I will never forget my first meeting with my first formal mentor. To set the scene, I was new in my career, new to my organization, and new to participating in a formal mentoring program. Painfully aware of my overall lack of experience, I arrived at the meeting expecting my mentor to tell me what to do. I sat across from him, notepad open, pen poised, ready to write down all the wise things I was sure he would say. So, imagine my surprise when it turned out that he had not prepared a lecture or even a list of things we should discuss. Furthermore, he had no intention of doling out wisdom or the secrets to success. Instead, he wanted me to do the talking. He wanted me to tell him what I needed to work on, what I intended to get out of our partnership, and how I envisioned achieving my goals. I was dumbfounded. I was the wide-eyed new mentee, and he was the seasoned expert—shouldn’t he be taking charge? My initial naivete about mentoring roles is all too common among new mentees, who often come to the partnership with either a conscious or subconscious expectation that their more experienced mentor will take the reins and drive the relationship. To dispel this misconception of the mentor’s role, we need to look no further than the definition of a mentor: A mentor is defined as an experienced and trusted adviser. Mentors use their expertise and knowledge to advise and support—not to direct, decide, or do. If a mentor is directing outcomes, they inadvertently defeat the purpose of mentoring, which is to help mentees learn to lead themselves. Thus, for effective mentoring to take place, the onus for driving the relationship must remain with the mentee, with the mentor seated firmly in a supportive role. Here are some things mentees can do (or mentors can encourage them to do) to take initiative and responsibility for building and maintaining mentoring momentum. Define goals and expectations. Chances are, if a person signs up for a formal mentoring program, they have at least some idea of what they hope to gain from it. Mentees should commit time to reflecting not only on specific objectives they would like to achieve, but also their reasons for those objectives and how they hope the mentor will be able to help. This introspection will enable mentees to clearly articulate their goals and expectations and prepare them for larger conversations with their mentor about their partnership and the Mentoring Action Plan. Initiate meetings and discussions. A mentoring pair’s first meeting should include a discussion of how much time they would like to commit to the partnership and how often they would like to meet. Once these parameters are established, the mentee is responsible for initiating meetings and discussions. This could be as simple as sending a recurring calendar invite or creating a calendar reminder to reach out after certain events or milestones. Another best practice is to end each meeting by answering the question, “When should we meet again?” Come prepared. Mentees who make the most of their mentoring experience will come to meetings with clear goals (“Today, I would like to accomplish…”), a list of topics or questions to discuss, and their own ideas or solutions for which to seek feedback from their mentor. They won’t show up unprepared expecting their mentor to do the work for them or tell them what to do, but rather will take the initiative to identify their own thoughts and ideas and arrive ready to ask for feedback, advice, and new perspectives to help them decide their next steps. Take initiative. Mentees sometimes comment that they wish their mentor would reach out more often or suggest more learning activities. However, these mentees may not have communicated their expectations to their mentor nor taken any action to resolve the issue for themselves. Have they increased their own outreach or researched and suggested additional learning activities to their mentor? The most successful mentees are those who take initiative rather than waiting for someone else to intuit what they would like or make it happen for them. Follow through. Mentees can drive the relationship forward and keep the partnership on track with one simple behavior: following through. By doing what they say they will do when they say they will do it, mentees demonstrate that they are serious about their goals and value their mentor’s time.
