Stages of Change Can Be Challenging

The only constant in life is change. And it’s so true! Every project you take on, regardless of size or scope, creates a change in the status quo. That kicks off several stages of change that result in a series of predictable emotions and behaviors.

We talk a great deal about change in our practice. Sometimes they’re easy changes, ones you look forward to, such as getting a promotion or moving into a new job at another company. But you still go through all the stages of change similar to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief – shock/loss, denial, bargaining/acceptance, sadness/depression (the hang-in point), and finally acceptance and even excitement about the new reality.

Stages of Change Have Predictable Behaviors

Think about the change of moving into a new, challenging job. You go through a sense of loss because you lose your colleagues in the department or company you’re leaving. You may experience a little denial, telling yourself it’s time to move on and you won’t miss your colleagues. You may experience sadness about the memories and friends you left behind. Then you accept the reality of the change – you’re moving on, it’s a little scary because you don’t know what to expect in the new position. You’ll be meeting new people and having to figure out how to work together. If it’s a new management position, you have the challenge of learning how to delegate and manage others. Then as you think about the challenges ahead, you begin to see the possibilities and start focusing on the new challenges you’re taking on. And finally, as you adjust to the new position and get to know your team and your colleagues, you begin to feel excitement and passion for taking on the challenges and helping the organization move forward.

Depending on your circumstances, you can go through these emotions quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, or it may take days for you to cycle through the stages of change. If the new position is something you pursued, you’ll likely move through the stages of change quickly. If it’s something that happened to you and not one you actively sought, then the adjustment could take longer – even weeks or months.

Frequently, especially when people aren’t involved in creating the change and instead are just told about it, a few will never adjust. They can move between the states of depression and anger for months or longer (the hang-in point), unless the manager is skilled at either coaching them through the emotions or invites them to find alternative employment. Sometimes, the people remove themselves to find other employment options more suited to them. Either way, the organization suffers if these individuals are allowed to remain in a state of anger or depression. They can turn a positive environment into a negative one, putting a blanket of confusion, doubt and concern on the change process.

As a leader it’s important to recognize where your people are in each of the stages of change and coach them through their emotions. Your goal is to get as many of them to the other side of the emotional roller coaster as soon as possible, and to quickly remove those who just can’t get on board.

If you need help with this process, let us know. We have many resources available to help you coach your team through the stages of change.

Fear of Failure…or Success

Rebecca Massey quit a safe, reliable job to pursue her dream of writing. She saved up money, and reduced her expenses by moving out of the city to a small place hours away from her friends. She faced her fear of failure and found new freedoms and success.

Her article struck a powerful note with me, since we’ve essentially done the same thing. In 2005 I left full time employment in a corporate job to work independently with my husband. I didn’t know what specifically I was going to do for work, but I knew I couldn’t continue in the job I had. Because Eric and I had worked jointly on consulting projects for five years during the ‘90’s, I was quite confident we could do even better. My health was suffering at my corporate job. Was it scary? You Bet!! But we survived, and in fact, we’ve done better than survive. We adjusted to sharing an office, working together on some projects and independently on others. We have found we work well together. We’re fortunate because not many couples can do this. We each follow our passions and collaborate where it makes sense.

wide open spacesIn 2010, we made further lifestyle changes, shifted priorities, and adjusted to a different routine. We left the city life of nearby shopping, freeways and paved roads, and moved to a small community in Central Arizona where people live on acres of land, grow vegetables, and raise cattle, chickens, goats, sheep and pigs. Life is slower and much more casual. The lifestyle focus is more about what you do, how you do it and how you contribute, less about what you have. With a larger property to look after, extraordinarily landscaped yards are less of a priority. Since many homes have unpaved driveways, everyone’s cars are dirty for a few days. However, just like in city living, neatness counts.

How you treat your fellow human beings is what matters. Here the focus is on service to others rather than self. Sure, you need to make enough to pay the bills and put some money away for the future. But paying bills and saving is a lot easier when your expenses are a third what they were. That leaves you time to focus on your goals without the stress of making ends meet. It also leaves you time to enjoy life, to relax, to travel, and to really enjoy old friends when you see them again.

