Tag Archives: Mentoring

When the Grasshopper Teaches the Master

Little Man Business cut out 72dpi-resized-201.jpgThere is a lot to be said for learning from younger people. While we veterans can teach the invaluable lessons of the past, they can teach us the path to the future. And that is worth paying attention to.

For instance, people of my generation often grapple with the wonders of technology with varying degrees of success. Some of us are totally immersed and intrigued by what can be accomplished in a wireless world, (including all the cool toys that come along with it). Others of us are hard pressed to know how to turn on our computers, if indeed we even own one. But, no matter where we are on the technology learning curve, the one thing we know for sure is that to learn it, we have to consult those who have the skill and it’s highly doubtful that we will find this expertise in people older than ourselves.

That’s why I like the idea of mentorships in organizations working both ways.

It should be pretty simple really.

Take Young Person A, who knows about something and put him or her together with Older Person B who doesn’t know much at all about that particular something. Then let the learning begin.

All right, so it’s not that simple.

People of the older generation… well, we have our pride. We like the idea of mentoring someone younger because it seems to us to flow with the accepted order of things… you know, the Master and Grasshopper type of relationship. However, when it is the Grasshopper doing the teaching, it can make us feel somehow redundant, even stupid and that’s not something one willingly puts a hand up for.

Alternately, people of a younger generation may not see the benefits of slowing down to help us older ones learn things that are, to them, elementary my dear Watson. They may also feel they are carrying a load for someone who might even make more money than they do and from whom they see no reciprocal reward. There’s not much fun in that either.

So to begin with, I think that a successful Young master/Old Grasshopper relationship needs to begin with an attitude check on both sides.

And you spell that R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Of course along with that has to come a certain measure of empathy that allows the older to appreciate the skills and knowledge of the younger; and the younger to give credence to the lessons that only an older generation can teach.

With that established, I can think of a few practical steps that might help the Young Master/ Old Grasshopper set off on the road to building a mutually rewarding relationship. Here they are:

Determine a skill base line

There is nothing more counterproductive, or annoying, than making assumptions about what a person knows or does not know. Spending a little time determining current skill levels within the context of the subject matter is a good use of time.

Take time to set some goals

Technology, for instance, encompasses a huge body of knowledge. To make some headway and avoid being overwhelmed, discuss what you want to be able to do and how it might benefit your work before you start tackling applications that may, or may not, move you in the right direction. Goals will also give you benchmarks against which you can monitor progress. There is something very satisfying about that for both parties in the relationship.

Establish good communication habits

For the most part this means speaking plainly; being truthful; and regularly checking for understanding.

Have Fun

Working with someone to learn something new and seeing that new thing being applied in real time is exciting! Enjoy the journey and the person with whom you are taking it and my hunch is, you will both profit from the experience.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

* Note: originally posted in January 2010

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning

Another Kind of Leadership ~ Lessons from Barbara Ann Scott

I think it safe to say that when we contemplate great leadership, in general, our thoughts tend to drift toward industry and government leaders, people who speak eloquently, act boldly and inspire in a larger-than-life kind of way.

More and more though, I also think that many of us are expanding our vision of what it is to be a leader, to include people who, on first thought, might not fit into that traditional view.

I think Barbara Ann Scott was one such leader.  Ms Scott recently died at the age of 84 leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment and a gentle reminder that being nice does not preclude us from doing great things and inspiring others to do the same.

She was born in Ottawa in 1928 and from the age of seven, trained to be a world-class figure skater.  It is said that she gave up many of the pursuits of a typical young girl to pursue her dream.  And, in 1948 was rewarded for her focus and hard work when she earned a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. It was also in that year that a proud and admiring country bestowed upon her the title “Canada’s Sweetheart”.

Barbara Ann Scott stopped skating professionally after her marriage in 1955 and went to live in the United States.  But she never forgot her roots, making many trips back to the skating club in Ottawa that had trained her so many years before.

Skate Canada President, Benoit Lavoie is quoted as saying, “Every time she attended our events, she inspired our skaters and encouraged them to pursue their dreams”

If you were to listen to her speak, Barbara Ann Scott would not strike you as a particular force to be reckoned with.  Her voice was soft, almost childlike, but based on her accomplishments, her resolve carried with it the strength and maturity that some twice her size and three times as loud would be hard pressed to match.

As leaders, here are a few things I think we might draw from Ms Scott’s example:

Boldness comes in many forms ~ I have been guilty of equating boldness with aggression but more recently am learning that leaders can be very bold when it comes to giving voice to their values, goals, and purpose without having to shout. Leaders like Barbara Ann Scott boldly do and then let their actions speak for them.

Adaptability and focus are essential tools of leadership, no matter what the undertaking ~ In 1948, the Olympic skating rink was outdoors.   This meant that the chances of the ice surface being ideal were not that good.   When it came time for Barbara Ann to deliver her performance, some rough patches were noted on the ice that challenged her ability to skate the program she had rehearsed.  So, at the last minute, and without fanfare, she changed the program to accommodate the conditions.

