Category Archives: Feedback

Are You A “Flat-Tire-HIPO?”

damaged flat tire

What Is A Flat-Tire-HIPO?

You know those people, those really, really talented people? Those people who REALLY get things done or those people who can spot the 2 numbers in a 20 page spreadsheet that have issues. Or those who are so incredibly charismatic or entrepreneurial or incredible presenters and can sell anything? Those people who are so special that everyone (even the ones who don’t like them) recognizes that they are HIPOs?   *A ‘HIPO’ is a high potential individual with significant ability and potential to move up the organization.* Well, it has been my experience that the most special, most talented, most capable of these HIPOs are flat tires. They are ‘round’ in all the ways that they are special, but they go ‘kathump’ as they hit that part of them, that non-round, non-perfect part of them that is flat. I know you’ve met these people—the guy who gets results . . . but leaves bodies; the person who is incredibly charismatic and people follow her anywhere . . . who can’t make a decision; the person who is charming and talks a perfect plan . . . who doesn’t actually deliver when promised. These are ‘flat-tire HIPOs.’

That Flat Tire Will Derail You

HIPOs are highly sought and cherished—as long as the organization benefits from the ways in which they are special. As long as their strength outweighs their cost. The higher up HIPOs go, however, the more likely that their deficit will begin to get in the way. The Center for Creative Leadership which does great research on Executive Development, Leadership and success factors for Executives, has identified several “derailers,” behaviors or traits that can ‘derail’ a career:

Failure to Change or Adapt During a Transition. Examples include:

  • Failure to adapt to a new boss
  • Over-dependence on a single skill and/or failure to acquire new skills
  • Inability to adapt to the demands of a new job, a new culture, or changes in the market

Problems with Interpersonal Relationships. Examples include being seen as:

  • Insensitive
  • Manipulative
  • Demanding
  • Authoritarian
  • Self-isolating
  • Aloof
  • Critical

Failure to Build and Lead a Team. Examples include:

  • Failing to staff effectively
  • Can’t manage subordinates
  • Poor leadership skills

Failure to Meet Business Objectives: Examples include:

  • Lack of follow-through
  • Too ambitious
  • Poor performance

None Of Those Apply to You, Right?

Riiiiiiiiight. Almost all of us . . . at least I’ve never met one of us it isn’t true of . . . have one or more of these. Especially HIPOs. People become HIPOs by being really good at stuff. When you’re really good at stuff, then you by definition are more focused on the stuff you’re good at than the stuff you’re not focused on. And you’re not as good, and maybe you’re pretty bad at, the stuff you’re not focused on. If you are a detail person, who really pays attention to the details and on getting things done, then it is highly likely that you’re aren’t as focused on the people side of things. You may be insensitive to those who don’t speak “detail.”

Yeah, I know, not you.

If you focus on getting results, you may be impatient. If you are ambitious, you may be TOO ambitions. There are so many combinations that are possible. And it is hard to see it in yourself. You need to listen to feedback. CLOSELY. It may be between the lines. When you are a HIPO, then the organization will appreciate you for as long as you aren’t hitting the “flat” part. That can be years. Eventually, though, your flat part will hit at the wrong time or with the wrong person and you will be out. UNLESS you start paying attention and learn to inflate those parts.

OK, I’ve take this metaphor far enough. What do you do?

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Filed under Career Development, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Hi Po, Learning, Personal Change

A Note To Executives: You DON’T Know What Is Going On In Your Organization

Dear Executives:

I know you think you know what is going on in your organization.  I know you think you know who the super performers are and who the “C” players are.  I know you think you know the processes and how the organization delivers its results.  I know you think that you’re on top of it all.  You get dashboards and white papers and report outs from consultants to tell you what is going on.  I know you do surveys to ask your employees what they think.

But you still don’t know.  You don’t know what your people are thinking (most of the people who talk to you tell you what you want to hear or what will help them).  You don’t know what isn’t working in the inner workings of the organization.  You don’t know how badly your intent gets communicated down through the organization.  You don’t know what your organization is REALLY capable of (remember, you are probably getting less than 50% of what your organization is capable of, between the ineffective communication, the out-of-tune management, the inefficient measurement and processes and the lack of flexibility within your organization).