Do we still have to fight that nemesis, Fear?

Yes. It still manages to raise its ugly head from time to time. But as I read between the lines in Massey’s article, The One Poisonous Thing That Really Prevents Success, Inc.com, not facing the challenge is worse than living with the fear. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you. Don’t listen to the messages in your head that say you’re too old to pursue this or the market is saturated, or there’s too much competition, or you have nothing new or valuable to offer.

Think about what you know, what you’ve learned that others haven’t. Think about what makes you unique. Or how you approach a problem differently from others. Or how you solve puzzles easily when others are frustrated. Or how you see the big picture and end goal down the road when others are still mired in the weeds in front of them.

If it helps, write down your fears on a sheet of paper. Then make another column beside that list and write down how you feel now (or how you would feel) having faced those fears and made some changes. Are you less stressed? Are you living life more fully? Do you find more time and energy to be creative? Do you sleep better without the aid of pills or alcohol? Are you eating better? Is your work more fulfilling?

I find I have more time to be creative, to explore my passion for both Gluten Free cooking and creating inventive meals with Eric…and to just enjoy life. We have created a work-lifestyle balance that enables us to travel and still support our clients. Our schedule is our own. That’s hard to beat!

If you’d like to explore how to take this step yourself, contact me. Jeri[at]dennergroup.com.

Digital tools modernize change management

Our line of work in creating strategic plans, coaching executives and managers through implementation, and change management in their organizations is constantly under pressure. there is an ever-present desire to find ways to simplify how it’s done, and shorten the time frame in achieving measurable results.

Business leaders resist the amount of work and time typically devoted to creating and updating strategic plans. The increasing pace of change in our business environment throws monkey wrenches into our well-laid plans. Yes, we are always seeking that silver bullet that will magically keep our plans on track, shorten the time frame to success, and basically keep everyone happy and productive.

Intuitively I know no such silver bullet exists, but in my own continual search for it, I occasionally come across a nugget, not a bullet, like this one that might actually help me and my clients.

An article from McKinsey by Boris Ewenstein, Wesley, Smith and Ashvin Sologar titled Changing Change Management, provides a compelling insight about one strategic element common to some recent successful change efforts.

Two clear challenges

The McKinsey article’s sub-title mentions two clearly visible issues or challenges for implementing change:
1) “Research tells us that most change efforts fail.”
2) “Yet change methodologies are stuck in a pre-digital era.”

The article’s main premise is that our traditional approach to change management is outdated and that using digital tools is the key to modernizing that approach. Aha! I say. While digital tools are not a new nugget for me, I did reap some new insights on the approaches to implementing those tools for more effective change management.

It has not occurred overnight but we have seen global companies that are now clear industry leaders disrupting their industries, experiencing astronomical growth and generally, success. Amazon, Uber and Facebook come to mind as examples of those who have employed digital tools to create their footprint in the world of business.

The McKinsey article mentions some of the digital tools many companies have employed and all have one thread in common. It is the result of closer, more rapid communication with their customers primarily and their other stakeholders as well. All brought about by the use of digital tools. That communication is now rich with data, tons of data, and not just junk data. Useful data that drives better, faster and more focused responses to fix problems and leverage successes.

Out with the old?

Does this mean we toss out our traditional methods and approaches for planning and executing change initiatives? I say no. We still need the training, practice, and discipline involved in the planning retreats, applying the best practices we can uncover for leading and managing people and for ensuring sustained continuous improvement in everything we do. Only now we must apply these digital tools to accomplish that faster, better and create more lasting change in our organizations.

I know I can’t tackle rewiring my home’s electrical system on my own without training in basic and advanced principles and practices. But, possibly, I can get that training faster with digital training tools. However, the practice is essential to prevent a disaster to myself or others, so a wise move would be to apprentice the work. Likewise, I know a business can’t avoid the work required to create long term plans and deliberately create the processes and systems to support the resulting change initiatives. They can only enhance the speed of achieving results and sustaining those results with the digital tools mentioned in the McKinsey article.

