Tag Archives: Mentorship

How my business thinking (and talking) changed between ages 30 and 40

30: I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I agree.
40: I don’t agree with you.

30: I should change what I’m doing because of their feedback.
40: I considered the feedback and will change only the parts I need to.

30: I should do it his way.
40: I’m going to do it my way because I think it will be more effective. If he doesn’t like it, T.S. I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

30: If I make the wrong decision, I’m done for.
40: If I make the wrong decision, I have a plan to course-correct.

30: I’ve got to figure all of this out on my own to prove I’ve got the chops.
40: I’ve mastered what I know, and I’m aware of my blind spots. I’m going to stop wasting time and instead talk to people more informed.

30: I have to dress very formally and conservatively to be taken seriously.
40: I can combine professionalism and style and feel great.

30: I’m in competition with so-and-so.
40: My work will speak for itself.

30: I wonder what my boss will think of me.
40: I wonder what my daughter will think of me.

Have any to add? Share in comments!

Advertisements

Lesson learned: agreeing that there is a problem to be solved

At my weekly one on one meeting with my boss, the President and CEO of the firm I’ve worked at for the last 15 years, I ran a problem by him that I was wavering on how to address well.

In pitching to a potential client, I found two of our department heads speaking very expertly on issues in their particular domains, but talking past each other where those domains intersected. There was insufficient coordination between them in how their domains overlapped for this client.

After explaining the problem to the boss, brainstorming the various ways I could help them solve this problem both for this client and future clients, and asking for his opinion, he asked me a very simple question in response.

If you take a possible solution to them, do you think they’ll have any idea what you’re talking about?

He must have taken my slightly stunned silence for a negative. He proceeded to remind me that:

1. Individuals need to recognize that there’s a problem.

2. Individuals need to agree on what the problem is.

3. Individuals need to agree to collaboratively work on a solution.

Only then we can determine what to do, whether I have a role, and what that role  might be.

Afterwards, I tested the water by asking one of my colleagues involved how she thought the call went. She thought it was fantastic.

Huh.

It occurred to me that perhaps what I believe (department heads shouldn’t talk past each other and should reconcile their respective services for potential clients) might not necessarily be what others believe (perhaps part of a department head’s job is to advocate for their services to a client and they are not responsible for other department’s service lines).

The aha! moment I had with the boss will definitely lead me down a different path in terms of a next step with these folks.

Still learning!

Onboarding new employees: what I’ve learned and have yet to figure out

Feedback from new employees indicate that the top three areas in which employers most miss the mark in onboarding are the following :

  1. Clear guidelines on responsibilities
  2. Effective training
  3. Friendliness and helpfulness from fellow employees

I’ve been onboarding employees for 10+ years, and here are some tips to ensure that the investment you’ve made in recruiting and hiring someone doesn’t go to waste:

  1. Have a clear job description for them. Use it as an anchor for check-ins and reviews, and be open to refinement.
    • Set up categories of duties, so that it’s not an unending list of activities that can be hard to manage and refer back to.
    • Include relative percentages of time for those categories, so that employees know what they should be focused on.
    • Have a couple of items in each category that fit under “things that are not required but you may be asked to do.” Here, you can list professional development opportunities that don’t have to be performance-based.
    • Things change. That’s OK. But go back to the job description once a year and refine it, ideally to the agreement of both parties.
  2. Assess whether training was effective, and retrain if necessary.
    • I use simple multiple choice survey monkeys for the basics.
    • Use case studies for training someone on how to apply the material. Some case studies have served me for years; they don’t have to be from yesterday, as long as the application is still relevant.
  3. Set up side meetings or social encounters to help facilitate connections with other employees.
    • Have an open welcome the employee’s first morning, in which everyone is invited for a meet and greet. At my company, the operations folks do a great job of organizing a round of everyone sharing one “fun fact” about themselves. It’s a nice 15 minute welcome.
    • Sure, I like to take the new employee out to lunch the first day! Even better, invite one or two other employees to join you, so the new employee has a chance to develop early connections outside of the managed/manager one.

What I haven’t figured out is just as important a thought exercise for me. Here are some areas that I continue to either stumble through, or implement new strategies on a trial and error basis with mixed results:

  1. Assisting with full assimilation into the company. How can I best help the new employee infuse their unique perspectives into how we have “always” done things?
  2. Diagnosing trouble spots and making course corrections earlier. How do I obtain truly honest feedback from new hires and get an opportunity to make refinements in their experience when and where it counts?

I will continue to noodle on these critical and lingering issues for a long time, as I’m not sure there’s a magic answer out there, but I am open to ideas.

My definition of leadership

Isn’t leadership nothing more sophisticated than being a reflection of what matters to you and what works for you?

It seems to me that those who inspire feel inspired themselves, and are only reflecting their own passion and excitement. They don’t seem to be wrapped up in trying to be a leader.