How Do I Know, You Might Ask?

Fair question.  I know because I’ve been there.  I’ve been an Executive in a large corporation.  I know what I thought.  I know that I thought I knew all that stuff I just accused you of believing that you know.  And I’ve more recently been in a lot of organizations at all levels where the Executives thought they knew and didn’t have a clue.  As a consultant, sometimes I talk to the Executives, but more often I come in below the C-level to work on a project that is stalled or understaffed.  I see and hear what people below the Executive level say and think.  I see that they do not have a clear understanding of the purpose of any of the “change” things that they are being asked to do.  They do not believe that Executives know what they are doing.

They Do Not Believe That Executives Know What They Are Doing.

Ouch.  Why is that?  It is because the communication from the top to the bottom in most organizations of any size SUCKS.  In both directions.  The messaging going from the top to the bottom doesn’t get down more than a couple of levels (and in my experience, it rarely gets more than one level).  The communication going in the other direction–from the bottom to the top is non-existent.  People at the bottom, or middle, or even almost at the top, learn very quickly how to communicate up.  ‘Tell ’em what they want to hear.’

The bottom line is that you, as an Executive, think that the brilliant plans that you have come up with are being implemented as you expected and that you will soon get the results that you are expecting.  And that won’t happen.  Eventually, you’ll get some of it.  But not all.  And not when you need it.

There is an apocryphal story about General Schwarzkopf wanting to know how well his front line soldiers understood what there orders from the top were, so he walked around and asked them.  Supposedly he was so appalled that he had training developed to teach his Commanders how to communicate “Commander’s Intent” better.  Whether the story about General Schwarzkopf is true or not, I’m willing to bet it is true in your organization.  Go ask them.  Ask them about your key initiatives–don’t cheat–don’t ask them in a way that they can guess the answer.  Ask them the what, why, how, when and who about the things you believe MUST be done within your organization.  And don’t get mad when they can’t tell you.  It isn’t their fault.

Force yourself to go Undercover Boss.  Go find out what is going on in your organization.  Figure out what you need to do about it.

you don't know your organization

So What Do You Do About It?

The first step is to learn to communicate.  Teach your leadership team how to communicate.  Teach your employees how to communicate up.  Teach your leadership team how to listen.  Start with your self.  Tell people WHY things need to be done.  Tell them over and over and over.  Tell them until they are really sick of hearing it.  Then tell them again.  Measure whether your people are telling their people what is happening, when it is happening, why it is happening.  Tell your people that you’re going to go ask people and that people had better know.  And then do it.

Telling people something once in a stand up meeting, or worse, in an email, is not communication.  You have to first get their attention.  Then you have to make them hear you.  Then you have to ensure that they have understood you.  Then you have to review it.  AND THEN YOU MIGHT GET THE ACTION FROM THEM THAT YOU WANT>

Great Books On the Effective Leader Communication:

  • Make to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath:  I probably site this book more than any other when I’m trying to get people to understand why their listeners don’t automatically embrace their perfectly brilliant ideas.  This book helps you understand why you have to help people go through the adoption process that you yourself did to get their buy in.
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini.  This is probably the number one book on how to ‘influence’ people.  This book explains how to get people to say ‘yes’. Everyone should read it.  Everyone at all levels of the organization.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Feedback

Who Are You And How Did You Get That Way?

In the mirror

Understand Yourself

One of the most important tasks of becoming a great leader and a successful Executive (and those things are not necessarily the same thing) is to REALLY understand yourself.  You need to understand what makes you tick–what motivates you, what slows you down, what scares you and what gets in your way.  You need to understand how others see you.  You also need to understand that what goes on in your head is absolutely invisible to those around you.  They don’t know why you do what you do and they certainly don’t know what you are thinking.  You need to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, your learning style and your interpersonal style.  And then you need to show enough of your internal workings and motivations to help others understand you.

