August 21, 2014
Mentorship is an opportunity to build relationships and give gifts. Mentoring up, to those above you in rank or stature, may be one of your best career boosters. Really. This post will show you how to do it without getting shot for the message.
There's a common misconception in our business culture that mentorship is a top-down activity. In The Hero's Journey, the mentor is often case as the Wise Old Man or the Wise Old Woman. Think Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Miyagi in The Karate Kid. In this theory, one must have achieved success to pass on wisdom to the young or the new.
If you actually research the origins of the mentor, however, you'll find a different story. According to the fabulous writer's tool The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, "the name 'Mentor', along with our word 'mental', stems from the Greek word for mind, 'menos', a marvelously flexible word that can mean intention, force or purpose. Menos also means courage."
He illustrates why courage can be required to mentor: "Many of the Greek heroes were mentored by the centaur Chiron, a prototype for all Wise Old Men and Women. A strange mix of man and horse, Chiron was foster-father and trainer to a whole army of Greek heroes including Hercules, Actaeon, Achilles, Peleus and Aesculapius, the greatest surgeon of antiquity. In the person of Chiron, the Greeks stored many of their notions about what it means to be a Mentor. Chiron was not always well rewarded for his efforts. His violence prone pupil Hercules wounded him with a magic arrow which made Chiron beg the gods for the mercy of death."
Here's the idea: When you mentor others, you are a provider of knowledge to assist them in their journey. Regardless of their seniority, you do this because they need the help and no one knows everything. This is especially true when times are filled with disruptive changes.
In my experience, mentoring up has been a tool to build powerful relationships and a source of inspiration for my continual learning. When I worked at broadcast.com (1997-1999) and Yahoo (1999-2005), the Information Age was just taking hold. I poured myself into books and trade publications that gave me insights on topics such as eCommerce, permission marketing, digital technology and new media. I became wise beyond my experience in years.
When I had opportunities to sit with legacy leaders such as Howard Stringer at Sony or Jim Keys at 7-11 or Mike Rawlings at Pizza Hut, I mentored them on the new world of Internet enabled business. I shared insights from books, case studies from trade journals as well as my perspective on "how the new world would work."
At first, much like Hercules, some of them pushed back hard. One leader wrapped up our conversation within five minutes and reacted dismissively to my suggestions. I apologized via an email and sent him a book that underscored the point I was making about the disruptive nature of eCommerce. I included my cliff notes from the book. Within a month, he invited me back and included his VP staff in the meeting. Eventually we did millions of dollars of business together.
I've also had the audacity to mentor my managers and even executives a few clicks above me. By mentorship, I mean that I shared information and perspectives that I felt would assist someone in solving a problem or gaining a strategic insight. Usually, it was a single point or observation, backed up by experts or statistics. I knew that because I was mentoring up, I couldn't just make an assertion based on my experience. Only the Wise Old Tim could get away with that. It led to strengthened relationships and in one case, a champion who enabled me to become the Chief Solutions Officer of Yahoo!.
Today, you have a unique opportunity to mentor up. It might be to your customers, prospects or your bosses or executives. The world is changing fast. Digital/Cloud/Mobile/Social/Global forces disrupt business in a compressed period of time. Whether or not your superiors (I use that term loosely) know they need it, information if required for their continued success.
Or as George Clooney's character in Our Brother Where Art Thou often said, "When times are tough, people are looking for answers."
Here's how to mentor up without getting hurt:
* Gather knowledge. Lots of it. Become a knowledge pack rat. If you tell someone something they already know, it's not mentorship. If you fully commit to this, others will sense it as you share with them and be more receptive.
* Seek first to understand, then to be understood: This nugget of wisdom from Dr. Stephen Covey applies here. You need to listen to your superiors to understand what they already know, what they fear and then what they need to know. If you jump in too quickly, you may offend or worse, miss the mark completely. When mentoring up, you likely have one chance to impress.
