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April 2011

Mentor, teacher, coach--What do I need?

This is an important question. There are times when you need teachers and coaches, but, In my opinion, you ALWAYS need a mentor or three. Mentors provide guidance and reality checks as you and your career/life develop. A mentor provides ongoing or momentary feedback that helps you focus on what is important to you and to your future success. The big difference is you don't go shopping for a mentor like you might for a coach or a teacher.

I teach, I coach and I also mentor. I am recruited to serve in the first two roles.  When I teach I bring a curriculum, an agenda, a set of questions and goals. When I coach I bring questions and I listen, but I drive the content and the subject matter. When I mentor, I listen, but for the most part I let the mentee drive. Mentoring can easily start in the teaching and/or coach environments. But lectures and transmitting knowledge and experience is a small part of the true mentoring relationship. Mentoring depends heavily on the growing set of questions and self awareness of both mentor and mentee. Awareness of the needs and possibilities of both. Some people never get this--that mentoring is a two-way street and consequently they rarely experience mentoring. They may be inspired or their view of themselves may be shifted by a conversation or an insight shared. But mentoring is a persistent process that is defined by the conversation built on trust and truth.Dialogue

Steve Blank, the well known entrepreneur, recently opined about this phenomenon--people's confusion about these roles and specifically how one acquires a mentor. He mentions how he has received requests to be a mentor while he is on the stage lecturing. Awkward! In this consumer society we think we can just pick a mentor, even ask a total stranger to be a mentor. Mentoring relationships usually emerge from relationships of trust. A chemistry is developed between the two parties over some period of time, it can be rather quick or lengthy, then a deeper sharing of thoughts, ideas, philosophies and advice generates the mentoring. Mentoring is not a commodity. You don't seek it, shop it, and then buy it.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  Buddha

As Steve says, "mentoring is a dialogue", it is a higher order exchange, a frank conversation to help each other. Teaching tends to be a one-way flow of ideas. I know that all of these methods are not silos and that they blur into one another, that the lines that define them are at best fuzzy. But mentoring is different.

In fact, the Steve Blank posting was tweeted and shared by a former mentee of mine, who has in turn become my mentor. And the roles have continued to shift and change depending on the subject and the circumstance. This has been a process that has been repeated many times for me--Where the roles over time always reverse and vary. In a mentoring relationship we serve as reality checks, sources of ideas, and instant mentoring partners. When we need each other we are available for one another. Mentoring is a great dialogue, a give and take, a relationship of mutual benefit and trust.

The real question is are you mentorable? Are you ready to be mentored? Really? Are you prepared to be mentored ? A person who has not given any thought to their goals, has not done any soul searching, does not know their strengths, is not passionately curious about their future, is not a good candidate for mentoring. Some people I encounter, young and more mature, hope that the mentor they find will unlock the secret recipe of success and shine a bright and glorious light on their new path to fulfillment and success. I kid you not! They are starving for great wisdom, connections, and insights to be served up on a silver platter from the Iron Chef kitchen of the mentor. They expect to sit back and be served and consume the contents of the dishes and magically life will be delicious. Yikes! Waiter

Finding your mentor(s) is a process of meeting people, people you respect, admire, work with, volunteer with, and encounter in your pursuit of your life's work. People that are part of your journey of curiosity and discovery. If you are focused on becoming the best you can be, you will find a mentor and be mentored. Your quest for answers will push you towards people you know and new people you will meet. And some of those relationships will become mentoring dialogues that last months, years, and even a lifetime.

There has been great evidence that mentoring relationships with at-youth risk that last less than 1 year and even 2 years can damage the youth. Why? Because the process of developing trust and mutual understanding takes time, regardless of the great willingness of the participants, time, persistence, the process of showing up and caring, to strengthen a relationship to be able to have the meaningful dialogue. Until that relationship becomes a trusting one, little mentoring benefit occurs. Every mentoring relationship I have had has made me a better person, manager, parent, and leader. And every survey of mentors that I have read, every attempt to understand the benefits of mentoring show that the MENTOR gains more than the mentee. The target of the at-risk youth mentoring or corporate mentoring, always gets less than the mentor. This may sound counter-intuitive, but you would know if you mentored others. That's why I have been advocating adopting a lifestyle of mentoring, because the benefits are so overwhelmingly positive to the mentor and do a lot of good for the mentee. This is proof that the dialogue and the reciprocity are essential to mentoring.