It’s quite possible to lead and be nice at the same time~ Barbara Ann Scott accomplished many things in her life.  She and her husband raised show horses. She made television commercials, authored two books and even ran a beauty salon.  No matter what her prevailing passion, she was well known for being accessible to others, freely giving her time and energy so they might feel encouraged to keep going after whatever it was that inspired them.

Humility really is a big deal ~ While Barbara Ann was highly lauded and well regarded, each time she made an appearance, she never failed to express her gratitude for the opportunities presented to her and doubtless never left a room without inspiring someone to be just like her.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

2 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Style, motivating & Inspiring

Guiding Rookies ~ Three Steps To Doing It Well

As the new leaves of spring start to unfurl and all that buds begins to blossom, I’m reminded of what it is to be new and fresh…. and green… as a rookie in the workplace.

On the one hand as rookies, we come to our new situations with a certain wide-eyed anticipation, enthusiasm and excitement that, if bottled, could provide the elixir of hope to many a world-weary veteran.  On the other hand, if we are to maintain our enthusiasm, stand tall and grow, we need some help along the way.

Recently, we held an election in this country.  For one party, the results were quite surprising with whole communities voting out the Tried and True, (or otherwise, depending on your perspective), and voting in a number of very inexperienced people who will now represent them in parliament over the next four years.

Among this very green group are:  a horticulturist (pardon the pun), a jewelry maker, a number of university students (one of whom is only nineteen years old) and a young woman who was, prior to being elected, an assistant manager in a university campus pub. Go figure.

Given their disparate occupations and limited exposure to the real world of politics, it occurs to me that these folks will need plenty of help along the way.  And, the usual orientation program that tends to stop when the rules and policies have been conveyed (and the path to the washroom and other facilities clarified) is not going to cut it.

So what will?

How might this leader ensure that a gardener, jewelry maker, student and publican have the best chance of becoming  functional, contributing, and successful in their newly elected roles?

Well, not being a parliamentarian or even a politician for that matter, I may be unqualified to comment. But, what the heck, I’ll give it shot and see what happens.  After all, it can’t be that much different from introducing new employees into other kinds of organizations can it?

In fact, there are three steps that come to mind for me and here they are:

Step #I ~ Help Them Connect…

  • To the Organizational Purpose: People new to any organization will feel a greater sense of belonging when they understand and believe in its purpose.   Understanding purpose goes much deeper than the vision statement hanging the wall that no one seems to be able to remember.  It strives to include people and help them see themselves as part of its fulfillment.
  • To the Values on which the organization is built: Values provide the boundaries within which people in the organization may make decisions; take considered risks; and build strong relationships both inside and outside the firm.  Boundaries constructed of values serve as the organizational conscience.
  • To Internal and External Networks:  Give new recruits exposure to those who are more established and experienced; people who can help them create and build their own reputation and enhance their ability to serve their constituents.

Step #II ~ Help Them Learn…

  • Through Skill Building:  This starts with the work of determining and acknowledging what each person brings to the new job in the way of transferrable skills; identifying what they need; and making specific plans for both maximizing on existing skill and building new skill.
  • Through Mentoring: Help each of them find someone else in the organization to whom they can go for informal and confidential advice and guidance; a person with experience and knowledge; and one who is open to sharing it.
  • Through Coaching & Monitoring:  Get to know them well enough to be able to see what they are capable of (even when they don’t see it). Encourage them. Champion them.  Ask for more.  Hold them accountable for delivering on the promises they make to themselves and others.  And, monitor their progress against the goals you have set together.

Step #III ~ Help Them Flourish

  • By knowing when to let go:  There just comes a time when the period of orientation ends; the mechanisms for building solid relationships and monitoring performance are in place and the cluster of new buds are ready to blossom.  To do this well, they need air.  Trust that you have done your job well and give them space to prove you right.
  • By Using Mistakes as learning opportunities not weapons:  People, whether seasoned Veterans or Newbies, do not respond well in environments of blame.  Failure happens.  You can make it useful by keeping blame out of the equation.

Of course when it comes to being a new Member of Parliament, I expect there is a whole raft of procedure and protocol that these newly minted MPs will have to learn.  But, the steps I’ve outlined above seem, (to me anyway), to fit, no matter where they might be applied, in government or in a small business, because in the end, it’s about understanding human nature and building support mechanisms that work for people.  What do you think?  What have I left out?

7 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Establishing Direction, Leadership, Leadership Values, Leading Change, mentoring, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Mentorships…. and Mary

This post was published last year as a guest entry on Tanveer Naseer’s excellent blog. While you may have read it there, on the off chance you didn’t, here it is.  Hope you enjoy it.

“Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other nine hundred and ninety nine follow women.”

Groucho Marx

I bumped into this quote while surfing the Internet and just kept it for a while feeling that there might be something I needed to say about it.  In the end, I guess I just found it amusing in a wry sort of way.  And it reminded me of Mary.

Mary was my first HR boss.  Before working with her, I was a clerk, an efficient yet uninspired one.