* Make sure you are helping a benevolent hero. I've always looked for superiors that I respected and trusted to be the-bigger-person in any conversation. Every time I mentored up, I really wanted those legacy leaders to succeed and admired their past accomplishments. If I sensed they were mean spirited or overly defensive, I kept my trap shut. Remember Hercules.
* Be respectful and follow up with proof. No one is ignorant or stupid just because he or she isn't yet calibrated to the times. There is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. While he may not know how to use social media or why digitization is a threat to the core business, he can likely run circles around you in areas like finance, strategy or operations.
I'm aware of the concept of reverse mentoring, where a senior leader asks for help. But this is a different concept all together, because it's the junior leader that takes the initiative. And that's why it's so much more impactful.
If you follow these simple rules, you'll enable yourself to become closer to leaders that will help you on your journey too. My mentorship efforts to Stanley Marcus Jr. in the area of eCommerce led to him sharing insights with me about Customer Relationship Management and Talent Experience Design. As he told me in our last lunch meeting, "You'll never get dumber by making others smarter."Tweet
August 07, 2014
Your work culture is a conversation, led by leaders or troublemakers, about how things are done around here. If the leader isn't driving the conversation forward, troublemakers can move it sideways or backwards. Troublemakers include the naysayers, doomsdayers and taker-types.
Much of our work life is spent in conversations with others. When these conversations move forward, we make progress. When they go sideways, confusion reigns. When they slide backward, conflict and negative emotions ensue.
“Conversation is a game of circles,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. In other words, a conversation is useful but often is complicated by each player’s agenda. And yet, through this highly interactive process, we shape our attitudes and beliefs. That's why it's important for leaders to take charge of the conversation.
Too many conversations at work are moving everyone in the wrong direction. They can be historical, bringing up old-and-outdated subjects. This leads to a collective hangover, where we can't shake off the weight of our past failures or the phantom menace of a long faded competitor. There are conversations which exchange gossip information, usually about people. Gossip is the fast-food of workplace conversation and often reduces its participants to base level thinking.
The most paralyzing conversations are led by the Chicken Littles, who drum up fear through declarations that "the sky is falling." They have the blogosphere and big media as their stronghold, and often punch much bigger than their weight. All of these conversations must be led by leaders to a better place.
One way that leaders can change the conversation is to directly challenge the historian, gossip or Chicken Little. One manager who attended one of my talks took this to heart. "When I spot a Chicken Little spinning up his coworkers unnecessarily, I ask him where he's coming from: Fear or confidence. I use the experience to coach him on the difference between constructive information and fear-mongering."
A second approach is to divert the conversation forward. One way to do that is to reframe the bad news as an instant brain-storm about what each conversational participant can do about it. Focus on the solution, not the problem. You can introduce a connected issue that leads to a discussion about a current project that everyone can contribute to. You could simply introduce a progressive subject and drive the conversation towards it and away from the previously bad one. While this requires finesse, great leaders have the strength to drive the conversation forward. Each. And. Every. Time.
Ignoring a sideways conversation is not an option. Like a sore, they fester without your attention and often bubble up as a collective malaise. Your job is to find the balance between empathy at a personal level and leadership at a conversational level.
This comes from Principle Two from Today We Are Rich: Move the Conversation Forward.Tweet
June 24, 2014
Most people I know sabotage their career by being to efficient with their time. They fill up their daily schedule with meetings and phone calls, thinking that they are being highly productive. The result is a week of conversations, with little time left to "work on work."
A recent IBM survey of over 1000 CEO's found that creativity was the top skill required for leadership success. This makes sense, as innovation is the prescription for dealing with a highly disruptive business environment. Technology, media, globalization all come together to put creative demands on leaders and manager everywhere.
The problem is, creative thinking requires a lot of white space on your calendar. It's not something you can schedule or squeeze in on a long flight or a Sunday afternoon. Filmmaker David Lynch believes that "It takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done." By that he means that we must enter into a problem consideration mode for extended periods of time to induce free association...which leads to innovative business solutions.
