She was like some kind of designer super hero. ;) I looked at her and took the offensive and said, "You must be single." "What does that have to do with anything?", she snapped. "Because you don't have time to be with anyone, yet you want that if you could find the right guy, am I right?" She reluctantly admitted I was. I went on. I held up a closed fist and said that I had the name of the perfect guy for her in my hand. "Would you make time for him?" Ms. Armani melted into normality, smiled for the first time, and confessed to all of us, that she would make time for that! A goal and a vision can do wonders even for wonder woman. :)

  • Irresistible Resistance.

Like gravity, our internal inclination is to procrastinate our inner goals and to seek immediate and simpler gratifications. How important are these dreams and ideas you have? How much would you regret if you did not pursue these things? Read Steven Pressfield's War of Art Here are a couple excerpts:

Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put off our lives till our deathbed.

I have learned that time management starts with not letting time manage you. Managing time around what you want. Reminding yourself that time is special and to try and make the most of it by setting goals. Usually, the time to stop procrastinating is NOW!

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.  Abraham Lincoln

Thanks for the time and for reading. John


Breakthrough questions

Btw, finally saw Slumdog Millionaire--Wow. Loved it. While it's a ride off into the Indian sunset type flick, it is very entertaining. 

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When you are lost in the forest stand still! 

Challenging and interesting times should trigger questions. My current daily encounters with people and groups increasingly starts with questions. "What do I do to prepare for the worst? How should my org re-focus on new realities? How long should I/we wait to make a change? "What are the opportunities that emerge from this crisis?" 

Self reflection is a process for all times. Thinking about where we are and where we are going need not be a response driven to the environment. But human nature generates a swift, strong and automatic reflex to fear and to danger. Regardless of the circumstances, asking questions or better said, questioning the path we are on, is a necessity. Btw, if everything is perfect for you--stop reading this! :)

Remember when we were kids, or if you are around kids, the questions children ask? Silly questions and profound questions. How high is up? My favorite example came from my 10 year old Little Brother (when I was in the Big Brothers program), "Does God exist if everyone in the world stops believing in him?" Impossible questions that come from sheer curiosity. Kids, unlike us, do not employ all of the filters of socialization and self consciousness. So their questions are very real. They think about things and then want to understand them. They aspire to be astronauts and presidents, NBA stars, and celebrities--as they should. They do not see limits, boundaries, or certainly obstacles. The beauty of this innocence is the infinite imagination of what is possible. Regrettably, over the the years, we lose this ability. It is the steady and imperceptible erosion of this innocence, emboldened by norms, conformity, cynicism and doubt. Archaeological layers of moments, memories, and experiences thicken our personal lenses and cloud our ability to see ourselves and our possibilities clearly. Others around us warn us not to leave our little myopic world. Consequently, our adulthood realism and practicality form questions that limit our possibilities.

First let's examine a few examples of these questions that you must AVOID:

  1. Don't I need to wait for the right time?  
  2. Should I discover my passion(s) before I make any moves? 
  3. What will my parents and friends think?  
  4. How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? 
  5. Will a change hurt my resume and my career? 
  6. Shouldn't I just do my job and not make any waves?  
  7. Isn't another academic degree required? 
  8. Doesn't make sense for me to wait until I feel better about myself? 
  9. Don't I need a financial reserve to pursue my dreams?   
  10. If I am patient and attentive, won't my destiny reveal itself? 

How about this one, "How long should I procrastinate my dreams?" Of course these questions have some merit, but as a group they are excuses not to pursue something better. Po Bronson in his book What Should I Do With My Life? found that people who found success ignored these types of questions. These queries present obstacles and do not assist us to address the real questions. 

Let's return to doubt and cynicism. They can be powerful allies in your quest to ask yourself and those around you thought provoking questions. Questions that truly seek real and fresh answers. Think like a child. I did not say be childish! Think about the unfiltered big questions inside of you, that are bigger than you. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me and the people in my network:

  1. How do I love what I am doing to do what I love?
  2. What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  
  3. I have always wished I could.........., but.....................? 

How do I love what I am doing to do what I love? How do I take full responsibility for where I am and make the most of it? If you are satisfied with your current role but want more, then how can your current employer help advance your goals? Optimize your current experience with your next step in mind. Even if you have decided to make a change, it is very hard to make a transition without some planning. Somehow you got yourself into this place and time. Many people and things can be blamed, but at the end of the day, you have to extricate yourself on your terms. In my recent encounters with people, this question gets skipped. Just talked to an old friend I had lost touch with. She was just laid off, but she has 60 days transition with a remote possibility there would be an opening at that time. She could quit. However, she needs the time to look for a new job. We also talked about her need for a great reference from the current employer. She decided to give the next 60 days her all and go out on a good note. She had been angry and depressed. Now she saw there was going to be a new chapter and she embraced it. As the old adage goes, when you got lemons, make lemonade! 

What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  This is the ultimate question. What will give your life "the most meaning"? This question requires thought and contemplation. It has to include an inventory of the issues and causes you care about. The hidden talents you have wanted to develop. Some people misinterpret this question. They think there is just a single answer, a single profession, a single career track. You are complex and have multiple interests and ideas. You may have a constellation of passions and goals. Can you find a job that aligns with your goals, become a volunteer with a charity that gives you meaning, and start taking piano lessons? Yes, yes, yes! Building a total portfolio of interests and goals may be much easier than finding a career that satisfies all of them. 