After bidding adieu to 2020, many of us look to the new year as the thing that will invigorate and set us free. But the truth is, while many good things await, 2021 still requires resilience and flexibility. Some of us will be transitioning into our offices after many months away, others might be shepherding children back into the groove of in-person school, and almost all of us will still be waiting for some signal that everything has returned to “normal.” In some ways, the most demanding part of managing these historical circumstances is the endurance run. Coming up on nearly a year since the pandemic changed life indefinitely, at times it seems as though the needle has barely moved. It might be harder to see through traditional news years’ resolutions… but do not despair. The coming days offer an opportunity for getting on track while being a light for others. As we continue wading through these challenging times, how can you stay positive and stand out as a leader? Avoiding overthinking Right now, even the most decisive personalities can fall into the pattern of over-thinking. Every time we leave our houses, we weigh calculated risks: “Should we sign up for this?” “Is that safe?” “Should I just ask someone else what they think about it?” There are opportunities to second-guess ourselves at every single turn. It makes it even worse that we are not getting the kind of positive reinforcement that goes along with face-to-face interaction. When it comes to work, seeing facial expressions at a conference table or bumping into people in the hallway is sometimes how we know a colleague likes an idea or isn’t frustrated. Without those subtle cues to assure us, we can overthink a reaction- or lack thereof- for a long time. That kind of circular thinking can cause decision-paralysis. Psychology Today recommends setting aside time to “ruminate.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema says that scheduling daily rumination time will bring on the process of either moving on or finding a resolution. For example, if you’re nervous to put something on your supervisor’s calendar (Was she annoyed by my email earlier? I wonder if I should wait on this?), stop. Take a deep breath. Put the meeting on her calendar and commit to thinking through this action at 4pm during the 30-minute rumination time. Tell yourself you do not have time to worry about that right now. You can now successfully complete the rest of today’s tasks without fretting about what is worrying you and it is no longer taking up mental real estate. Take control of the work/life pendulum Professional and personal lives jumbled up in one big heap is a sign of the times. But even before all this, finding work/life balance was an endless journey. Perhaps the word “balance” sets too high an expectation. Life and work are on a pendulum and sometimes one side is swinging higher than the other. That is okay- just remember to give an occasional push to swing it back. If a work project is going to take tremendous focus and energy, let your family know. Ask them to share in the effort by giving you some extra quiet time and approximate how long you’ll need whether it’s an hour or two weeks. If something at home is continuously slowing down your workload, maybe loop in your supervisor by asking for patience and tips for keeping the ball moving. Map out the estimated duration of a commitment to prevent over-promising and under-delivering. Proactiveness demonstrates to others that you have a handle on things but also might truly help you get a handle on things. Be a beacon. It’s hard to imagine taking on one more thing right now but staying positive can lift up the people around you who are experiencing the same transitions. Here are some simple ways to encourage others: Make time. If a colleague attempts small talk over email or even during a work-related call, make time for it. They might need a sense of connection. Ask how things are going for them too. Don’t complain. Resist the temptation to join in when others are commiserating. There could be clumsiness in getting the office back on track and there’s no reason to contribute to negativity. Be observant. If you hear it’s someone’s birthday, write a quick text or e-card. If a colleague makes a great point in a meeting, tell them. Being noticed makes people feel really good. Find empathy. Even if you find your way, not everyone is having the easiest time right now. Consider how their personal situations are playing out in their behavior at the office. Each of us is steering our own ship.
In these unprecedented times, mentors have made the difference! They have provided a sense of stability, connection and support. In honor of National Mentoring Month, take a moment to thank a mentor who has made a difference in your life.
While mentoring relationships often focus on a mentoring plan with specific objectives, the true goal of mentorship is to provide mentorees the skills and confidence they need to proactively pursue their goals, now and in the future. When mentoring pairs recognize their plan as a starting point rather than the full extent of what can be achieved in their partnership, they lay the groundwork for empowering mentoring. The word “empower” means to give someone the authority or power to do something, or to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life. When mentorees feel empowered, they believe in themselves and their ability to chart and steer their own professional path. Done well, mentoring can empower mentorees to recognize and leverage their strengths and resources, and to feel confident stepping into the unknown or uncertain and navigating barriers and challenges. Below are key mentoring behaviors that empower mentorees: Develop trust. The cornerstone of a strong mentoring partnership—is trust. For mentoring to be effective, both parties must feel they can be open and honest. Mentorees need to feel safe sharing their goals, questions, challenges, and concerns. They must believe that they can trust their mentor’s guidance and advice. Conversely, mentors need to feel safe sharing