In our business, we are using more and more digitally-based communications with our clients, such as webinars, online courses, feedback resources, and more regular communication. We are still working on finding more effective touch points that are not intrusive. These all involve changes in practices and the culture of our business, just as it does for everyone else.

Desired State vs. Vision

Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.

The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.

Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.

I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.

That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)

Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.

Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.

With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.

rainbow handshakeWith a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”

The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”

Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.

In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.

What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?

Effective communication is key

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Excerpts from Eric Barker’s column, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Time.com
I have long believed that most problems in work and life are due to in-effective communication. What one person says and what is actually heard and interpreted by the listener are often two different things. When neither one checks to make sure the communication was properly understood, problems occur. Sometimes, they’re just small irritations. But other times, this ineffective communication can lead to major misdirection of efforts and even costly mistakes.

In his column Eric Barker provides 10 tips to ensure your communication is clear and well understood.

Simplicity
“Unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.” In other words, you need to know how they interpret certain words. They’re past experience and cultural background may change the entire meaning of what you intended.

Brevity
“Be as brief as possible… The most memorable political language is rarely longer than a sentence: I Like Ike”. Too often we drone on in an effort to be clear when all we’re doing is creating more confusion or telling someone how to do something instead of just asking to be sure they understand how to do the project.

Credibility
“The words you use become you — and you become the words you use.” Always speak the truth. People will eventually find out if you’ve been hiding information or telling only part of the story to change its tone and meaning. Be truthful and open in your communications.

Consistency
“By the time we begin to recognize and remember a particular message, it has already been changed… “The breakfast of champions” tagline for Wheaties was first launched back in 1935 and is still going today. Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” debuted in 1934.” Consistency is the key to everything. Companies that change their tag lines every year lose recall value. If it’s working, stick with the same message, otherwise you will confuse your audience and they’ll forget about you.

Novelty: offer something new
“In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea… What matters most is that the message brings a sense of discovery. Wow. I never looked at it like that!” Enough said.

Sounds and texture
“A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.” The word coined by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is a good example. It’s memorable because of the cadence: supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.

Speak aspirationally
“Personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.” Tell a personal story as an example of the message you’re trying to convey. If it’s emotional it will be more memorable. When working with clients to create a vision, we often tell the story of the janitor who was asked what he was doing. His response was, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Now that’s a vision!

Visualize
“Paint a vivid picture. The slogans we remember have a visual component, something we can almost see and feel or hear.” The prior example does just this. You can see the space ship soaring towards the moon.

Ask a question
“Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you ask that really matters.” Verizon’s Can you hear me now? is such a memorable tag line. We remember it because we ask this question almost daily when talking with someone on our mobile phones.

Context and relevance
“Give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Most of us need to understand why we’re being asked to do something. We want to know there’s a greater purpose and how we contribute to that. It’s a motivating factor, as many studies have shown.

Watch the Daniel Pink Ted Talk video on The Puzzle of Motivation for more insights about what motivates us.
Daniel Pink -  The Puzzle of Motivation

 

Innovation Comes from Collective Creativity

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovation is about unleashing the creativity at the bottom to encourage truly innovative ideas and solutions. Rethink leadership roles as those of connectors, social architects and aggregators of ideas. Act your way to the future rather than plan.

Linda Hill, Management Professor at Harvard Business School, shared a TED Talk based on her book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. Over nearly 10 years she and three colleagues observed innovative leaders up close in several countries to determine what it is that made their companies innovative. The bottom line, she said, is that we need to unlearn what we’ve been taught about leadership.

 Invert the organizational pyramid

Innovative leadership is not about creating a vision and getting your staff to implement it. It is about managing collective creativity, amplifying conflict and discourse without unleashing chaos. You have to turn the organizational structure on its head and unleash the creative genius from the bottom up.

Innovation, said Hill, is about creating a space for three capabilities:
Creative abrasion
Creative agility
Creative resolution

Creative abrasion is about having heated, constructive arguments to create a portfolio of ideas. People learn how to actively listen and also how to strongly advocate for their position. Innovation rarely occurs unless you have both diversity and conflict.