We all think we know ourselves.  We are mostly wrong.  That is why it is really good to get feedback from others.  I highly recommend getting 360 assessments done–pretty regularly.  These are assessments that get feedback from you, your boss and your subordinates.  When you look at your opinion of yourself against that of your boss and your subordinates, you frequently get a surprise.   If your boss doesn’t agree with your opinion of yourself, then it’s important to note the differences.  If your subordinates don’t agree with you and your boss about your strengths–another important factor.  These instruments just measure behaviors, though–what can actually be seen.  When you get feedback that indicates behaviors that can derail your career, it is important that you CHANGE that behavior.  It is possible for you to change your behavior without understanding how and why you do what you do.  You just change.  Right?  Most of us can’t do that.

The Why of Your Behavior

When I identify that I need to change a behavior–interpersonal interactions, eating, exercising, time management–it really helps me to understand WHY I do (or don’t do) what I do.  For example, I used to get feedback that I was “unreadable.”  As I tried to figure out why people thought that, I also tried to figure out WHY I was unreadable.  What did they mean that I was unreadable?  I started asking people (not the one’s who had given the feedback, but others):  “What does it mean when people say I’m unreadable?  Why do they care? What could I do differently?”  The answers surprised me.  It turns out that I used few happy facial expressions.  I wasn’t aware of this.  Whether I was happy, pissed or someplace in between, I was using the same facial expressions. I had very neutral (or so I thought) facial expressions.   I really wasn’t aware of this.  When I thought long and hard about it,  I realized that some things had happened in my childhood that made me very guarded about my thoughts and feelings.  OK.  That was legitimate.  Then.  Those things no longer existed.  And not only that, it was interfering with my effectiveness as a leader because when left to their own imagination, people frequently assume the worse (that I’m pissed AT THEM).  I was able to (deliberately) change this because I was made aware of it, I asked about it to understand it, and then I could persuade myself that the coping behavior from my childhood was no longer necessary.  I was able to change more easily with this realization.

Some of the things that can impact the way your are and can shape your behaviors as a leader are:

  • Your birth order and your relationships with your siblings
  • Your relationships with your parents
  • Your beliefs about how things work (your mental models)
  • Your beliefs about the “rules” of organizations
  • What you believe about hierarchy and how that fits with your organization, your boss and your subordinates
  • Your beliefs about what makes people tick (Theory X, Theory Y)
  • What you believe about people’s responsibility to the organization and the organization’s responsibility to people

Start With Feedback

It all starts with feedback, though.  You can’t know what behaviors are really working and not working unless people tell you.  They probably won’t tell you unless you ask them.  Once you know the behaviors that you should address, think long and hard about where those behaviors come from.  Then do something about it.

Then Change

Sooner rather than later.


Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Personal Change

Undercover Relationships


Undercover Boss

One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Undercover Boss.  I know it is probably orchestrated and you only get to see the powerful parts, but I love watching it.  I am constantly amazed at how amazed the bosses are at what goes on in their organization.  It is a regular reminder to me that if people just talk to each other, are “real” with each other, then truly awesome things can happen in organizations.  This is of course a two way street.  The bosses have to actually listen because there are TV cameras watching them listen.  The other side of it, however, is that the employees tell it straight–after all they are talking to a ‘nobody.’  If they knew they were talking to the boss, they wouldn’t tell the truth–or at least not all the truth.  They would be polite.  They would calculate what the boss wanted to hear, and then they would say it.  Even if they didn’t do that, they would be careful in their word choice and the real message wouldn’t necessarily get across.  It is the blend of the boss being put in a position where s/he sees what is happening at all levels of the organization, s/he has to listen and the employees telling it like it is that makes it happen.  Real change and effectiveness can happen with that blend. (And yeah, the bosses give the employees something at the end–but that is peripheral and entertaining, but not critical for making the changes happen.)

Applying the Lessons of Undercover Boss

If you are a manager, a leader, and/or an Executive, you need to:

