Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

The Art of Possibility: Rule Number 6

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “Kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and a n apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so god damn seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”

           “There aren’t any.”   

~ from The Sixth Practice in The Art of Possibility


I’m re-reading The Art of Possibility by Dr. Rosamund Stone Zander and Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander. The chapter, Leading from Any Chair, discusses the “silent conductor” in all of us – the importance of leading from wherever you are in life or work. We don’t need to be managers, CEOs, and senior executives in order to lead. Everyone can be a leader, regardless of age or position. We lead by helping others do their best. If we know how to perform a task, we demonstrate and explain the process to another person trying to learn it. We don’t wait for “the boss” to tell everyone how it’s done. We don’t hold back from showing someone else because we want to be better than him or her. We help them learn so we can all do our best. In this manner, we are all leading as “silent conductors” from any seat.

The art of being a “silent conductor” is to listen and watch for passion and commitment from others. In The Art of Possibility, Zander suggests the leader look in the eyes of those individuals and invite them to share. Speak to their passion. Ask yourself, “who am I being that they are not shining?” That gives you, as the leader, the opportunity to be a “silent conductor”, to ask for feedback, and pass the leadership baton.

Even children can be leadersIn The Art of Possibility, the chapter on Rule Number 6 is about humor and lightening up. Often we take ourselves too seriously. As leaders we frequently try so hard to prove our worth, to succeed against all odds, to be better than everyone else, we forget that the goal is “together we all win”, not “I win, and therefore you lose.”

Our “Calculating Self”, as Zander calls it, wants to survive in a world of scarcity. It’s the voice that tells us take actions that get us noticed, to be strong, to be right, to win at all costs. It’s the voice that drives us on, always striving for something just out of reach. We’re never satisfied.

It takes many forms: the parent who acknowledges his child’s B+ and says, “That’s good, but with a little more work, you could have gotten an A.” Or the boss who tells his people, “I expect your work to be perfect; regardless of what it takes to achieve that.” Or the educator who tells her students, “Follow the outline exactly without deviation.”

Rule Number 6 reminds us to “lighten up” and stop taking ourselves so seriously. There are many paths to success and we each have different approaches. Rarely is there only one “Right Way”. So when you find yourself falling into the trap of the “Calculating Self”, stop and ask yourself:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?”
“What new possibilities might emerge if I were to change my thinking?”

Is it the situation or the people you are with? Is it an expectation you have that others can’t live up to? What change will bring about peace of mind to you and to others? Perhaps it’s merely to interject a little humor into the situation.

Laughter is a powerful tool for dispelling tension and opening up possibilities; such as . Zander’s comment to the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra when they were practicing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The students were tired and tense, having just taken standardized tests, and were missing notes and key entrances in the music. He said, “Take it straight through the second movement, and NO MISTAKES. If you make a mistake…..a five-hundred pound cow will fall on your head.”

And that’s what The Art of Possibility is all about….seeing possibilities where none seem to exist. You can find the book on page 4 of our Strategy Book Store.

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,, 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]

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,
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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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!

“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


Texting is teaching bad grammar

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Spelling and grammar are important. Computers and texting have changed how we communicate. We’re raising a generation of people who don’t spell or use proper sentence construction and think it’s OK.

IBM Selectric typewriterRemember the IBM Selectric or the portable typewriter? Those of us who remember typewriters learned to add two spaces after every period and to hit the return key at the end of a line to prevent the typewriter from running off the right side of the page. Remember that? Or are you among the generation who is saying “what’s a typewriter?” The personal computer with its ability to wrap text onto the next line changed all that. It also changed the need to add two spaces after the period. In fact, that is now considered “old school” and incorrect, but I still see this issue cropping up.

Other punctuation errors I see all the time are highlighted in this article on the Kaye/Bassman blog (, “17 Punctuation Mistakes That Can Make You Look Really Bad.”

It’s not that I’m perfect, but in my early days I was a journalist; and then I worked at a newspaper where the written word and how it’s used is a critical form of communication. I was always a good speller and learned to proofread so errors just jump out at me.

While I love technology and all the functionality it brings, I’m bothered by the new culture I see around me. Smart phone apps and texting are creating an entire generation that has not learned the art of communication – either face-to-face or in writing. They gather together and instead of talking with one another, they text. And they’re sitting side-by-side!

Texting is a great tool. It’s a way to quickly let someone know where you are or to communicate an important or friendly message. Because it’s usually done on a phone, it lends itself to shortcuts. Consequently, an entire new alphabet has emerged for texting. But you don’t use this language in business communication…not if you want to be understood by your peers and your superiors. Yet, some of these texting words show up in papers, memos and emails and on discussion forums.

When do you use she and I or me and her?

I hear this misused all the time, especially on television. Surely the writers know the construction is wrong. You don’t say “me” went to the store. It’s “I” went to the store. Yet somehow the TV writers think it’s fine to say “me and him” or even “him and me” went to the store, when clearly it’s not proper usage. This is one of my pet peeves because television is teaching incorrect grammar.

When do you use “its” versus “it’s”, for example, or “theirs” versus “there’s”? One of the secrets I learned in high school is to convert the abbreviation to “it is”. If it still makes sense in the sentence, then the correct form is “it’s”. “Its” is possessive as in “The cat played with its toy.” You wouldn’t say “The cat played with it is toy.” On the other hand, “It’s cold outside” can also be converted to “It is cold outside” and still make sense.

