Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Mentoring Effect

Have you ever had a mentor? Someone you could turn to when you had questions, when you needed advice, or just simply to bounce ideas off of? In short, someone you could rely on to tell you the truth. I have had the pleasure of both having great mentors as well as serving as a mentor for others. I highly recommend both.

As leaders, it is an obligation we have to serve in a mentoring capacity. Leadership is about development, both our own as well as our influence on others. We cannot be content in simply serving in a leadership capacity, we must be willing to put ourselves out there in service to others; we must be willing to take on the responsibility of leadership mentoring.

Below are seven tips for effective leadership mentoring:

Maintain regular contact: It is easy in the busy hustle of life to forget that we have someone relying on us. Mentors should assume they are the givers in this relationship. Consistent contact models dependability and builds trust.

Always be honest: To truly be effective and to be a part of your protégé’s leadership development, you must tell them the truth. Trust and respect are the foundations on which leadership development occurs.

Don’t expect to have all the answers: Despite your level of self-confidence, you are not the perfect leader. Sometimes, you won’t have the answer or know just what to do. That’s okay, sometimes just listening is all people need.

Be willing to share: You are in this relationship to share your knowledge, skills, expertise, and even personal contacts to help your protégé develop new leadership skills and grow as a leader. Don’t be selfish in sharing your successes.

Be clear about expectations: Most effective mentoring relationships start with a clear understanding of the expectations. This can include how often you will meet, the goals of the relationship, and other important details to ensure the relationship is effective and enjoyable for both parties.

Respect confidentiality: Good friends do… and good mentors do as well. Again, trust is the foundation of leadership and you will do more harm than good if you violate this confidence.

Have fun: Leadership is fun and our participating in the development of other leaders should be fun as well. While the professional nature of leadership mentoring is important, find ways to make it personal and fun as well.

A mentor is someone who has knowledge and experience that can be beneficial to the growth and development of others. The mentoring effect occurs when we share our wisdom and know-how in support of the professional growth and development of an emerging leader. In the words of Oliver Goldsmith, "People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy."

For whom are you modeling great leadership? I would love to hear about your mentoring relationships.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Leadership Shift

I’m not sure what made me think about an article I read more than 10 years ago… but here I was Googling to find the story about the attributes necessary to achieve a leadership turnaround.  The story about Continental Airlines appeared in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine. While the original ideas are not my own, I am expanding the concept in terms of how we need to experience a shift in our leadership.

Shift is generally understood to mean change. So, when we think about the need for leadership shift… we are simply thinking about change. Or, are we? Maybe shift refers to the idea of replacement; substituting old ways of thinking about leadership with new ideas. Likewise, shift could be directional suggesting that the leader reconsider long-held beliefs and positions. Regardless of our definition, the concept eventually directs change in the leader.And change is a commodity that leaders often trade in.

Relying on the ideas in the original article as the foundation, our personal leadership shift can be accomplished through specific attributes. While none of the attributes are new to leadership, the idea that we change as a result of implementing these deserves special attention.  Below are the seven attributes, each presented with an opening quote from Bonnie Reitz, then senior vice president at Continental.

Listening. “Listening is the key to knowing if what we are doing is right.”Too often we hear others without really listening. We recognize a noise coming from the vicinity of the other person, but our mind is racing to what we are going to say. Effective leadership requires us to slow down our thinking and speed up our listening. Listening is comprehension of what the other person is telling us before formulating a reply. Only through the experience of others can we really understand our leadership.

Focus. “Focus on what will make the biggest impact.” Similar to listening is focus. Paying attention to others and their ideas is critical to leadership. We too often spend energy on issues that are irrelevant or ultimately inconsequential; the squeaky wheel. Instead, by focusing on the important we can shape the future, one vision at a time.  As John Maxwell so eloquently states, “A Leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Action. “If it’s worth doing, do it.”How often do you see leaders paralyzed by analysis; always waiting for more data to make a decision? Sometimes the best data is simply what we know is right. Warren Bennis knew this when he suggested that “Managers do things right and leaders do the right thing.” When deciding on a course of action, our head is important, but our heart should not be ignored. Good leadership is knowing which one to rely on to get things done.

Measurement. “What gets measured gets done.” It’s hard to ignore the irony of this attribute after I write about leading from the heart. But leadership is often a balance between estimation and quantification. Leaders too often infer what others need without investing time in true assessment or understanding. However, if we spend the time accurately appraising the situation, our leadership takes on an increased urgency.

No Surprises. “If something’s not going well, speak up.” I have two guiding principles that have served me well over many years as a leader: own my mistakes and always be truthful. This manifests in certain behaviors, one of which is I try never to surprise my boss or my team. Through proactive communication and honesty, I share what’s going well and what is not. Rowan Williams states is this way, “Bad human communication leaves us less room to grow.” And leaders should always be seeking to grow.

Strength. “Have strength of character in good times and in bad.”A true test of our leadership is how we react when things are not going our way. Our resilience to persevere through challenge is what separates leaders from others. Sometimes our limitations are just strengths waiting to happen.But strength implies more than just a resolute nature; it suggests a level of self-discipline and poise that guides decision making. It is living a life of leadership without pretense.

Integrity. “Do the best you can do.”Up to this point, I have agreed with Ms. Reitz. But simply doing our best seems to leave room for more. It implies reaching a point where we can stop trying. Leaders are called to be better than that; to never stop seeking improvement in ourselves and others. While we often think of this in terms of our principles, I see integrity more as a state of our being.  As leaders we should strive for some perfect condition or unbreachable nature, like that of a ship’s hull.

While there can be as many attributes of leadership as there are leaders, I found these seven to be particularly interesting in terms of change. Like many leaders, I think change is inevitable and our success at it is dependent on our reaction to it. By being open to a shift in our leadership, we can evolve with the change instead of being consumed by it.

How is your leadership shifting?