  • Get to know what the people who work for you (and in the rest of your organization) do.  Repeatedly on  Undercover Boss the ‘old’ executive of the organization is challenged to keep up, to understand the process, to go fast enough.
  • Understand their challenges.  What are the impacts of your policies on how they do their work?  Again, repeatedly executives are confronted on Undercover Boss with the unintended consequences of their well-intentioned policy changes.  Bosses are confronted with the fact that employees have to cut short positive customer interactions to make productivity numbers or that a well-designed productivity tool is unusable by people who are color blind.  What have you done that has increased the difficulty of doing a job rather than improved both productivity and job quality?
  • How do they think of you and the other leaders in your organization.  How many times do people on the show talk about the “corporate clowns.”  Are you a clown or clueless in the eyes of your employees?  Rather than be defensive or mad about it, see it through their eyes.  What do you need to change that perception?
  • Know your people.  Over and over and over on the show, bosses ask personal questions of their employees and are touched and surprised by the answers.  I’m sure the show scripts some of the kinds of questions that the Executives ask, but in every show, the bosses are surprised at what their employees go through outside of work.  Many Executives resist, either consciously or unconscioulsy, getting close to their employees.  How can you make the “hard” decisions about what to do with people if you care about them?  Ask yourself the opposite question:  How do you motivate, inspire and lead people to higher performance if you don’t know and care about them?  If they don’t know and care about you? Work organizations are first and foremost human organizations.  Creating organizations where people care about each other, stand up for each other, and deliver or the whole, is the key to being a great Executive and boss.
  • Ideas come from all levels.  The most ridiculous idea that Executives develop over time is that they know better than others because they are at the top of the organization and have lots of experiences that got them there.  As the interactions on Undercover Boss show over and over, being at the top of an organization makes it more, rather than less, likely that you don’t know your market and customers well enough to have new ideas that can grow your organization.  Create channels for innovative ideas to move up and across the organization and fight to keep those channels open.
  • Being real gets you told.  It is extremely difficult to persuade employees to tell the truth about what they think and know about the organization.  Honest employees are doing you a favor.  Create situations that open and stimulate these conversations.  Be real.  Admit your own failings.  Appreciate feedback.  Show your employees that you will do something about what they tell you.  While the chosen employees on Undercover Boss get trips and vacations and scholarships, the biggest win is if the company creates a feedback loop between the employees and the leadership that identifies and addresses real issues for the company.  One of the best bosses I ever had regularly walked around the organization talking to people at all levels, but especially at the bottom.  He had relationships with people and they told him what they thought.  It didn’t happen day one, but over time we learned that not only was it safe to talk to him, but also that things got fixed when we did.

Build Undercover Relationships In Your Organization!

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Filed under Communication, Executive Development, Feedback, Leadership, Success

How Do You Know If You’re a Good Leader?

How Can You Judge Your Leadership Skills

Let’s start with how you know whether someone else is a good leader?  You just know, right? Yes, you know when someone is a good leader for YOU.  Each of us is looking for something different from a leader, and when we find the right leader for ourselves, we know it.  Or do we?  Sometimes.  There are leaders who make us feel good. They make us want to do better.  They inspire us.  We do our best for them.  Those are the ones we “know” are good leaders.

There are lots of ways to measure a leader, though:

  • How followers ‘feel’
  • The followers’ opinions (head not heart response) of the leader’s performance
  • The results that the leader accomplishes through others
  • How much the followers grow and develop   
  • The leader’s manager’s opinion
  • How the leader evaluates her own performance

Each of these is measuring a different aspect of the leaders’ performance.  How can you know how you are doing on each one?

Use a Feedback Instrument

The absolute best way to tell if you’re doing well as a leader is to take a 360° assessment focused on your leadership.  A 360° assessment captures feedback from you, your followers and your manager.  This provides you will a full view of how you think you’re doing, how your followers think you’re doing and what your manager thinks, and it provides you with information on the disconnects among those opinions.   Your company may regularly assess its leaders with one of these, or it may have one available if you ask.  Ask your manager or your human resources representative. 

There are several, but one of the best is the Leadership Assessment Instrument (LAI™) produced by Linkage.  It evaluates how you’re doing on the tasks of leadership, what your leadership skill level is and what leadership ‘traits’ you have.  Another one that is focused on the behaviors of leadership is the Leadership Practices Inventory, developed by the authors of The Leadership Challenge.  This instrument evaluates your performance against the Kouzes and Posner’s five leadership practices.  I also like the Center for Creative Leadership’s Benchmark assessment.  This last one has the advantage of providing feedback that flags ‘career derailment’ symptoms.  There is also an assessment for Situational Leadership and many others.  Any assessment that focuses on leadership behavior and outcomes would be a good start.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to feedback instruments through their organization, nor can afford some of the better (and more expensive) ones.  There are other ways to evaluate your leadership effectiveness.