Understand your greatness, pursue your passions, and become the best you can be and you will find mentoring. Seek great teachers, great coaches to hone your skills, your craft, and your questions, mentoring will find you.

Thanks for reading. John


The 8 week interview diet

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to understand where I was going was to encounter as many people and opportunities as I could. Through some very hard lessons from my mentors and through life itself, I realized that I was in charge of my career path and choices. And more important, that my career path would neither be linear or sector centric. These revelations took my blinders off and I was able to see so many new opportunities that were not tethered to my past, my education, or what I preferred. Are you following me? In other words, once I realized I had to get out of my own way, my options and opportunities multiplied. Blinders 

Last week I met with a graduate class in public policy to talk about their impending graduation and their career choices. We discussed many things but I tried to impress upon them two basic ideas:

  1. It's the Boss--Other than mission alignment, your personal belief in the vision/goals of the employer, the number one factor in choosing a job is who your boss will be. Do you have a sense of chemistry with her? Do you see her helping you and providing counsel and advice? Have you done any due diligence on her? Your progression and future are tied more to her than the company's reputation.
  2. Your Toolbox is Transferable--Don't make the mistake I did early in my career by trying to find an elevator, escalator or a plain ole ladder to advance my career in a single silo sector. Your skills are applicable to other working worlds. Each one of you has so many other skills and abilities, in addition to your newly minted degrees. Pursue your curiosities and passions not just a rational career path.

Literally an hour after my invigorating session with the students, I was waiting at my doctor's office to have my annual physical. Dr P. comes in with a big smile and greets me warmly. I have been going to see him for almost 20 years. There are few who know you better than your MD! Since I have been having these annual checkups I have had 8 jobs in arguably five different fields. From for-profit to non-profit. Start-up to publicly traded company. Higher education to online education. Grantee to grantor. Anyway, Dr P has heard my various job stories and received a small collection of business cards over the years. He looks at me with a wry smirk and says,"Where we working now?" I have become pretty defensive about this question and find it less and less humorous. After all I have been at CCF for more than 3 years! The point is I have a bit of a reputation for making job and career moves, moves that are not intuitive to some, especially those wearing handcuffs of semi-precious metals.Handcuffs

Early in my career, I got occasional calls from recruiters. I found them uncomfortable conversations. I felt like I was cheating on my employer. I had a good job, a good boss and I was not looking. Some job prospects didn't make any sense in terms of mission, geography and fit. Others were intriguing. But I rarely did more than just try to be civil and discrete. I learned quickly that headhunters should become part of my network.

A mentor said to me that you have to inteview for things that interest you. And don't dismiss any opportunity until you KNOW you are not interested. Here was the the kicker for me: When you get out there and explore other opportunities you grow and so does your brand! He advised me to "interview" for information and inspiration on a regular basis. I later interpreted that to be every other month.  That's right, I will respond to at least 6 real and interesting opportunities that are presented to me each year. My record since 1993 is fully intact! These have been interesting opportunities to meet people, executive search firms, and think about something new. Had one such conversation on Friday, so I am good for another 8 weeks. :) I seriously do not have any interest in leaving my current employer, but the practice continues to yield so many benefits for me. I told my former boss about my "interview" goals and he said he wholeheartedly agreed on the concept of "interviewing". In fact he told me he expects 8 "job offers" a year!

Let me be clear, this is not about leaving, this is about learning. Being asked to interview is much different than seeking an interview. This is about staying fresh. This is about staying sharp. This is about strengthening your network. This is about finding yourself, advancing your brand and clarifying your path.

At the end of the week, I agreed to have an informational interview with this very accomplished gentleman referred by a close friend. He was just "exploring possible options" for his future. He was looking and had decided to leave his current job! We both knew what was going on. He told me this was his first "interview" in the last 12 years. Big mistake. Hard to move when your brand is stale and you are unaware of the landscape and frankly your own personal interests and your value in the marketplace. We discussed my "philosophy" and he said he had never heard of such a thing. But wished he had adopted the diet of 6 interviews a year, long before.

