Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An OnMentoring Conversation With: Mike Moran

In this second installment of my “An OnMentoring Conversation With…”  feature I feel honored and deeply grateful to introduce you to the person who was my very first mentor. Mike is a unique individual I was blessed with meeting and having as a boss early on in my career when I was certain that my path was going to be computer programming for the rest of my life. I was focused, passionate and content on this path. However several months after I joined his group a crisis arose. Mike was pulled away with greater responsibilities and could no longer manage our team directly. We suddenly had a critical need for a new manager and for some reason beyond my comprehension at the time Mike thought I’d be the best person to take on that challenge.

To say I was hesitant is an understatement. I wanted nothing more than to sit in my office, rock out with my headphones and code software all day. As a great mentor will do Mike saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He saw a certain potential, took me under his wing and introduced me to a whole new world – that of leadership. In this world I could multiply my good work a thousand fold by eliminating the bottleneck of building things myself and instead build great things through the power of others.

I’ve said many times on this blog that your manager will rarely make your best mentor but this is one of the exceptions. Over the course of the next 6 months Mike showed me the power of mentoring. He helped me transform from a technical, task-oriented lead into someone folks would naturally and eagerly follow. And it is directly a result of him and the effect that he had on me that drives me to illustrate the positive impact of mentoring through my own mentoring of others, this blog, speaking engagements, etc.

Mike has way too many talents to list here. He is an outstanding listener, engaging and inspiring public speaker and sincere in every sense of the word. By way of a bio I offer you this edited ‘official’ version which tells us what Mike is currently up to:

“Author of the acclaimed book on Internet marketing, Do It Wrong Quickly, on the heels of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., Mike Moran led many initiatives on IBM's Web site for eight years, including IBM's original search marketing strategy. Mike frequently keynotes conferences on Internet marketing for marketers, public relations specialists, market researchers, and technologists, and serves as Chief Strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing agency. Prior to joining Converseon, Mike worked for IBM for 30 years, rising to the level of Distinguished Engineer.”

In addition to being a world-class author, blogger, speaker, mentor, and Chief Strategist Mike is a formal coach as well.

Recently I asked Mike if he’d be kind enough to sit down and share with me his insights into mentoring. Happily he agreed so I can now present an OnMentoring conversation with…Mike Moran!

OnMentoring: Hi Mike. I’m really excited to chat with you today about mentoring especially as you were my first mentor. Thanks so much for making the time.  I wanted to start ‘at the beginning’ of your coaching/mentoring experience and find out if you were ever mentored?

When I was in high school my Dad started talking to me about what was going on with his job. He worked at IBM and was a manger with a large team. He wanted my advice because he thought I was a smart guy. Funny thing is I learned a lot from those conversations.

I ended up working at IBM as a 2nd and 3rd shift machine operator. During that time I started meeting the folks he would talk to me about and then I started asking him for advice. Simply put, he helped me become an adult. It’s weird but he ended up becoming my first business mentor. He would talk about how to carry oneself, relationships and behaviors at the workplace – things like that.

A problem I had when I started my career out was that I didn’t think people took me seriously because I was so young. So I would act “confidently” but it made me look 
more like a kid. He gave me great advice to not do that and that helped me out tremendously. I really had to learn that.

OM: What was the biggest impact a mentor has had on you?

At a certain point, mid-career I’d say, I was wondering why despite tons of hard work and plenty of accolades I was unable to achieve something I had wanted. So I went to one of my mentors with precisely that question. She was able to make me aware of certain political realities in play and suggested to me an alternate path to getting there. And it worked! That was tremendously beneficial and impactful to me.

OM: Great mentors do enlighten us to equally good, sometimes better, alternate paths. 
So when and how did you get into mentoring?

I think I’ve been doing it my whole life. In school I was always the “go to” guy. I would always want to help people. People can just tell I like to help people because I really enjoy it and they seem to get a lot out of it. Once people start asking me stuff and discover that I give them useful info they just keep coming back.

OM: Is there one question you make sure to ask your mentees?

Usually when someone is talking to me it’s because they are unhappy or disappointed about where there career is at that point. They are usually very good at identifying when that point arrives. But they are not very good about identifying what aspects they like and don’t like about their current job. They usually say things like I want more money or advancement or something along those lines. They think very narrowly.