How Can You Evaluate Your Own Performance as a Leader without a 360°?

In order to effectively evaluate your leadership effectiveness, you need to take your blinders off and become an objective detective.  You also need to be willing to ask others for their opinion and support.  Start with your company’s Human Resources department.  Do they provide manager feedback sessions where they ask your followers what they think (outside your presence) and tell you the results?  Would they be willing to do this, even it if is not standard procedure?

If no, then ask yourself the following questions.  Ask others.  Don’t honey-coat it.  Try to see the situation through your followers’ eyes.  Try to see it through your manager’s eyes.

How Your Followers Feel

The way your followers feel about you is semi-obvious. There are always folks who will ‘kiss up’ regardless of how they really feel.   You know who those folks are.  Ignore them.  Ask yourself:

  • Do your people enjoy being around you?
  • Are your people afraid of you?
  • Do your people seek you out to tell you good news?
  • Do they come to you when they need advice or help?
  • Do you find out things about your people through others, or through them directly?
  • Do your people meet your eyes and smile, or do they look at you briefly when they speak to you and then move on?
  • Are your people interested in you as a person?
  • Do your people share personal things with you?

These are all signs of affection, respect, trust and affiliation.  They are signs of how your people feel about you.

Your Followers Opinion

Of course feeling comes into the evaluation of how your people think about you, but your followers’ opinions are also more rational.  This is the one that is the hardest to gauge without getting someone else to ask them.  If you don’t have someone else to ask them (like HR), then consider asking them yourself.  This won’t work very well if they don’t trust you, and you have to take what they say with a grain of salt, but it’s worth a try.  Think about posing questions like:

  • If you were doing this job, what would you do differently?
  • What kind of feedback would the person who is unhappiest in this group/department give me?  How about the one who is happiest? (Thus taking the away the necessity off  of them to tell you what they think directly)
  • What’s working well in this department? (You’ll have to extrapolate here to what they think about you).  What isn’t working as well as it should?
  • What should I be doing that I’m not doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

You could give them a list of questions and ask them to sit together and answer them and then to type up the answers and give them to you.  You could use some of the questions above and include some others:

  • What do you like best about (my) management style?
  • What do you like least about (my) management style?
  • What do you wish someone would tell me?
  • What do you want in a leader?
  • What do you not like in leaders?
  • What is the best kind of leader for you?

How Much Your Followers Grow and Develop

This one is a lot easier to see with the naked eye.  When you start leading people, or when they first join you, take note of their skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  Actively plan on how you will work on developing them.  Evaluate them frequently on those items.  This should be done much more than the usual semi-annual or annual basis.  Make sure that you are giving them assignments specifically designed to grow them in the areas they need to grow.  Your evaluation of their growth is also an evaluation of yourself as a developmental leader.  If they aren’t making enough progress to suit you, what can YOU do to speed it up?

Your Manager’s Opinion of Your Performance

You shouldn’t wait for your performance review to evaluate this.  Remember that managers are not necessarily focused on leadership when they evaluate you, so take some time to understand what you manager believes about leadership.  Ask him/her.  Ask for his/her evaluation of your leadership skills.  Take note of what s/he seems to value.  Ask again after a period of time.  Have you made progress?  Ask what you should be doing differently.  Remember that regardless of whether you agree with your boss or not, his/her opinion of your leadership abilities can make or break your success in this company.


Have you delivered through people?  Take off your rose-colored glasses on this one.  Take away all the things that would have happened anyway, whether you were there or not.  Take away all the luck.  What results did you and your team get?  What of that is attributable to you and your leadership?  What could/should you have done differently to get better results?  Is there someone you should have listened to more?  Someone you should have reigned in more, or managed more closely?  Is there someone who you should have taken risks with?  What will you do based on your learnings here?

Which of These is the Most Important?

It depends.  Which of these is the thing you believe is most important?  Which of these does your organization believe is most important?  Which of these do you need to grow the most?   Which of these comes to you naturally? 

Remember, leadership development is personal development.  Start anywhere and start learning.