their experiences, lessons learned, and feedback. They need to know that their mentoree will respect and consider their input. While it takes time to develop trust, mentors can accelerate this process by being brave enough to “go first,” modeling trust and vulnerability. By listening proactively, sharing openly, and being fully present, mentors foster safe environment for the mentoree to reciprocate. Balance direction and support. Mentorees often come to the mentoring relationship with at least a vague sense of where they want to go and how to get there. While some may need direction and guidance to get moving or overcome a roadblock, many are also (consciously or subconsciously) looking for an added layer of support. It is important for mentors to provide both, and to do so in a way that empowers the mentoree to do the heavy lifting on their own with the reassurance that their mentor is there to spot them. For example, rather than outlining the steps a mentoree will need to take to accomplish a specific goal, mentors guide the mentoree to develop their own list, identify potential roadblocks and brainstorm ways to get past them. The mentor can still provide direction, but in a supporting role that places the mentoree in the driver’s seat and places the responsibility for decision-making squarely on their shoulders. The mentoree learns how to map their own path forward, while developing crucial skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and risk assessment. Ask, don’t tell. In the same vein as balancing direction and support, asking rather than telling creates opportunities for mentorees to lead—and trust—themselves. This concept can be challenging for mentors, who often look forward to sharing their experiences and offering advice and guidance. But empowering often means doing more listening than telling. Asking questions forces the mentoree to think critically about their plans and perceptions. Why do you want to achieve that goal? What do you hope to gain? What are some possible outcomes? Mentors can use questioning to better understand their mentoree, but they can also ask questions intended to nudge their mentoree toward discovering new ideas, potential blind spots, or alternate courses of action. While mentors will share their anecdotes, advice, and feedback during the relationship, empowering mentors will commit more time to serving as a sounding board than offering up their own opinions. Offer feedback. When it is time to talk, feedback is a powerful tool for empowering mentorees. Effective feedback can inspire, uplift, and motivate. It can also increase self-awareness and confidence. In “Seven Characteristics (and Six Tools) That Support Meaningful Feedback,” Professor Esther Ntuli writes that effective feedback is constructive (focuses on instruction rather than correction), specific, measurable, sensitive (avoids negative language), balanced (points out strengths and weaknesses), and applicable. Mentors are in a unique position to provide meaningful and effective feedback because they have the full picture of where the mentoree is and where they hope to end up. They are privy to the mentoree’s goals, challenges, fears, concerns, and so on. This allows them to evaluate the mentoree through a wider lens and thus provide feedback that speaks to the bigger picture and overarching themes. Share information and resources. Mentors can also set the stage for continuous growth and development by demonstrating how to obtain information and resources in support of accomplishing a goal. Mentors empower mentorees by helping them broaden their professional network and connecting them with situational mentors, then encouraging them to continue to grow those networks and relationships on their own. The more expansive the mentoree’s network, the more connected they will be to the bigger picture and the more information they will receive. And the more they interact with situational mentors, the more comfortable they will be reaching out to subject matter experts when they have questions or a request. Understanding what resources are available and how to ask for them is a mentoring outcome that will have a lasting impact.
Virtual working has turned many of us into unwitting stars of the 10” screen. And while the pandemic zeitgeist is that humanity, young and old, has evolved into sophisticated technology users, there are still some glitches. We have all learned to stay calm when we get kicked out of a meeting and mined our homes for the most compelling and tidy corners to use as Zoom backdrops. We even remember to mute our microphones. But the truth is, for many of us, collaborating through a screen still doesn’t feel natural. At The Training Connection, we’ve been developing new resources to provide mentees with strategies for driving their partnerships from a distance and engaging with their partners virtually. We tend to emphasize attributes such as being prepared, articulating goals, and following up as a means not only for maintaining progress but also avoiding awkward conversations. In this month’s newsletter, we are going to zero in on listening. Listening, as in the art of conversation When communicating through a screen, it can be hard to find the right rhythm between speaking and processing what others are saying. Part of the reason is that nonverbal clues are limited, for both parties. It’s harder to see if the other person is stifling a yawn or fidgeting (“Is this story boring to them?”). Sometimes we can’t get over our own image (“Is that really what my neck looks like?”) or maybe there’s person out of view asking a question (“Mom, can I have a snack?”). There’s at once a lot more going on and, as a result, a lot less in terms of conversational give and take. Psychology Today urges us to lean into listening in order to be heard ourselves. In a recent article, they explained, “in order to know what to say in response, we must know what has been said to us.” Since virtual meetings don’t afford us the same opportunities and cues as in-person meetings, we need to work really hard to simply hear what’s being said. Listening and being present makes us happy Here’s the thing. When unfocused and spacing out, we aren’t only dissatisfied with what we get out of the conversation, we’re downright unhappy. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert developed an app to study the “wandering mind.” They contacted 2,250 volunteers at random times throughout the day to find out what they were doing, what they were thinking while doing it, and whether they were happy. They learned that we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing at that moment. According to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we are happiest when we are doing things like exercising or having a conversation- because those activities require us to stay focused on what we are doing. Put your active listening on display People who work in sales are trained to listen more than they talk. They understand that you can’t sell someone something they don’t want. A good salesperson will listen to their customer- a lot- to better understand their context and needs before recommending a product. Being a good listener makes it more likely that they will close the deal. Not to mention, people who are good listeners tend to be perceived as more sincere. Here are some ways to actively listen: Physical signs of listening Sit still, face forward, camera on. Look at the speaker (not at yourself). Take notes. Nod or smile when something they’ve said resonates. Show that you’ve received the message Ask questions periodically, which reinforces your learning and assures the speaker of your attention. Summarize what they’ve said (“so what you mean is…”). Hold judgement, don’t be defensive, avoid sharing opinions or personal anecdotes. Listen to them instead of planning what you’ll say next. Save a great idea until the end. Exude the spirit of a listener Be curious (“That’s fascinating. How did you become interested in this topic?”). Look for commonalities between you and the speaker (“I can’t believe you’re a runner too!”). Stay out of the chat. When people are presenting, don’t participate in the sidebar, stay in the main conversation. Set a good example and encourage others to speak Organizing your words ahead of the meeting so that you can speak in a calm manner with a clear message will help align the talk with the natural pauses. Preparing also ensures that you don’t overwhelm with too many details- which sets the stage for others to run on with their words instead of saying productive things. Send out the agenda in advance and consider starting with something that will encourage others to volunteer or speak up. Maybe even an ice breaker. Sometimes, if you are talking to someone who isn’t a good listener, you can lead them into better behavior by setting an example for how to do it. Save it One reason to stay quiet and listen instead is that it keeps you from using all your best material at once. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once revealed that he believes his edge in joke-writing comes from his habit of writing things down and saving them for the right time. Don’t reveal too much. If you have a great story you want to tell, but it doesn’t fit the conversation perfectly, maybe save it for a time that it does. Also, your stories have the most impact when they’re fresh, not told over and over. If you aren’t always speaking, when you do speak- people listen.
The first time I signed up to be a mentor, I thought it would be easy. After all, I’d spent several years as a supervisor in the military—mentoring should be a breeze. So, it came as a bit of a shock when I discovered that mentoring was not only different than supervising, but in some ways, more challenging. The biggest obstacle? My mentee’s motivation—or seeming lack thereof. Despite clear goals, previous success, and the added support of a mentor’s encouragement and accountability, my mentee just did not seem willing to follow through on his mentoring plan. We’ve all heard the Chinese proverb, “You give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish, and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” As mentors, we want to teach our mentees to fish. And while my mentee came to the program with a list of goals, what he was really casting out into the waters for was the motivation to achieve them. So, how do you help a mentee find their motivation? Below are some tips that I found useful. Empathize but don’t assume responsibility. At first, I felt frustrated with my mentee. I questioned why he signed up for the program if he did not intend to do the work. But the hard truth is that we all—every single one of us—have set goals that we then either abandoned completely or endured several failed attempts before finally achieving them. Draw from those experiences to empathize with your mentee and relate to their struggle to get and stay motivated. Better yet, share those experiences with them and talk about how you overcame your own motivation struggles. Be careful, though, that while you are putting yourself in your mentee’s shoes, you do not start trying to take steps for them. You cannot make your mentee achieve their goals, nor should you. The more you do for them, the less you are actually helping (think fish vs. fishing). Do not assume responsibility for their successes or failures. And if you find yourself struggling with the urge to take over or becoming increasingly frustrated with their lack of progress, reflect on your own motivations. Are you thinking about your mentee’s progress as a measure of your success as a mentor? Are you thinking about how you would do things and expecting your mentee to take the same approach because it obviously makes the most sense? Famed director Steven Spielberg once said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Help your mentee recognize and admit that they are struggling with motivation. Help them understand things that have worked for others. Help them identify ways they could try motivating themselves. But recognize that this is the most you can—or should—do. The rest is up to them. Be willing