I have always wished I could.........., but...................? This is Barbara Sher's wish/obstacle phrase from here work on Wishcraft . The beauty of this question is it isolates the reason that you have not pursued something. The premise is that people are drawn to other people's wishes more than their wants. It is a very powerful way to network for connections. This phrase will trigger other people's desire to assist you when you articulate what you want in the form of a wish. But this question releases its power when you ask others about their wishes. Try it. Ask people you care about what they are wishing for? Ask kids you know. Just tell them not to answer with any material objects. They will reveal many things you did not know. I tried this on my Mom a couple of years ago. My mother Tomi is an accomplished artist and has traveled the world. Surprisingly, she told me she wanted to see Santa Fe New Mexico. She described Santa Fe's importance to the art world and went on and on about things she wanted to see there. I told her I never knew about this wish. I immediately contacted my brother and sisters and we put together a small fund to send my Mom there with one of my sisters. Every year we struggle to get Mom a Christmas or birthday gift, but this is something she wished for! I put my network to work and got her a VIP tour of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and to meet other Santa Fe artists. 

Here's a photo of my Mom and sister in Santa Fe. Santa Fe

We have to open up our minds to questions that cause us to think beyond our growing adult cynicism. Questions that help us reflect on what we want for ourselves and for those around us. Questions that force us to stop running around and stand still in the forest, to enjoy the greatness of the trees, and then explore the paths out of the forest. 

Thanks for reading.  John


Names, faces, and others things not to forget

Thanks for your votes this week. Please keep voting on my poll, over there on the right, to keep my blogs tracking with your needs. 

This topic always emerges at my mock networking training events. So I give you the following thoughts, if you promise to remember that these techniques are not enough to develop and build a  network or a lifestyle of mentoring and networking. Okay, I am now descending my soapbox.......

It is amazing we remember anything these days. The amount of info that is thrown at us, the quantity of data we try to consume, all blended together with our growing fear that we are always falling behind: all contribute to a shorter attention span and declining memories. My favorite poem Forgetfulness by Billy Collins comes to mind.  I have mentioned to some of you my encounter with a 90 year old math prof, who recently told me that he was old and was starting to forget things, but he did not have Alzheimer's, just "some-zheimers"! We all have the onset of  "some zheimers"! 

As an aside, imagine if you did not forget anything. Would that be good? Not for me. Somethings we have to forget. I worked for a very prominent professor who gave me a great lesson in memory. I was briefing him on a technical subject and his eyes began to glaze over. I stopped and he said, "John, this all seems important, but at my age I have limited memory capacity left and if I start to remember this information, I will have to delete some of my precious memories and I do not want to do that."

Nevertheless, remembering people's names is pretty important. Think about yourself when people forget yours. Right. It does not feel very good to be forgotten, yet we do it all the time and yes and forget how it must feel. How memorable are you?  How you introduce yourself really matters (please read or re-read my blog on this--it is a pre-req :))

When meeting someone:
It all starts at the beginning. That fleeting moment of introduction where we go into auto pilot, say our names, shake hands, maybe have real eye contact and inevitably forget who we just met. You have to break this cycle. It is not your memory as much as your focus deficit that has to change.
  1. Prepare: Do your homework. Who is going to be at the event, reception, conference, dinner? Pause and reflect. Maybe even do some research to prep your mind.
  2. Be present: I know you think you are always present, but most times you are not. Awareness of what you are saying, to whom you are saying it, and direct eye contact is vital. BTW, smile!
  3. Be intentional: Before you  meet anyone you say to yourself, "I am going to focus." Always more interesting when you do things with purpose.   
  4. Repeat every name: So when you hear the other person's name, no matter if you think you heard it correctly or the name seems straightforward--say it out loud as you shake their hand, look into their eyes, study their face, say their name out loud and here's the clincher--ask how it is spelled. Say you meet me, I say, "I'm John" and you say, "John , is that spelled with an H?"

These steps are merely ways to slow you down to focus on the tasks at hand. Meeting people and remembering them takes energy, attention, and effort. Sorry no quick fixes here! There are many memory systems out there with mnemonics, and imagery to enhance your memory, but for me, it all boils down to paying attention.

What do you do when someone runs up to you, hugs you, they clearly know you, yet you have no idea what their name is? This happens to me from time to time and it is a jarring moment. People recite facts about me, know about my kids, my parents and I look at them, my mind racing for answers. A couple of techniques that have bailed me out. 

  1. Apologize: Just admit you forgot and say how sorry you are. If saying something about a "senior moment" helps then do that. Once they say their name hopefully memories flood back. If you pretend to know them, things can get much worse if you see them again. or they are friends of friends or you see them at work........ So admit you forgot quickly.  
  2. Tag Team: As you know, networking is also a team sport. It can be much easier to meet people and remember them when you work as a team. Let me explain. Clue your friend or partner at an event to come to your rescue when the name forgetting thing starts to happen. Seeing you have no idea who this person is, your partner sticks out their hand and introduces themselves, and say "Don't think we have met, I am....." When the mystery person introduces themselves you have their name! And then you look brilliant. My wife Sarah has rescued me more than a few times!

Lastly, your brain, especially your pre-frontal cortex needs exercise. Just like your body you need to keep your mind fit and nimble. I use Brainage, a Nintendo handheld game that pushes you through a bunch of mental challenges, for about 20 minutes everyday. Read about other ways to keep your brain sharp and your memory will remain stronger. Keeping Your Brain Healthy 

Keeping the full onslaught of some-zheimers from engulfing us will help us remember people's faces, names, our anniversaries, and give us a modicum of control over our fading memories. 

 Thanks for reading. John