I try to get them to focus on how they feel during their various work activities. What are they doing when they feel they are getting energized and what are they doing when they feel depleted? Unfortunately in the business world we’re not taught to be introspective. Everybody thinks there is “a path”.

OM: Not to interrupt but by “a path” you mean: first I’m a worker bee then I’m supposed to get promoted to manage the team then after a few more years I have to become a Vice President, etc?

Yes, exactly but in reality that’s not the case at all! Everybody is on autopilot and I try to get them OUT of autopilot. Especially today when you can more easily roll your own job. I want to get people to focus on what makes them happy and find ways to do those activities in their career. And almost always when you are happy at what you’re doing the advancement and the money comes anyway.

OM: How has social media affected your mentoring?

Given my current work in internet marketing it’s like asking a fish “how’s the water?”

Skype extends my reach. People also find me much more easily because of social media. I teach classes on social media and students in those approach me. Don’t know if that counts.

Fundamentally I don’t think it has really changed anything.

OM: What advice would you give to a prospective or current mentor?

It goes back to the question I ask everybody: “how do feel when you’re doing it [mentoring]? What is the allure?” If it excites them, if it’s the highlight of their day then I say you should go for it. I really like it and spend lots of time doing it. I just had a call from someone out of work. That’s a difficult conversation given these economic times but she seemed to think I helped her a lot and it made it a great day no matter what else was going on. That’s what I love about it.

OM: What advice would you give to a prospective or current mentee?

I don’t know too many people who couldn’t be helped by a mentor. There’s a set of people who aren’t being mentored who fall into 2 categories: 1. those that aren’t self aware; 2. and those that lack the confidence in themselves to ask for help or to admit that they don’t have all the answers.

Then there’s another more general class of people who just aren’t comfortable asking anyone for help for any reason. I’m in that camp actually. So I try to find a way to help the person I’m about to approach first. Even if you can’t actually help the person you’re about to approach the fact that you’re trying to and making the effort to do so is quite meaningful. That would be my advice to those out there trying to figure out a way to ask someone to be their mentor.

OM: That is fantastic advice.

Thanks. It’s funny while I’d be happy to help anyone that would approach me I actually don’t feel like or expect others to feel the same way. I’d go out and do my homework on the folks I’d like to approach and see if I could help them. So I started by helping others and it turned out these folks ended up talking to me!

If you are committed to improving yourself you limit yourself if you only depend on yourself. At some point you need to reach out to others who can grow you. Whatever the discomfort that’s holding you back as a prospective mentee you have to find a way around it because you’ll limit yourself otherwise.

OM: Anything else you wish I would have asked you about?

I think we’ve talked about a lot today. One of the things I tell people up front: the people who go out of their way who help me get a lot more of my attention than people who don’t. There are a bunch of people who only reach out to me when they’re looking for a new job and I’ll help them but not as much as folks who go out of their way to help me and stay in touch consistently. I don’t mind saying that there’s this exchange. At some point there just isn’t enough time to satisfy every request.

OM: Your answer reminds me of my first OnMentoring interview where one of the insights shared was mentoring is a two way street and both sides have to offer something for the relationship to work. I wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks so much Mike for this great conversation! I’m really honored to have you share your thoughts and insights on mentoring with me and our readers.

My pleasure, Alan. Anytime.

Monday, February 20, 2012

EPILOGUE: The Difference an "If" Makes

Image from (AP Photo)

Several months ago I published a post entitled "The Different an 'If' Makes". Its genesis came from a misquote on the new Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. In this post I talked about how critical and at the same time how difficult precise communication can be for all of us. The MLK Memorial team had a decade to plan and still a mistake in transcribing Martin Luther King's words made it to the unveiling.

Last month, just before a day commemorating Martin Luther King, I was very pleased to read the news that this quote would be fixed:

This is a great (albeit unfortunate) example of how better communication up front could have saved many people lots of pain, energy and money.

As an aside, there is a well-known expression in English about something being "etched in stone". In other words once something is "etched in stone" it cannot change. But here again is a great story that even when something is "etched in stone" it can still change!

And that idea, above all, makes me very, very happy.