Thanks for reading. John


Are you SWiVELicious----Can you SWiVEL?

SWiV·EL   (swvl): to link, pivot and move freely

Yes there is a new look and banner for my blog.  After more than 150 postings and about 30,0000 page views I decided my blog needed a makeover. SWiVELtime is a bit more succinct, plus the url SWiVELtime was available :). SWiVEL is a one page guide I developed many years ago to help people focus on their career paths and directions. Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy, and Love. Networking and mentoring are like everything else in life they are driven by goals--what we want. So to network and mentor well you have to SWiVEL. I try to SWiVEL everyday. (by the way, the "i" is lower case in SWiVEL because "I" should always be smaller than the things I want to achieve and the people and ideas I want to support)

Let me know what you think of the new look and give me feedback on my blog. I relish your requests and suggestions. Please click the feedback tab above and help me improve my blog. Thanks!

I have distributed thousands of these SWiVELs in my workshops, workplaces, and downloaded from my blog. It has evolved over the years. The SWiVEL is one page because I was told that "no one has time for anything longer." But as Coach Wooden said, "Anything that can be put into a nutshell belongs in one." So the SWiVEL is jammed with questions and thoughts that are not simple or easy to blurt out. To be done well the SWiVEL needs time and thought.Bad_boy_ent 

A combination of people asking me for resources and a meeting with Jon Cropper triggered the birth of the SWiVEL. Jon, who was the brains behind Nissan's cool ads and Shift campaigns 10 years ago, and I had several energetic and pyrotechnic conversations. Jon liked to use a dialectic process of basically starting an argument by asking a pointed question. He liked to induce verbal collisions and to see the new products, ideas, and thoughts which were generated. He was a creative guy who lived off of the creative process. I liked his energy and his non-stop thought process. I wanted to hang with him to see if I could learn something by enduring his sado-masochistic intellectual process. At one of our first one-on-one meetings, he asked in an antagonistic tone, "WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR KOBARA?!! WHO ARE YOU?!" I was momentarily stunned and then proceeded to recite some drivel about what my title was and my duties at work. He interrupted me, I AM CROPPER! The C stands for Creative, the R for Responsibility, the O for Original, the P Passion.....(I actually forget the rest:) WHAT DOES KOBARA STAND FOR?!! I feebly tried to make my Japanese surname into a compelling acronym as Jon stared me down across the restaurant table. The pressure was on! "K is for knowledge and O for opportunity and B is for.... " I threw up my hands and said, "I am not going to do this!" I started to discuss what was important to me and my life. We had a pretty deep conversation, especially between two people who did not know one another well. The conversation was provocative but not very satisfying.

Jon's question haunted me and I did not sleep well for a couple of days. WHO WAS I and WHAT DID I STAND FOR? Important questions that can not be answered by what I was doing or by tasks or projects. It lead me to write down my thoughts and questions. Out of this process the SWiVEL was created.

A month later, I saw Jon again. We met over lunch and before he literally sat down, I confronted him. "HEY CROPPER, WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR TODAY?! CAN YOU SWiVEL? CAN YOU?!! He meekly says "Swivel?" YEAH SWiVEL?, I retort. I pull my one page SWiVEL out of my back pocket and slam it down on the table like I had won a card game. Jon picks up the SWiVEL and starts to read. He looks up over the page with an evil smile---"I made you do this didn't I?"  He certainly inspired me.Caves

Like so many times when I have entered a scary cave of ideas led by new spelunkers I met through  networking, and emerged unharmed and more courageous. I like being mentored and confronted with reality. I gained from the process of not accepting the meaningless words we tend to use to describe ourselves, our lives, and our futures.

Jon Cropper moved to NY to pursue his career in marketing with his disruptive take no prisoners approach. There was little doubt he would be more successful. I lost touch with him and recently learned that he is CMO for Bad Boy entertainment, Sean Diddy Combs' multi-faceted entertainment firm. Perfect.

Try to SWiVEL. Complete the online version by clicking the SWiVEL tab above or Download SWIVEL_new_2011 for your writing pleasure.

The SWiVEL attempts to focus you on what's important to you right now and how those thoughts propel you ahead to greater success and helping others.

Nevertheless, it is always SWiVELtime!

Thanks for swiveling and reading. John