But if your calendar is full of every call request and meeting invitation that comes your way, you won't have any time to think. This is why I block out two hours of unscheduled time daily to work on my projects, research problems, white board solutions and passively think creatively while doing low mental-requirement tasks. It's in these gaps where our breakthroughs occur.
As a leader, you aren't paid to meet or talk to others. You are paid to think. Einstein, Edison and Jobs put their feet up on their desk or took long walks to actively consider solutions – and that's where their eureka moments happened.
Make every meeting and calendar item fight for its life. Pick the ones that are truly business drivers. Limit your "getting to know you" lunches and out-of-office meetings to one a week and make them count! If you find enough time during your most fruitful mental states (M-F days), you'll achieve the creative breakthroughs you need to make your mark.Tweet
May 29, 2014
The concept of mentor first appeared in Homer's Odyssey, and since then has grown into a widely talked about concept. Many of us seek mentors, especially during the beginning of our career. Many of us act as mentors, helping others on their journey to greatness.
What I've learned through my mentorship practice is that not all engagements are the same. There are three distinct flavors:
Pick your mentees wisely. Don't promise what you can't deliver. The best time to deliver Flash Mentorship is when the opportunity presents itself. Carpe Diem! In many cases, you start out as a Flash Mentor and over time, you take on either Program or Life Long mentees.
All of us should practice one flavor of mentorship every single week. If you haven't found the opportunity, you either aren't looking hard enough OR you aren't feeding your mind enough to share.Tweet
April 02, 2014
These days, it's believed that the youth have all the advantages when it comes to technology. They start companies like facebook in their 20's, run television shows and represent true progress. Companies I work with talk about "aging down" their workforce, so they can stay nimble.
The reality is that youth is a state of mind, not a counting of years. In my experience, the secret to eternal youth is lifelong learning...the constant expansion of one's resume of experiences and insights. Henry Ford once quipped, "Anyone who stops learning becomes old, whether at twenty or at eighty. Anyone that keeps learning stays young."
His point has to do with the constant stimulation of our brain, which in turn drives our creativity and agility. And these days, to be successful in business, you must possess both of those qualities in spades.
Here's the point: If you aren't expanding your resume every year, you are likely being getting lapped in the sport of business by those that do. You can improve a resume without changing jobs. You can add areas of expertise or new areas of project work. You can add volunteer work, hobbies or interests. You can add professional associations you've joined and contributed to. All of these additions give your career a sense of momentum, which gives you the confidence to embrace change.
My point is more salient for those reading this post born in my generations (Boomer and Echo Boomer). We become very comfortable with our titles, our financial stability and our status. We study on a need-to-learn basis, gathering expertise just-in-time. To take on electives at this stage in life seems a waste ... and could cut into our fun time watching sports, buying stuff or talking about people.
That's why we are so threatened by the youth. They come out of college or self-study, read voraciously and knowledge network with others that have the mutual thirst for knowledge. They have better instincts. They pivot without fear until they get their experiments right. They look at us with disdain, wondering why we don't 'get it'.
Meanwhile, we browse trade journals and newspapers, the career development equivalent of doing crossword puzzles. And we wait for retirement and beyond. And we get lapped with every revolution of the business cycle.
Here's my prescription: Read at least six books a year that bolster your domain expertise and add one new area of insight to your arsenal. Join a relevant trade association and pursue certifications, especially those that require intense study and networking. Raise your hand for a project at work that will stretch you out of your intellectual comfort zone.Tweet
March 18, 2014
This note is for generous networkers that like to use email to glue together people that should meet. In my first book, Love is the Killer App, I call this the 3-Way-Email technique. It helps networkers make more connections than they can by arranging conference calls or meetings.
Over the last decade I've been on both ends of this treatment. Sometimes I'm the person emailing two or more people to connect them and more recently, I've been the beneficiary of someone helping me out over email. It's given me a bird's eye view of what works and doesn't work with this technique. While email intros are fast, most of them end up treated like spam.