to have a difficult conversation. Your mentee may not realize they are struggling with motivation. After a few meetings with my mentee, I realized that what sounded like excuses to me were, in his mind, insurmountable obstacles. He did not think he struggled with motivation—he had instead convinced himself that these challenges that he did not want to work to overcome were challenges that he could not overcome no matter what he did. It was time for a kind, but firm, reality check. So, I reached down into my arsenal of anecdotes and told him about a time I talked myself out of achieving a goal by focusing on all the things that were in my way. The hardest part to swallow about that failure, I shared, was that I will never know whether I could have succeeded because, deep down, I know only that I did not truly try. Discover what drives them. There is no such thing as an unmotivated person. Everyone is motivated to do something. The same mentee who was not motivated to work on his mentoring action plan was working on a master’s degree in his off time. Clearly, he had motivation. The trick is helping your mentee identify what drives them in the areas where they are easily self-motivated and figure out how to transfer that to the task they struggle to complete. Schedule one or multiple mentoring sessions to focus exclusively on motivation. Prime the conversation by briefly sharing your own lessons learned about digging deep and finding your true motivation. Ask your mentee to reflect on times they felt excited and motivated to accomplish a goal in the past and to honestly assess why. Then, ask open-ended questions about their new goals: Why do you want to do that? What makes you excited about it? How long has that been your dream? What have you done so far? What is your plan?Listen closely to your mentee and keep a list of obvious—and potential underlying—motivators that you hear in their answers. Once you have worked together to identify some of their key drivers, discuss ways that they can apply those to achieve their current goals. Don’t give up. When your whole purpose as a mentor is to help someone succeed, it can feel counterintuitive and downright impossible to disassociate your success from theirs. But you must remember that being an effective mentor is about what you do, not your mentee. Just as you cannot take credit for their successes, you cannot take responsibility for their failures. Make time, show up, give honest and meaningful feedback, and follow through on things you have offered to do. If your mentee is not doing their part, be willing to talk to them—and listen—about what is holding them back. Don’t accept excuses, but don’t judge, don’t scold, and above all, don’t give up on them Sometimes, a mentee just needs someone else to recognize their potential and keep believing in them when others would have thrown up their hands. A mentee’s lack of motivation can be a serious test of your own. But even if your mentee never takes a single step toward achieving their goals, if you continuously put your best mentoring foot forward, you will have given them great mentorship. What they do with it is 100 percent their choice and their responsibility.
In a formal mentoring program, facilitators invest heavily in pairing mentors and mentees. They sort through demographics such as communication style, career trajectory, and experience. They analyze requests and preferences, aiming to create a mutually beneficial experience for both participants. This involved process is critical when planning successful partnerships that will meet the goals outlined in a prescribed program. There is another type of mentoring, however, that is less reliant on a well-engineered matching system. In this month’s newsletter, we will talk about soaking up mentors using daily interactions with colleagues, organizational leaders, or anyone that you find inspiring. In other words, we want to encourage taking on mentors who don’t exactly know that they’re mentoring you. Soaking up a mentor might mean, actively noting the way a well-respected colleague handles an ongoing prickly relationship or observing how a productive supervisor manages their calendar. Every day we are connecting with people on conference calls and email chains who are setting an example of what to do or what not to do in any given situation. Mentors are all around- it’s up to you to take the opportunity to learn from them. Know what you are searching Make a list of immediate needs and long-term goals. Where are your trouble spots? Perhaps your two-year plan is to reach a specific grade-level but you need to get your name out there to even be in consideration for promotion. Maybe you’re struggling to carve a line between professional expectations and personal obligations and looking for clarity on fitting in everything. It could be that the emails you thoughtfully compose are not getting quick responses, leaving you with the sense that the way you make requests isn’t effective. Zeroing in on what you need to do better will ensure that you pick up on the right things when observing others. Take notes and flag examples so that you can refer back to them. Create opportunities to learn Look for relatable learning opportunities. As leadership author Dan Black explains, “It’s all about being observant, which requires having attentive eyes and ears.” Wherever you are, take the time to actively engage, especially if there is someone in the room who you’ve identified as an informal mentor. Raise your hand and get involved in the conversation. Asking questions demonstrates focus and attention, a desire to dig beneath the surface, solve the problem, learn the skill. Asking questions ensures understanding and demonstrates a hunger for learning. Some tips for asking good questions include: Have a general idea ahead of time about the kind of information you seek. If joining a meeting, read ahead to know what is going to be discussed and what areas might need more explaining. Questions should be targeted and meaningful. Show openness when looking for details and try to keep