Theirs and there’s are more difficult is grammar and spelling are not your forté. Theirs is plural possessive as in “the toy is theirs.” “There’s” can be converted to “there is” and if the sentence still makes sense when you say “there is”, then you can also use the conjunction “there’s” as in the Beatles song, “There’s a place”.

Texting has taught us to write in incomplete sentences in the interest of keeping our thumbs from getting too worn out from typing. I even find myself doing this sometimes when responding to emails. Short, to the point, and without the proper sentence construction. It’s okay in some circumstances, but when over-used, it can make you look uneducated.

Then there are the run-on sentences with no punctuation. I see this in many discussion forums. No capitalization no commas or periods you can’t tell where one sentence ends and the other begins and then the thoughts change completely mid-stream which makes it even harder to follow. Did you like that example?

The reality is we have about three seconds to capture someone’s attention. If you make the person work too hard to understand you, they’ll just move on to another website or blog.

Punctuation and spelling matter!

Learn the rules of proper punctuation and spell check your work. MS Word makes it easy. The software even provides a Thesaurus for alternate word choices. Anything underlined in red is considered misspelled or unknown (not in the MS Word dictionary). Anything underlined in green is considered a grammatical error which can be corrected when you run the spell check option under the Review tab. There are plenty of free spelling and grammar checking tools, and many software and browser platforms have them built in. Just remember to use them.

The key is to not sound stuffy and old school. Write the way people speak. But write in short sentences using words that anyone with an 8th grade education would understand. That’s the rule of thumb most journalists use. Only if you’re writing for a specialized industry association journal or publication would you use jargon, industry abbreviations and terminology.

Just keep your audience in mind when you write, and spell-check your work.

WD-40 Tribal Culture Creates Lasting Change

By Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International   January 28, 2014

Takeaways: How WD-40 created a tribal culture that focuses on SMART goals, living the company values, and sharing knowledge and expertise.

Book Review
Helping People Win at Work
by GaRry Ridge and Ken Blanchard,
2009 Polvera Publishing and Garry Ridge

Buy-Helping People Win at WorkThis book is a partnership between Blanchard and Ridge about leadership and management. It looks at business as a partnership between managers and staff to ensure everyone in the organization is doing their best to strive, learn, and be the best they can, all while living and acting the company’s core values. How a company gets there is the story Ridge tells of the processes he implemented at WD-40 around the philosophy of “Don’t Mark My Paper; Help Me Get an A”. The book is divided into four parts.

In Part One, Ridge describes the fundamentals of the performance review system he implemented at WD-40, which is organized around Planning and Execution and Review and Learning. Planning involves setting SMART goals and executing them according to company values. SMART stands for Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable.

In Part Two, Ridge describes the culture changes that had to occur before the performance review system could be revamped. A big part of that was to ask his people to view themselves as members of a Tribe rather than a Team. Tribal members share their knowledge and folklore with younger, newer members. That’s an important value at WD-40.

In Part Three, Ridge shares his viewpoints on leadership and motivating people and how those developed. In this area he describes his expectations of others and what they can expect of him. Servant leadership is a big part of his personal value system.

In Part Four, Blanchard shares the 12 “Simple Truths” he and his colleagues have learned over the years that are crucial to helping people succeed at their work. These include day-to-day coaching, reprimanding with candor, building trust, and accentuating the positive rather than the negative in both coaching and performance reviews.

The book is filled with great nuggets of wisdom and includes samples of the WD-40 Goal Review Form and how it is used. The company’s success is a testament to how well this system works. Headquartered in San Diego, they employ just under 400 people, market their products in 188 countries, and recorded sales of $368.5 million in fiscal year 2013. WD-40 projects to generate $383 million to $398 million for fiscal year 2014. Learn more about their values and culture here.
Buy the book.

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!

Gender Diversity – Moving Women into the C-Suite

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International     6-26-2012

Takeaways:  More men think women C-suite managers make a positive difference in a company’s financial success. Yet 80% of companies surveyed have not made gender diversity a strategic issue.

Larger companies are more likely to take action to achieve gender diversity than smaller ones – especially if it’s a top three agenda item. According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey, three key actions have a marked influence on gender diversity:

  1. The CEO visibly monitors women executives
  2. The company has skill-building programs specifically for women
  3. Senior executives are mandated to mentor junior women

Interestingly, regional differences also are evident in approaches to recruiting, retaining, promoting and developing women employees. Companies in China are more likely to use hard measures, such as gender quotas, whereas those in Asia-Pacific and North America are more likely to use flexible measures, such as flexible working conditions or mandated mentoring by senior executives.

Who thinks women matter?

According to the survey, the number of respondents who see a direct connection between diverse leadership teams and financial success, increased by 12 percent since the 2011 survey. Notably, it reflects an increase in the number of men who think women matter. And in companies where diversity is a priority, there are greater numbers of C-Suite women in the ranks.

“Globally, more than 80 percent of respondents say that since the financial crisis began, there has been no change in their companies’ view of gender diversity as a strategic issue, regardless of that view; this figure seems at odds with the rise in the past year in the share of those who believe that companies with more women leaders perform better.” ~ McKinsey Quarterly

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