Creative agility is about continuously testing and refining your portfolio of ideas. Instead of creating a strategic plan and implementing it, you “act your way to the future” through discovery-driven learning. This includes design thinking where the focus is on running a series of experiments, not a series of pilots. Test and refine. Test and refine.

Creative resolution is decision-making that combines opposable ideas to reconfigure in new combinations that produce useful solutions. It is patient, inclusive decision-making that allows for “both/and” solutions to arise, not just “either/or”.

Innovative organizations like Google and Pixar allow talented people to play out their passions by having multiple experiments running in tandem. Teams form and re-form as needed and everyone has access to the leaders at the top.

“Leadership is the secret sauce”, she says. Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovative problem-solving. It’s about building a sense of community – a world to which people want to belong – and building those three capabilities described above.

What can we do to make sure all the small voices, the disrupters in the organization, are heard?

As Google has done under Bill Gate, you nurture the bottom up. Be the social architect that encourages discourse, differing viewpoints and multiple ideas, no matter how far-fetched. Bestow credit in as broadly as possible. Pixar, for example, includes the list of babies born during a film’s production in the credits at the end of each film.

Bill Gates encourages people to co-create with him while preventing them from degenerating into chaos. His role, according to Hill, is to be the human glue, a connector, an aggregator of viewpoints.

As innovative leaders we need to redefine our leadership role – not by title, but by function: role model, coach, nurturer. We need to hire people who argue with us, not those who agree with our viewpoints.

Instead of providing all the answers or solutions, leaders must “see the young sparks at the bottom as the source of innovation. Transfer the growth to the bottom. Unleash the power of the many by releasing the stronghold of the few,” says Hill.

If only the multi-state bank and the newspaper I worked for earlier in my career had done this. I recall my first month of training at the bank. I was sent out to a branch office to study how it operated and produce a report. One of my suggestions was to increase the salary of the tellers since they were the first line of contact with the customers and they frequently were responsible for million dollar cash drawers. Yet they received the lowest salaries and had no voice in the way the branch should work with customers.

At the newspaper, I frequently offered ideas which were squashed because that “wasn’t the way we do things around here”, or they jeopardized the power of the few. Never mind that the old ways weren’t working any more. I tried to implement innovative leadership techniques among my own small staff, but that was hard to do when no other departments, let alone other managers in my department, were doing anything similar.

What a breath of fresh air to hear Linda Hill talk about how really innovative companies turn the pyramid on its head! Give your staff at the bottom the opportunity to rethink their jobs, to offer solutions to everyday problems they face, and as Hill says, “create the space where everyone’s slices of genius can be unleashed and turned into collective genius”.

Watch the TED Talk. Buy her book. Change your thinking about leadership.

Idea Killers Squash Brainstorming Enthusiasm

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Idea killers are people who can dampen or destroy the enthusiasm in a brainstorming session. How you deal with them is critical to turning an unproductive session into a productive one, despite these participants.

SmartStormingWe’ve all experienced it. You’re in a meeting with your colleagues and the boss asks for ideas to solve a particular problem. As people begin to offer them, one person present puts a damper on every idea contributed. It may even be the boss.

In their book SmartStorming, co-authors Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer talk about brainstorming as a collaborative process that often generates interesting ideas and results. Unfortunately, amongst the participants frequently you’ll find a few idea killers who can turn the process into a less than pleasant experience. Here are a few offenders the authors list in their book. See if you can identify any of them in your organization.

Attention vampires. These people always have to be the center of attention. They push their ideas forward and tend to dominant the conversation, often putting a damper on the brainstorming process.

Dictators. Every idea is great as long as it’s theirs. This reminds me of the commercial where the boss says, “There are three ways to do this: My way! My way! and My way!”

Idea Assassins. These people love to shoot down ideas. They always see everything wrong about any new concept. Rather than looking at the positives, they are first to point out all the possible negatives and flaws.

Obstructionists. They over-complicate everything, bringing up unrelated information that seems related but really isn’t, derailing the flow of ideas. They tend to over-think everything.

Social loafers. These people show up but don’t participate, appearing bored or aloof, letting everyone else generate the ideas.