preconceived opinions to yourself. Instead of “I really can’t figure out this weird system and wanted to ask….”, you might say, “What have you heard people love best about this system?” Only ask one-part questions. Overpacking will make it hard for the respondent to offer a clear answer. Leave your comfort zone Don’t be afraid to share your ideas when collaborating with someone you admire, especially colleagues with more seniority. Seek opportunities to talk about the way you have approached a problem and muse about potential strategies. It’s okay to make mistakes when trying to explain. People who know the issue better will jump in with workarounds or additional problem-solving. Consider it free feedback. Be curious Psychology Today explains curiosity as “a combination of intelligence, persistence, and hunger for novelty.” Curiosity adds zest. Cultivate your curiosity about things like leadership and industry knowledge by looking to mentors outside of the office. You might follow a writer on LinkedIn, subscribe to a notable speaker’s weekly podcast, or peruse an industry leader’s Instagram account. Read their biographies and research how they came to acquire their expertise. When they share articles on the topics that interest you, drill deeper to see what sources they have linked or referenced and read those sources for more information and context. Even look to motivational speakers or bestselling authors who demonstrate strong character and an energy that speaks to you. Curate a file of links and snapshots of posts by these lofty mentors so that you can look to them for broad inspiration. Stay curious and keep seeking knowledge. Mentoring is an important contributor to a successful and satisfying career. Joining a formal mentoring program shows your ambition and drive but don’t forget to soak up the mentors who are in your life each and every day. Make an effort to learn from them and follow their wisdom.
Many of those in leadership positions, whether middle-management, team leader or senior executive, know they should be delegating tasks – probably more than they already do. Do any of the following “reasons” sound familiar? “I just can’t seem to let this task go!” “I am worried this will fall off the radar.” “I don’t really trust anyone else to get this done.” “This is really complicated and would take more time to explain than to just do it myself.” We can self-talk our way out of delegating to others - and justify it every step of the way! But if we continue to hold on to tasks we could delegate, we are not only holding ourselves back from reaching our full potential, we are holding our team back from reaching their full potential. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discern what tasks are ripe for delegation and reflects that internal struggle we experience between the work that could be done and the work that should be done. If we review our to-do list, we can start to categorize each item as either a strategic task - working ON the long-term goals of the organization - and tactical work – working ON the tasks that implement that vision. Examples of a set of tactical tasks includes the daily work surrounding project management, product development, service delivery, preparing and reviewing financial reports, keeping facilities maintained, training and supporting employees, etc. Strategic tasks focus on the future – those improvements, innovations, growth planning and succession planning efforts that support the overall mission of the organization. In short, strategic tasks are the work we do to set the course and direction, and tactical tasks are the “turns” we take to follow the course. It would follow that the more effort and energy expended on the strategic tasks, the more effective, efficient, and productive the resulting tactical tasks. After reviewing our to-do list, we need to start collecting data. Just like a diet – start tracking everything we spend time on– because we can’t change what we don’t know, and we don’t know what we don’t measure. Pretty quickly, those tactical tasks we just can’t let go of will equate to real time we are losing – resources we are wasting. Still not sold? Here are some other benefits of delegation: Lower Stress! By not delegating, we place a heavy burden on ourselves – we can become so overwhelmed that our functioning and our health suffer. Delegating tactical work can relieve and return more time to us. Build Communication Skills! The process of delegating can break down the sense of hierarchy between us and our team. Explaining tasks and sharing ideas together will lessen the distance among the team’s workers and help continue building trust and respect overall. Efficiency! Effective delegation allows us to maximize time and resources, as it decreases delays in achieving tasks. Effective delegation should be seen as an investment not only in our team, but also in the long-term health and success of the organization. Support Mission! When we delegate, we are required to do the front-work of identifying and putting to paper those clear goals and milestones – the strategic plan - in support of the mission, from which those tactical tasks then spring. Process Streamlining! If we truly invest the time in our strategic tasks – a comprehensive strategic plan supporting the mission – the tactical tasks and the steps to achieve each goal and milestone will be clearly defined and focused. The more we can delegate, the better the plan, the more efficient the task accomplishment – and all comes full circle. “But how do I get my team onboard when I am giving them more to do?” Our employees want to grow, so integrate a development plan into an employee’s Individual Development Plan (IDP) so everyone is on board with how (certain types of) tasks will be delegated to support the employee’s continued professional advancement. Also, delegating is less about giving up responsibility, and more about allowing others to lead. That doesn’t exempt us from speaking up when we see things getting off track, but it does mean letting the employee guide the ship as much as possible.