Mary was looking for a Personnel Assistant at the time and having rifled through the roster of internal candidates that might fit her bill, she chose me.

Initially, I was very flattered until I learned Mary’s selection criteria.  It was less than scientific.  Specifically, Mary gave me the job because I could type; I was presentable; and I hadn’t ticked anyone off…yet.

Nonetheless, it was a step up for me into an area where I felt an affinity, so despite the questionable selection standards, I was happy to be there.  And, as it turned out, Mary was to be more than a boss to me.  She was a mentor who taught me something about surviving in a male-dominated, traditional organization.

Her mentorship was less about what she said and more about what she did. And, not all she did was good.

Mary had a wicked temper and while she was the sole of restraint when dealing with me, with her colleagues she tended to be less disciplined once being overheard to tell one of her male counterparts “Oh, go pee in your hat and pull it down over your ears!”

Mentorships are not meant to be about perfect relationships.  At least I don’t think so.  What they are about is having someone to learn with and learn from, even if it’s from mistakes one or the other might make.  Yes, one person in the relationship generally has more experience but in the long run, it’s more about having a place to go where empathy lives and judgment doesn’t.

Mary was my sounding board.  Through her example, I learned that always looking my best was not just a nice to do. I learned to stand up for myself. I learned the importance of controlling my emotions and the negative impact on me, and others, when I don’t.

Whenever I think about Mary now, I also think about some of the ways in which she shaped me, as a professional and as a human being.  And that’s a big deal.

What do mentorships mean to you?

How would you encourage mentorships in your organization?

Who do you think of when you hear the word Mentor?

What influence did this person have on your life?


12 Comments

Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, mentoring

When the Grasshopper Teaches the Master

My son has been helping me learn more about Social Media.  He is the one who turned me on to the joys of blogging.  He helped me get started on Twitter too.   As a person with a degree in New Media, he is almost evangelical about the advantages and benefits of social networking. It is the way of the future, he says.  I believe him.  And, I know there is so much more that he can teach me.

Thinking about this more, and in the context of leading organizations, there is a lot to be said for learning from younger people. While we veterans can teach the invaluable lessons of the past, they can teach us the path to the future.  And that is worth paying attention to.

For instance, people of my generation are grappling with the wonders of technology with varying degrees of success.  Some of us are totally immersed and intrigued by what can be accomplished in a wireless world, (including all the cool toys that come along with it). On the other hand, others of us are hard pressed to know how to turn on our computers, if indeed we even own a computer.   But, no matter where we are on the technology learning curve, the one thing we know for sure is that if we are going to learn it well, we have to consult those who have the skill.  And it’s highly doubtful that we will find this expertise in people older than ourselves.

That’s why I like the idea of mentorships in organizations working both ways.   Some people refer to the younger mentor/older mentee relationship as reverse mentorship. I am not so keen on that label because to me it suggests there is something backward about it although I have yet to come up with a better term for it.  I’ll give that some more thought.

It should be pretty simple really.

Take young Person A, who knows something about something and put him, or her, together with older (okay, old then) Person B who doesn’t know much at all about that particular something and then let the learning begin.

All right, so it’s not that simple

People of the older generation… well, we have our pride.  We like the idea of mentoring someone younger because it seems to us to flow with the accepted order of things…  you know, the Master and Grasshopper type of relationship.   However, when it is the Grasshopper doing the teaching, it can make us feel somehow redundant, even stupid and that’s not something one willingly puts a hand up for.

Alternately, people of a younger generation may not see the benefits of slowing down to help us older ones learn things that are, to them, elementary my dear Watson. They may also feel they are carrying a load for someone who might even make more money than they do and from whom they see no reciprocal reward.  When you look at it that way, there’s not much fun in that either.

So to begin with, I think that a successful Young master/Old Grasshopper relationship needs to begin with an attitude check on both sides.

And you spell that R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Of course along with that has to come a certain measure of empathy that allows the older to appreciate the skills and knowledge of the younger; and the younger to give   credence to the lessons that only an older generation can teach.

With that established, I can think of a few practical steps that might help the Young Master/ Old Grasshopper set off on the road to building a mutually rewarding relationship.  Here they are:

Determine a skill base line

There is nothing more counterproductive, or annoying, than making assumptions about what a person knows or does not know.  Spending a little time determining current skill levels within the context of the subject matter is a good use of time.

Take time to set some goals

Technology, for instance, encompasses a huge body of knowledge.  To make some headway and avoid being overwhelmed, discuss what you want to be able to do and how it might benefit your work before you start tackling applications that may, or may not, move you in an optimally beneficial direction.  Goals will also give you benchmarks against which you can monitor progress.  There is something very satisfying about that for both parties in the mentorship.

Establish good communication habits

For the most part this means speaking plainly; being truthful; and regularly checking for understanding.

Have Fun

Working with someone to learn something new and seeing that new thing being applied in real time is exciting!  Enjoy the journey and the person with whom you are taking it and my hunch is, you will both profit from the experience.

Oh and by the way, what was the last thing you learned from a younger person?

14 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, motivating & Inspiring