What drives us as individuals can be the cornerstone to leadership. Therefore, if you are stifled or uninspired, being a leader will not result.

This also means that we can all be leaders in our own ways. No need to strive to lead the way another does; find your passions and you will lead in your own special way.

Can do vs have done: To what bar do we hold ourselves, and does it hold us back?

“Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

This quote has really been sticking with me for a while. Maybe it’s because I have a middle management crisis on my hands, and I’m trying to diagnose issues to help resolve some bottlenecks. Did I promote the wrong people, or is there something else going on?

Issue: the women I promote to middle management really struggle with ambiguity in their new positions. As a junior person, you’re told what to do. As a manager, you direct others. But what if you haven’t directed others before? I observe paralysis from women who are uncomfortable with being promoted to a role in which they are now the ones who have to define a way forward.

I’m coming to the conclusion that many women gain confidence through experience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the only place confidence can come from, and in fact, the higher up the ladder you go, the less first-hand experience from doing the individual mouse clicks comes into play. At all levels, for junior, middle, and senior female professionals, confidence needs to come from a place of “I can do that” (i.e., skills) as much as “I have done that” (i.e., experience).

The quote above points to women not being confident in what they believe they can do vs what they have actually done. Men may define their qualifications in terms of possibilities, while many women may define their qualifications in terms of battle scars.

I would like to see many more women think in terms of possibilities, point to examples of how they used relevant skills to get something, even something unrelated, done, rather than opting out of new roles entirely until they have an example of having done a particular thing.

Another aspect of this issue is what happens after a thing is done. Failure – a word I hate! – is an unpleasant but possible/acknowledged outcome in some circles. It’s always something you try to avoid, of course, but if you fail, some are privileged to have a great support network in leadership, or a decent place to land. Many white males in white collar professions benefit from this, and as a result, bounce back from “failure”, both professionally and mentally/emotionally, better than others.

Many women are terrified of failing in general, and some of this is due to societal pressure – fear of failing at being the ideal wife (“What did I do to make him leave me?”), fear of failing at motherhood (“You should breastfeed or your baby will be sickly or not as good at math!”), and certainly fear of failing in the work place. Double standards still exist, but the root of the confidence crisis in middle management among the women I observe is that failure is unacceptable rather than just unpleasant. A lack of a safety net in terms of professional network (in leadership above her pay grade, not just peers) may cause a woman to be more cautious than her male counterparts. But more often than not, we are likely to rise up to meet the challenges, realizing our potential, not come crashing down!

We can all be a part of each other’s safety net. We will pick each up, we will give each other support, and contrary to the thought that I promoted the “wrong” people, I like to think that we will give each other opportunities, learn to see possibilities, and see each other through shifts in thinking – to be successful in the end.

 

Mentoring others: Gee, I should take some of my own great advice.

I have a very promising mid-level manager who was recently promoted and struggling with trying to oversee more initiatives at the 30,000 foot level when what she knows how to do confidently is work at the 30 foot level. Trying to get into the weeds for all of these initiatives is wearing her down, and she’s finding herself not as effective in management as she should be.

I advised that she use her knowledge of what it takes to be successful at the 30 foot level and guide staff to execute on that rather than executing on it herself. It’s a mix of telling people, “Here is what I want you to do,” and if needed, “Here is how you should approach it,” and most importantly, “Here is how we will know it worked.” She’s got the first and second things down pat. It’s the third thing she’s never done before. She never thought about measuring her successes in the weeds; her managers did that!

So how do you take someone new to management and teach them how to effectively measure the success of a project or program, and whether teams are being effective? She answered by starting where she is most comfortable – in the weeds. She said if people do X, Y, and Z (which is what she always did), we can say it’s successful. But checking off the tactical items on a list doesn’t necessarily mean success. It definitely means you’re doing work, but not necessarily being successful at it.

We eventually got to the point where she discovered starting at the client’s business objectives, and how the project or program is designed to meet those objectives, is the way to go. If she starts there, she can define a series of outcomes that she (and the client) want, and measure what the team does relative to those outcomes. If the team has really good direction from her, then she doesn’t need to be in the weeds doing the work – they can run with it, and she can measure it and make course corrections if needed.

* * * * *

That was an awesome and productive conversation with her. And I realized that in my maternity leave transition planning at work, I haven’t done enough effective management of the plan – I’ve been developing the plan from bottom up rather than top down. I am starting where I am most comfortable and familiar – my own version of being in the weeds, outlining who does what when – when I really should be starting at the client’s objectives and defining project team structure and metrics for success during my leave that will give others direction on an approach rather than dictating do’s and don’ts. Arming them with the right approach to a client’s set of service needs will help them be more flexible, responsive, and confident, and hopefully help avoid panic when a situation comes up that we couldn’t have predicted, or one that I didn’t explicitly outline.

I have great staff that are very good at taking my advice. Me – not so great at it, but I should start!