Every organization has procedures and policies, formal written rules that tell employees clearly what they should and should not do. However, every organization also has a second set of dos and don’ts—a list that few (if any) will tell you about, but that leaders and colleagues will expect you to know and follow.Mentors can help their mentees avoid the discomfort of breaking these unwritten rules. Making mentees aware of the proper etiquette for their organization will help them create a positive impression, which, in turn, can help build a strong reputation and develop critical relationships that can lead to valuable opportunities.Below are some of the most important—but not always intuitive—unwritten rules that you can share with your mentee.Be aware of nonverbal cues. When someone doesn’t like what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, they will often tell you with their facial expressions and body language before they will tell you aloud (if, in fact, they ever do). Watching nonverbal cues can help you determine when you are breaking an unwritten rule.Take “John,” for example, a great guy and a hard worker with an unwitting habit of standing too close for people’s comfort (even before social distancing) when he talks with them. People step back, lean away, and sometimes even hold items in their hands further out in front of them to create additional space. But John is oblivious to these efforts and simply moves closer. He is a nice person and a skilled professional, but this habit unnerves his coworkers and makes them eager to get away. People are too uncomfortable to talk to him about it, but if he paid attention, he would note others’ reactions and realize that they are telling him loud and clear with their body language.Observe your colleagues carefully and watch their nonverbal cues not only to you, but to others as well. You can learn plenty about the unwritten by observing the unspoken.Speak carefully. When you are eager to establish your credibility, build relationships, or contribute to a project, your first instinct may be to jump in wherever you can during conversations and meetings. But you must be cognizant of the way you talk, as this is often just as (or more) important than what you say.Basic common courtesy and conversation skills are unwritten expectations in the workplace. Be polite and professional in every conversation. Don’t interrupt others or clearly demonstrate that you are waiting for them to finish so that you can jump in. Give the person who is talking your full attention—put down your phone or look away from your screen, make eye contact, listen to what they’re saying and, if the situation warrants, take notes. Speak clearly and loud enough to be heard, but make sure you aren’t too loud or forceful. Be aware of your tone and how you word things. For example, are you saying “I” when you could be saying “we”? In less formal conversation, avoid gossiping or complaining about coworkers and oversharing about your personal life.Another important rule is to pay attention to names. Not only is it good to know who is speaking (especially when you are new and still learning who’s who in the room), but it can communicate a lack of care or professionalism if someone must tell you their name more than once. In this same vein, make sure you introduce yourself when appropriate and others when you bring someone to a meeting or stop to have a conversation in which other participants don’t know each other.Show consideration for others. Working in an office means sharing space with other people, and when you share space with the same people for eight hours a day, you can get a little too comfortable. But no matter how well you get along with your coworkers, there are some considerations you should show daily as a matter of keeping things professional. Be mindful of the people you work with. Keep your workstation clean and organized. Cleanliness shows courtesy to others in your workspace, and you never know who is going to walk by or stop at your desk—a dirty desk does not leave a clean impression. To avoid disturbing those around you, keep the volume on your computer low or use headphones, and keep conversations short and quiet in spaces where other people are trying to work. Keep your voice down when taking professional calls at your desk and make personal calls on your cell phone in the hall or other common areas.Strong smells can be just as inconsiderate as loud sounds. Avoid heating or eating odorous food in your shared workspace. Likewise, don’t wear too much perfume or cologne—overpowering scents can be unpleasant and can make some people sick. Swish mouthwash or chew gum or mints after drinking coffee or eating lunch.
