Friday, June 15, 2012

It's in the doing!

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Here's a trick question for you I've seen posted several times around the web: 

Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off.

How many are left?

The Answer: FIVE.

Why is that the answer? Because deciding and doing are two completely different things. 
"A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken a new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided." - Tony Robbins 
There are literally thousands of blog postings, books, seminars, etc. that describe how to make decisions and why you should make them. I just felt that a blog about mentoring would not be complete without mentioning the topic and addressing an underlying reason why people (i.e. mentees) hesitate to make a decision and take action. That underlying reason is a fear of course - the fear of being wrong and making a mistake.

Here's how I help my mentees/protégés overcome hesitancy and leap into action: it's a matter of recognizing that each mistake has the gift of learning enveloped inside. It is often said that you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. That potential is certainly there and can be unlocked by those open to it. 
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
So if you approach your decisions as something that will either lead you to success or will lead to learning then making decisions will be far easier. Because those are both desirable outcomes.

The true enemy is inaction because that course will lead you neither to success nor to knowledge. Often the path to success is only through failure. Think of the legendary story about Thomas Edison having tried to invent the light bulb 999 times before finally succeeding. Edison didn't see those 999 times as failures but as an education. As his famous quote goes: "I have not failed. I have just found 999 ways that won't work."

Keep deciding. Keep doing. Keep learning!

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." - Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bad Mentoring Experiences

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I'm often asked if I have any mentoring "horror stories". Here in this blog I'm repeatedly espousing the incredible benefits of mentoring yet surely some experiences are negative? Luckily I really don't have very many stories like that.

Most candidate Mentor/Mentee (or Protégé) relationships that are doomed to fail do so very early in the process. Mentor or Mentee or both realize quickly that there isn't a fit. It could be, for example, due to personality conflict or inability to make sufficient time commitments or differing goals for the process. And that's ok. Each person then moves on to their next candidate Mentor or Mentee.

I've also heard of unfortunate cases where someone's manager acting as their mentor inappropriately uses information shared during their prior mentoring conversations. By inappropriate I mean that the information confidentially shared showed up in the mentee's/employee's annual review. Usually that wasn't favorable to the person getting reviewed! That is a betrayal of trust and one of the reasons why one should avoid a manager as a mentor.

In any case the only personal negative experience I can share is the following one:

I once had a terrific mentor who decided to leave our company to pursue a CIO opportunity. He told me that given his upcoming expanded responsibilities and his new location he didn't think he would have the time to continue our mentoring relationship with the level of commitment we had expected of each other. I was quite sad but of course happy for him and glad he was open and honest about the situation. We promised to keep in touch and have done so sporadically over the years.

Just before he left as I was about to find myself without a Mentor I asked him if he knew anyone across the company I could approach to be my new Mentor. He suggested a recently minted VP-level executive who would likely make a good fit. I approached her and we hit it off immediately. She agreed to be my new Mentor and I was overjoyed at having been able to find someone so quickly and easily. Over the course of the following year we met every two weeks for an hour and had a fantastic, two-way, trusting mentoring relationship.

Then suddenly my company decided to do a significant reduction in force (layoff) in my division and geography and I was on that list. One of my final acts was to contact my mentor to alert her of the news. I hoped we could stay in touch if not as Mentor/Mentee then at least as former friendly co-workers. She agreed and we exchanged personal email and phone numbers.

A week or so later I gave her a call just to update her on what I was up to and see how things were going back at the company. No one picked up so I left a message. I never got a response. I called again a few days later but the same thing happened. No response. So I took to email to reach out. No response. I waited another month in case she was busy and emailed again. But still no response.

Did I say something wrong? She sounded enthusiastic about staying in touch when we last spoke. Was there some stigma attached to having been laid off that she could not or did not want to deal with? Perhaps although she didn't seem to be the type of person to be bothered by that especially given the number of people involved and that era of mass layoffs. Still it's quite jarring to have trusted someone so much (and have them trust you so much in return) and then to suddenly be cut off.

To this day I have no idea what happened. And it doesn't really matter. That experience hasn't soured me one bit about mentoring. I learned so much from her during our relationship it more than made up for its unusual ending.

In any great endeavor there are risks one undertakes. In the end I have found that mentoring is always worth those risks. May all your mentoring experiences be 100% positive ones!