In most cases, unless the networker writes a very good email to introduce everyone...nothing happens. This is especially true when a PowerPerson is introduced via email to a ProspectivePartner. Unless the networker originating this connection sells the PowerPerson on replying, the email is usually ignored or deleted. The ProspectivePartner sometimes replies-to-all with a "thank you" and then suggests that a call be set up. But again, if the sales job to the PowerPerson is weak, nothing happens. That's even true when the networker and the PowerPerson are good friends or close business associates.
Here's a better way to use email to connect two or more people, especially with one or more of them are very busy or in high demand:
Here's an example:
Subject: Introducing Mark Carter to John Chen to create the ultimate ChiTown BizGame!
Body of email:
Mark, by way of email, meet John Chen AKA "Big Kid". He's an expert in the area of team building through gamification and well connected in Seattle. He's also fun, creative and gets things done. I told him about you, and what you are accomplishing in Chicagoland, and he wants to meet you. PS - both of you are heavily involved in your regional MPI chapters, so you have lots to talk about.
John, by way of email, meet Mark Carter AKA CarterOfChicago. He's one of the biggest people/opportunity connectors in the area and a true Lovecat as well. He's well connected with several companies that might love your game tech as well as your personality. Follow up with him and setup a call to get to know each other.
I think the two of you might open up a new market for gamification of team-building. I also think you'll likely spark a friendship. You know I don't make these intros often, so consider it a call to action!Tweet
February 28, 2014
For many of you, the last recession put you into survival mode. This is especially true if you are in banking, financial services, construction, retail or automotive. Those industries were hit so hard, all growth plans had to take a back seat.
Shrinking expenses was the order of the day.
As long as we continue to watch cable news (CNBC, etc.) or let the doomsdayers continue to beat the drums of double dip or next-bubble, we'll stay in neutral, letting our competitors pass us by.
Here's my analogy: A downturn is like a car crash during a NASCAR race. The yellow caution flag comes out, we all coast in the same position. At some point the green flag is waved and everyone scrambles for the lead.
Here's where business turns out differently: The "game on" flag is invisible, just like the hand of the market that Adam Smith wrote about. Some leaders see it early and others see it too late. In 2009, a New Yorker article (Hanging Tough) isolated some of the great leaps in history that were made by companies that got back to growth, innovation and employee development before their competitors. When they saw the green flag, just as the worst of the crash was over, they hit the gas. Kraft, Kellogg's, Hyundai and Apple are all examples of this phenomenon.
Here's a news flash for you: The recession is over. The run up is on. If you wait for any more of a clear sign, the next downturn may be upon you and there's nothing left in your tank. It's time for you to think about growing your business, buying companies and investing heavily in your talent.
As one leader recently told me, "By the time you realize you should have been focusing on growth, it's too late. Your competitors have been doing it long enough to build up not only a lead, but barriers to you being able to draft on their success."Tweet
February 12, 2014
Recently, I was booked to give the closing keynote at an annual corporate meeting for an industry leader. Their CEO had a vision for the meeting: Create A Mindset Where Winning Is the Only Acceptable Outcome. She picked me because I'd worked at a company (Yahoo) that famously developed this outlook, then lost it over time.
I was intrigued by this assignment, and immediately thought of lessons learned from studying Paul Galvin of Motorola (video clip from one of my talks about him). Researching post-Galvin case studies led me to A.G. Lafley's days at Procter and Gamble and ultimately his book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.
Lafley believes that strategy is "an integrated set of choices about how to win in the marketplace." In other words, strategy is not about accomplishing a certain task or reaching a certain goal. Those are tactics. Being strategic is about making the hard choices to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in the eyes of customers.
He's got an attitude about leaders that see it any other way. He picks on companies like Saturn, a GM division, that was 'Playing for the sake of playing.' They never intended on beating the Japanese at their game. They just wanted to sell cars in 'the low end of the market,' so Saturn was created. They were not resourced to outperform Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia or Hyundai, and eventually, the division was shuttered.