Wet blankets. These are the pessimists who instantly shut down the enthusiasm of the session. Even though the majority of their comments aren’t viable, they succeed in turning a positive mood into a depressing one.

On their website,SmartStorming, the authors offer a variety of programs to help trainers learn methodology to conduct effective brainstorming sessions. These include a variety of tools to strengthen problem-solving activities. What are some of the ways you deal with these idea killers when you encounter them? Let us know by commenting on my LinkedIn post. Or fill out the contact form and let us know directly.

5 Myths of Happiness Debunked – by Oliver Burkeman

By Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International, November 11, 2013

Takeaways: Happiness comes from knowing yourself, creating balance in your life, and being true to who you are. Avoiding negative thinking, trying to be positive all the time, and constantly pursuing ambitious goals at the expense of everything and everyone else can cause stress.

An article in the November issue of Fast Company by Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, triggered some thoughts.  In his article, Burkeman debunks the 5 myths of happiness:

  1. The importance of maintaining a positive mindset
  2. Relentlessly pursuing ambitious goals as the key to success
  3. The best managers make work fun
  4. Higher self-esteem equals greater happiness
  5. Pessimist should be avoided at all costs

Let’s look at these individually.

  1. Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial to happiness– or so the self-help books and gurus tell us. However, according to Burkeman, this isn’t our true reality. The mind wanders in many directions and trying to constantly channel it into only positive thoughts creates stress. Burkeman cites the example of someone who has suffered loss. Trying not to feel the grief, anger and pain only delays the healing process. Those of us who practice change management know that whenever any change occurs, you have to go through all the different levels of emotion from anger and denial to acceptance and finally hope and re-adjustment in order to heal and accept the change. Trying not to go through those stages, only delays the healing process. So maintaining a positive outlook, or telling someone to focus on the positive aspects of the loss or change and deny one’s feelings of anger, pain and betrayal, is not a healthy way to help someone through the loss that the change created.

  2. Relentlessly pursuing ambitious goals. We’re told that setting ambitious goals and keeping them at the forefront of our minds and work will help us succeed in life and work. While this is true, we also need to have “balance” in our lives. Pursuing those goals to the detriment of all else may help you achieve them – but at what cost to family, friends, and your health? Thus, pursuing ambitious goals without maintaining a healthy balance of family relationships, spiritual involvement, and health will not create happiness.

  3. The best managers make work fun. Well, we’ve probably all known someone who always was upbeat and energetic in their daily work. At some point you stop and ask “will the real (add name here) please stand up?!?” It’s impossible for someone to be “on” all the time with no downtime. It’s not natural to never be mad or unhappy.  And it actually drains energy from the rest of the staff who feel they have to reciprocate with a “fun” attitude even when they don’t feel it. According to Burkeman, a recent study by ScienceNordic indicates that people appreciate fairness over any other factor.

  4. Higher self-esteem leads to greater happiness. Holding yourself to a certain performance level creates a huge amount of stress – once you’ve achieved that the only option is to continue at that level or do better. Anything less is unacceptable. This doesn’t lead to happiness but rather creates everyday stress because you can never be satisfied with incremental small accomplishments, especially if they don’t measure up to the one “big” monumental accomplishment you think you should be achieving. Where is the happiness factor in that? According to Burkeman, if you have this attitude, then “your everyday failures — the things that go wrong for everyone, every so often–become far more consequential”.

  5. Avoid pessimists at all costs. Ok, I’ve been guilty of this one by trying to avoid the news (always negative) and people who constantly harp on all the bad things happening in their lives. The only way to do this is to live in a private cocoon or bubble, never interacting with others. And that’s not healthy nor does it build happiness.  In reality, looking at the potential downside is also healthy. As Burkeman says in his article, “Instead of asking how likely some venture is to succeed, ask whether you could tolerate the consequences if it failed. That way, you’ll take the interestingly risky steps while avoiding the stupidly risky ones.” That’s a healthy way to deal with negative outcomes. Another is the way W-40 approaches failure – by looking at them as learning moments and not failures. No one is to blame and everyone learns from the experience.