In this month’s newsletter we will examine the power of gratitude as a proven antidote for reducing stress and attracting successful outcomes. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence defines gratitude as “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside of yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures.” According to the experts, gratitude is within your power, which means- you can tap into it whenever you need. Thank your mentor Mentors have the uncanny ability to alter our lives personally and professionally, often without even realizing it. When mentorees are in the trenches, tackling development goals and juggling multiple priorities, it can be difficult to pan out to the wider perspective and see your mentor’s impact. Quite often a mentoree will share with us a long list of things they have gained from their mentoring partnership, but then the mentor from that same partnership will worry that the mentoree isn’t getting what they need or enjoying the experience. Take a quick minute to make sure your mentor knows how much you appreciate them. Over the next few weeks pay attention to the lessons you are getting from your mentor and express your gratitude. Be sure to explicitly state what you like about being in a partnership with them. By the way, it is never too late to thank a mentor- even one you worked with years ago. If you have achieved a particular career goal or maybe even felt inspired to enroll as a mentor yourself, send a note and tell them how they left an impression on you. Use your mentoring practice to… pivot: There is no better time than now to use the skills you’ve polished as a mentoring program participant to stand out as someone who is rising to the occasion and demonstrating leadership potential. Here are some examples: Remote working: Many mentoring partners need to collaborate from a distance, using virtual resources to stay in touch. Think about the strategies you’ve used to maintain effective communication with your partner and put those to use with your day-to-day work. Demonstrate technological savviness for others and share tips for staying productive despite location. Work/life balance and time management: Often mentorees learn wellness techniques from their mentors as a means for reducing stress and eliminating emotional triggers. Now, more than ever, is the time to integrate some of these ideas into your new approach to work. Problem-solving: Your mentor has likely shared anecdotes about how they have helped their teams navigate challenges or difficult projects. Maybe you’ve even had an opportunity to observe their leadership skills in action. If you’ve learned a tip or trick that might improve a process or make your manager’s life easier, share. Keep a joy reserve Brené Brown, professor and lecturer, writes a great deal about living a life full of gratitude and joy. In her work, she has warned against “foreboding joy”- our reluctance to let ourselves feel happiness and joy when something good happens because we’re immediately nervous that it will be taken from us. If our supervisor tells us we did a good job on something, we might not be able to relish our accomplishment because we’re overwhelmed by a trickier project that’s running off track. Being selected for greater responsibility or a new assignment, might simply trigger worry about messing it up and disappointing others. If something great happens, let your mentor know. Your mentoring relationship is a safe place to celebrate achievement and build a reserve of happiness to cover you if truly anxious moments hit. Make gratitude a daily practice Establishing gratitude as daily practice or routine helps to start your day on a positive note. Taking time to observe simple pleasures is a way to acknowledge the value of the things you have in your life. Sometimes even focusing on a simple task such as tidying your desk can create a moment for quiet reflection. Start with gratitude and make time for it throughout the day. Here are some ideas to get you started. Write down five things that you’re grateful for: Time spent with your mentor A fulfilling and purposeful career An act of kindness from a co-worker Warmer days A good cup of coffee Another way to practice gratitude is by acting as a beacon of positivity for others. For example: Stay above office gossip Be a voice of optimism Pay kindness forward Regularly write notes of appreciation Write your own story- if you don’t like it, change it If you’re feeling lackluster about your current position and hoping for something new, it shows. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves but answer a simple “how are things going for you?” with a heavy sigh. Maybe we aren’t where we want to be in our career or are unsure how to make the move to the next position or a new department. Try changing the story. When people ask how things are going, tell them that you’re participating in a mentoring program, feeling energized to learn new leadership competencies and make the jump for applying to something new.