He's even harder on leaders that Play To Survive. In his view, "a company must seek to win in a particular place and in a particular way. If it doesn't seek to win, it is wasting the time of its and the investments of its capital providers." He's right too. Around 2003, I witnessed the Yahoo culture shift from winning to "hanging in there". This was the beginning of the sideways years for the company. We watched competitors like Google leapfrog us with moonshots (Google Earth), while we played it safe by incrementally improving products (Click To Print Map).
Over and over again, Lafley stresses the choices leaders must make in their strategy. The first choice is 'What is our winning aspiration?' which leads to a cascade of choices which build on each other.
I like this cascade (based on the work of Michael Porter, one of Lafley's mentors). It starts with our aspiration or purpose, which according to Jim Collins, should be audacious. Lafley points out that "too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations." They made modest choices that the beginning of the strategy cascade, which then led to market-mediocrity.
Then, the second strategic choice is location - where are we going to win? This narrows the market, sometimes to a specific niche where a true winning opportunity lies. Narrowing the market is a hard choice for many, making it even more strategic. But to narrow the market is to narrow the scope of competition as well - making it easier to win.
The next difficult choice has to do with our weapons in the market, the sources of our competitive advantage. In Lafley's view, they need to relate to the perceived value the company delivers to its most important customers. Then, the next choice is about which resources need to be marshaled to deliver that competitive advantage over time. Finally, choices about management systems are made to ensure a high degree of operating excellence. This is a great exercise for any business leader or entrepreneur thinking through their strategy. Each choice is limiting, and serves to give the company a true sense of focus.
One of his stinging points is that "Too many leaders define strategy as the optimization of the status quo." In his view, this leads to sameness, which is not a strategy but "a recipe for mediocrity."
To Lafley's cascade, I added a six element: How Do We Close Value Gaps? This is based on the work of Sandra Vandermerwe in her book Customer Capitalism. Stanley Marcus Jr. told me about this book back in 1999 when he was sharing a case study about the Mercedes Smart Car launch in Europe.
The idea is that you can't lock in a customer anymore with contracts or proprietary technology. Your efforts to do so have decreasing returns over time. The key to winning over time is to get the customer to lock on to your company that solving all their problems in the activity space. For Mercedes' Smart car launch, the activity space they focused on was short haul mobility. The car was designed for trips up to about 100 kilometers at most. For such a specific activity focus, there are obviously value gaps that they need to close: Repair, Renting a bigger car, Insurance, Maintenance and so on.
Here's the idea: Each value gap is an opportunity for a competitor to enter your customer's life and steal them. If you've rented a car at Avis, for example, you likely drove a GM product such as a Malibu or an Impala. If you drive another brand, that's an example of a value gap they didn't close, which might lead you to switch later. Mercedes anticipated this in their strategy, so they provided rental car services to close that gap.
For my keynote, I used a more contemporary example from the medical care industry. For Baxter Healthcare's Renal Bag product line, they built a strategy around the activity space of maintaining kidney health. As they built a wining strategy, they realized that the customer has pre-during-post needs. Up until then, they only played in the 'during' phase, where their bags were part of treatment.
From pre-treatment advice to post-treatment therapy, Baxter had value gaps a competitor could drive a truck through - dropping off samples of a competitive core product. So the team built or partnered their way into an airtight approach to the market, which served the activity space with their product serving as a piece of the puzzle and not a commodity.
My audience was intrigued and provoked into action at the same time. Several focused on choice #2 (where do we win?) and #6 (how do we close value gaps?) as key questions to answer quickly in order to protect their winning hand.
My closing words echoed Lafley's perspective: If you are not playing to win, at best case, you are losing a little more each day. It's a matter of tough choices about the things that matter ... to the customer.
December 11, 2013
I've been working on a new book now for the last few months. In between other stuff in my life. When I get a moment or carve out a few hours. I guess that means I'm just grazing on it. Sure, I could slap a self-imposed deadline on writing it (or better yet, the detailed book proposal). But that's a deadline to be massaged, moved or even missed.
Why not? What's the real downside to missing the deadline?