The moral to this story is that the key to happiness is multi-focused: understanding yourself and what gets your juices flowing; giving yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them; knowing your strengths and accepting your own limitations; striving to live a balanced life; pursuing goals that make you stretch, and accepting that they may not be achieved exactly as you imagined them – and that’s ok. If you can do these, then you have a better chance of living a happy, fulfilled life no matter what your circumstances.

Mentors and Life Coaches Help You Succeed

Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International – 6/2013

Takeaways: What are the roles of mentors and life coaches? How to and why you should recruit them. How to ensure a healthy relationship with them. How to define what comes next.

Most of us are familiar with the word mentor, but have we really stopped to think about what a mentor should do, how a mentor should act, how a mentee (more properly a “protégé”) should act, and how a mentor and protégé should become a team and conduct themselves? Most likely not. Acting as a mentor is often taken too lightly. For example, a new employee is assigned a more senior employee as a mentor to “show him/her the ropes”. This is really more like training and not mentoring. A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide, while also being a tutor and coach.

That word “trusted” is key to the role. Trust, of course, is always earned, not given nor taken. A mentor must earn the trust of the protégé and that trust includes having a high level of ethics regarding the confidentiality of the relationship. It is becoming more common for adults in business to work with mentors who are from both inside and outside the business to help an individual improve and maintain the highest level possible of performance in his or her work. It is also becoming more acceptable for senior executives to openly admit to having one or more mentors, which not long ago was considered a negative stigma, a sign of weakness. The truth is that in our increasingly complex world, none of us is capable of doing everything perfectly or even with a high degree of proficiency, so we really do need some help along the way. And often that help needs to be of the highest caliber, and just as often, not from just one person. The confidential aspect of the relationship permits the protégé to really be candid in the sort of help he/she needs. The mentor needs to be sensitive to the protégé’s emotional needs but not to the point of being a therapist. There is a separate discipline for that and the mentor must have the capability of knowing where to draw the line, and be deliberate and clear about doing so.

Examples of mentors or coaches in a business or personal life environment can be found in numerous books written by well recognized business leaders around the world. In some cases they pay individuals to be in those roles. In other cases, the mentor/coach is someone within their company, and in other cases, the mentor or coach is simply a friend. One key trait among the best mentors and coaches is that they are diligent in ensuring they have no stake in the outcomes the protégé is seeking. This allows the mentor/coach to be highly objective in facilitating the protégé’s actions and decisions as a third party only interested in their protégé’s success.

The Role of a Life Coach

Jack CanfieldThe role of mentor has taken on a new name in certain circles. Now we hear life coach and executive coach as commonly used terms to describe a mentor whose role is to “coach” an individual in a manner that encompasses both personal life goals and personal work goals. To quote Jack Canfield, widely read co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and respected motivational speaker on personal fulfillment: “Of all the things successful people do to accelerate their trip down the path to success, participating in some kind of coaching program is at the top of the list”.

So, do you have a mentor or coach that you regularly check in with to help you overcome big challenges and keep you on track with your longer term objectives? Someone in whom you can comfortably confide and who has the acumen and guts to ask you, and help you ask yourself, those really tough questions? Like, “If you are not really happy with your job, what are you prepared to do to get your ideal job?”, and then help you work through the issues? This is what a mentor or life coach can do for you.

So now we might ask, “That sounds good but what if I don’t know anyone who can do this?” “How do I find such a person or persons?”

Most of us likely have people in our lives whom we have known and who have known us for many years. Sometimes they are friends, parents, or extended family like aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents; people for whom we have a lot of respect. That’s one place to start. There are also professionals who are devoted to exactly this kind of work. Being professionals, they expect to be compensated for their work, so we must ask ourselves if we will really reap benefits from such a relationship, and what the value of it is to us. Not necessarily in dollars, because we don’t make any money from getting health advice from our doctor – so this is similar. I suggest looking at this relationship as having a private teacher with you just about any time you need one.

Finding and recruiting a mentor or life coach should entail the same level of diligence as looking for a medical specialist. This is someone with whom you will be sharing some highly confidential things about your life and work, and you will be seeking really insightful advice. Therefore, the best mentors and life coaches have some experience in those roles and a ton of life experience in general. So yes, age matters. With it comes both knowledge and wisdom, both of which we, as protégé’s, must rely on. A solid and broad education is a major plus in a mentor or coach as is some measure of success in their chosen fields of endeavor.

