Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Very Special Mentor and Leader

I've long been supportive of the concept of mentoring and have participated in various mentoring programs in my career, both as a "mentee" when I was a new manager, and as a mentor, to help others.  In fact, I'm such a proponent that I'm currently helping to roll out a new program within my organization.

Recently, I have been participating myself in a mentoring relationship, partly to "Beta Test" the new program, but mostly because I was struggling with some things and I really wanted advice from a leader who I respected, Paul Clip.  I was hesitant to ask Paul to be my mentor for two reasons: 1) He is in my "chain of command"...not something that's recommended in a mentoring relationship and 2) He's super high-up in that chain which means he's very busy.  I really did not want to bother him with my problems when I know he has so much more on his mind.

A couple of weeks ago I started a new daily ritual where I thank someone each work day.  The thing is, I'm not a big fan of "token thank yous"...  The thank you's need to be sincere, and I feel a little worried about doing them every day, lest they become watered down.  The other issue with this particular thank you, is that thanking your boss's boss's boss publicly seems like a totally kiss up move...and "kissing up" is another thing I'm not a big fan of. But most people who know me (and probably all my bosses) realize I don't do the kiss up thing.  I speak my truth and sometimes that means I disagree with my bosses and sometimes that means I tell them when I think they're awesome.

But, as I wrote about on a different blog, sometimes Thank You doesn't seem enough, and you wish there were some "Uber-Thank You" word.   You want the recipient to know that their graciousness and generosity changed your life for the better, and because of them, you will be able to pay that forward.

How Paul helped me most with this mentoring was that he listened to me...  really listened.  And, like any good mentor or coach, most of the time he let ME figure out how to best take some control in resolving the issues I was having.  He provided a sounding board and sent me some links to relevant material, but he was always there with full attention, sometimes even going over our appointed times.  I'm amazed that Paul, in the very senior position that he's in, was able to take all the time he has to listen and be there for me.  He never once has acted as though I've been an imposition.

But besides making the time to be my mentor and to listen, the other thing that I respect so much about Paul is that he sees every person for the unique individuals they are, both personally and professionally.  I have no idea how he has the time to make every person feel special, but he does.

Thank you, Paul, for teaching me so much about leadership... not just from our mentoring sessions, but from your actions.

Lessons for those of you who want to participate in a mentoring program:

* You don't need to have a formal mentoring program in your workplace to get a mentor.
* Ask someone you respect to be your mentor.  Don't assume they won't have the time.  You have nothing to lose by asking.
* If you do ask for a mentor, set the agenda.  Don't expect the mentor to set the agenda or tell you what to do.  Be respectful of your mentor's time.
* Whether you are the mentee, the mentor, or not even participating in any kind of "program": Take time to really listen and understand the objectives of the relationship or issues that you're trying to resolve before you jump into solving the problem.
* Recognize that the mentee needs to reach their own conclusions and take control of solving their problems.  This is not something a mentor can do for them.
* Whether you participate as a mentor or a mentee, like anything, the more engaged you are, the more successful you will be.

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