I've published four books through major publishers, and when working with them, my writing schedule was locked around a drop-dead-miss-your-pubdate-get-in-trouble due date for the manuscript. Three out of four times, I handed it in on time, as the result of significant effort on my part and a compliant calendar. One of the times, I knew I was getting behind, so I asked for (and received) an extension which I met.
I didn't have a choice. Miss their deadlines, face big repercussions. Let others down. That's really the secret to making your dream project really see the light of day. Outside pressure from someone that cares about the outcome and believes in YOUR dream. So here's how to line up your dreams with deadlines to achieve your goals.
Choose your dream. Never confuse an assignment with a calling.
Find partners to pursue it with you. If you can't get someone excited enough to invest time or money into it, it may be a small dream that's not worth your time.
Meet their deadline, based on their return-on-investment requirements or needs.
Your dream//Their deadline. This is a motivational match made in heaven for all you big thinkers. You know that a goal is 'a dream with a deadline' and now you now how to source both.
Have an idea for an app? Get someone on board to invest in it, and then follow his or her delivery deadlines. Think they have unrealistic expectations? Choose partners that are smart, reasonable and truly excited about your vision. But let their needs create a rock solid deadline you can't miss.
Want to launch a new career? Make a significant move (quit your job, sell your house, sign up for courses) and let the economics deal you deadlines. In this case, you've convinced your family or bet the farm on the move -- and you have to follow through! It's the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is fully committed.
I know that many of you are confident that you can assign a due date to your dreams, be they a book or a product or a company. But in 90% of the cases I've come in contact with, those deadlines faded away and life got busy or the excitement wore off. That's why I doubt I'll ever self-publish a book or start a business without an investor. <Note: I deeply respect all self-pub'd authors' tenacity.>
To get back on track, I'm going to polish a proposal, sign with a new publisher and march to a deadline that meets their pub date. Otherwise, I'll still be working on my new book this time next year.
I need the structure, the support and the collaboration of shared risk. And likely, so do you. You'll find the external pressure something that gives your energy, focus and helps you reach...your goals.Tweet
November 22, 2013
Each one of us is part of a network of relationships, where we serve as a resource for each other. We protect, promote and inform each other. We advise, connect and encourage each other. It's a support base that can help you overcome extreme adversity or complete a moonshot project.
We do not inherent these networks, nor do they appear like magic for the chosen few. It's not a legacy or a lottery. We build them, like homes, one brick at a time. Sometimes, if we ignore a network node, his or her support levels wane. When we invest in a relationship with someone in our network, our synergies and mutual support grows.
Ignore or invest. While this reads like a simple choice, where the no-brainer is the latter, we don't act like it. In our face paced go-go life, we often finish our work weeks, ignoring our personal networks unless prodded by mutual opportunities. If we don't plan for it, our chances to make new connections or add value are occasional.
If you want to build up a strong support system and widen your world, carve out a minimum of 4 hours every week for relationship development. Put four one hour blocks on your calendar. During each block you can:
1. Mentor people via phone calls or email. They present themselves to you with questions, problems or requests for help. Do some homework. Send some help. Solve some problems.
2. Make helpful introductions. Connect people that should meet via phone or email. Keep a running list of "should meets" on your phone. Always be building introductions. Accomplish three connections per week.
3. Reconnect with dormant connections. According to Adam Grant in Give Or Take, they will be glad to hear from you and will possess a unique perspective and set of experiences. That's the value of catching up!
4. Give encouragement or say thanks. Send out thank you cards. Be on the look out for friends in need and deliver encouragement high touch (phone, face to face).
Don't relegate this exercise to your weekends, evenings or free time. It's a real business investment that's right up there with long meetings, hour long status calls and TPS reports. Surely, you can find five wasted hours in your current biz-life that's a weaker investment than your support network!
In just a few months, you'll see a change in your business ecosystem. More opportunities will suddenly appear in your Inbox. Complex problems will be solved with just a few phone calls, instead of countless hours. You'll eventually realize that investing in your network is a way to save time, and extend your horizons.Tweet