Five Key Behaviors

Regardless of whether or not you have a hired mentor/coach or someone who will support you in this manner for free, here are some behaviors to consider.
1)    Don’t abuse the relationship by whining and complaining about what is not working, ask for help on real issues and be as clear as possible about the outcomes you are seeking.
2)    Be respectful of your mentor’s time, be brief and to the point.
3)    Have a plan or agenda for each meeting and write down some notes or minutes about the next steps for you or the mentor, and agree to deadlines. If your mentor suggests actions for you to take, agree what you will follow through on and then report back on the results.
4)    Use the easiest communication methods for both of you, whether it’s email, text, snail mail or phone calls.
5)    Both of you be mindful of the confidentiality issue and agree to boundaries.

These are some tips that will help establish and sustain a really healthy relationship between you and your mentor/coach.

As with most things in life, it is also important to consider what comes next. Many mentor-protégé relationships last for many years and even for life. A mentor or coach is usually very interested in the long-term success of his/her protégé, so you can generally count on them being on board with you for the long term. If you keep challenging yourself and have exciting results, chances are good your mentor will be along for the whole ride. You may have other specialized mentors from time to time. I have two mentors, not family members, both are friends. One I have paid and has also helped me for free, the other helps me for free, but that could change. The experience of working with them has helped me deal with some tough life challenges and to learn how to be a good coach myself. I have one long-term client whom I coach on life issues and global business challenges, so I see results both as a coach and as a protégé.

I firmly believe that everyone deserves to give themselves the opportunity to explore working with a mentor or life coach from as early in their life as possible. It takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to work with a coach. A mentor/coach can be tough and critical but we need to remember that it comes from a deep and true sense of being there to help us. We need to be open to seriously exploring other people’s thoughts and ideas and not be dismissive of them.

I encourage you to take a journey to become the best that you can be with the support of a mentor or coach of your choice. I guarantee you won’t regret it, and you’ll ask yourself what you might have accomplished if you had done this sooner in your life.

Mentoring Can Be Rewarding

Did you know there is a non-profit organization, National Mentoring Month (NMM), dedicated to promoting mentoring? President Obama, Maya Angelou, former President Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Senator John McCain, Quincy Jones, General Colin L. Powell, Cal Ripken, Jr., Bill Russell and Usher are just a few prominent people who have participated in NMM’s campaign to build awarenes around this concept.

What are the responsibilities of a mentor? How do you find a mentor if you don’t have one? How do you become a mentor? These are some of the questions you may consider about being a mentor or finding one within your organization.

Why should you do this?

If you work in a large organization, having a mentor a few levels above you in the hierarchy can help you in your career path. A mentor can act as a sounding board for new ideas. He/she can help steer you in the right direction as changes occur within the organization, help to ensure you make the right decisions and even help to mitigate some of your unintended gaffs.

On the other hand, if you’re a middle manager or an executive, mentoring someone below you helps to train the next generation of managers and executives. As a role model and leader in the organization, you ensure that those coming up behind you have the qualities, expertise and sensibilities required to succeed and keep the organization on a growth or sustainable path.

If you’re an entrepreneur or a small business owner, you may choose to mentor someone outside your organization. While it requires additional time commitment on your part, the rewards are great. You know you’re doing something important to help make a difference in another person’s life.

Measuring Mentoring satisfaction

How do you measure that satisfaction? One way is through the responses you get from those you mentor. Another way is by monitoring your mentee’s progress in overcoming work and life challenges. 

There are many ways you can choose to be a mentor, for example:
•    In your community,
•    through one of the schools your children attend,
•    through your church or other faith-based organization,
•    through online communities and social and mobile media
•    through a local mentoring organization (here’s a list for your area in the US)

In today’s mobile world, online communities are also a powerful way to mentor others from a distance. Sending text messages to your special mentee and posting on their Facebook wall can help to brighten their day.

Become a mentor and do your part to help the next generation become the best they can!