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Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Feedback, Leadership

The Transition From Manager to Leader

manager to leaderLeaders v. Managers

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the differences between managers and leaders.  Managers do things right and leaders do the right thing–right? I think that this is an interesting discussion, but it isn’t that easy.  Managers do leader things and leaders do manager things. Each of us is naturally oriented toward one or the other–we either are inclined toward structure, processes, policies and systems or toward strategy, inspiration, vision and people.  But we can all learn to be either a manager or a leader or both a manager and a leader.

The Leadership Continuum

Many have described this as a dyad–either/or, a choice between two options.  I see it more as a continuum.

Manager to Leader

A continuum that ranges from supervisor to manager to leader to Executive Leader to Global Leader. This is not to say that supervisors can’t be leaders or that Global Leaders (positionally) aren’t managers.  There are cumulative skills, though, across those roles that are needed to deal with increasing complexity as a person accumulates more responsibility.

Moving Along the Continuum

Michael Watkins, whose books I’ve recommended in this blog before (The First 90 Days and Your Next Move) has a recent article in Harvard Business Review that is well worth the read.  He writes How Managers Become Leaders in the June issue of HBR.   Watkins identifies seven “shifts” that are required to grow managers into leaders.  These shifts are:

  • From specialist to generalist
  • From analyst to integrator
  • From tactician to strategist
  • From bricklayer to architect
  • From problem solver to agenda setter
  • From warrior to diplomat
  • From supporting cast member to leading role

These shifts require developmental experiences that change your perspective and force you to step out of your comfort zone.  You also need to be exposed to regular 360º feedback that allows you to understand whether or not your behavior is working for you in the situation.  And finally, you need to be dedicated to continuing to grow your self by challenging your assumptions, habits and behaviors to move along the continuum.

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Executive Development, Feedback, Hi Po, Leadership, Personal Change, Success

Get a Mentor. Use a Mentor.

Get a Mentor

I know you’ve heard it.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve heard it from me.  You need a mentor to help your career.  Easier said than done, right?

How Do I Get a Mentor?

Typical questions about mentors and mentoring are:

  • What is mentoring?
  • How do I find a good mentor for me?
  • How do I ask someone to be my mentor?
  • How does having a mentor work to help my career?
  • What if my mentor and I don’t get along?
  • What if my mentor won’t meet with me?
  • How do I end the mentor relationship?

What Is Mentoring?

Mentoring, first and foremost, is a LEARNING relationship.  The old-school model of mentoring was that the senior, experienced successful mentor took the junior, inexperienced mentee under his wing (yes, it was always a ‘he’).  Today’s mentoring is much more complex, but much more productive.  It is different depending on the people involved.  It could be a senior person helping a junior person succeed in an organization.  It could be an expert helping a novice speed up the process of learning.  It could be a junior person helping an executive understand social media.  The key parts to a mentor/mentee effort are LEARNING and RELATIONSHIP.  It is a collaboration, not a one-way relationship.  Both parties, but most importantly the mentee, take responsibility for the success of the relationship.  The mentee must have a plan, goals and the willingness to step up and reach out for the mentoring to be maximally successful.

How Do You Find A Mentor?

You start with what you need.  When you think about your career, what is it that you need?  Do you need to learn how to navigate the organization’s politics?  Do you need to learn how to be an effective executive?  Do you need Executive presence? Do you need to learn how to manage technical people?  Do you need to learn to manage your peers?  Think strategically?  Present your ideas better?  Whatever it is (and don’t focus on everything at once–pick the biggest/most important thing), think about who you know, or know of, who can do it well.  If there is more than one person who fits that description, who do you think has the best ‘chemistry’ with you.  Who do you most want to learn from?  Who might have more time? Who do you think might be the better teacher?  Based on these questions, pick someone who could mentor you in what you need.

How Do You Ask Someone To Be A Mentor?

Once you’ve identified someone, make a plan.  What do you want to learn from the person?  Over what time period?  What format would work best for you?  Informal–like over coffee?  Formally scheduled meetings?  Asking questions?  Your mentor talking and telling stories?  Once you’ve thought through these, what kind of proposal can you make to your mentor?  Something like:

I’ve admired how well you navigate this organization to get things done for your organization for a while now.  I was wondering if you’d be willing to mentor me on how to do that?  I was thinking maybe we could have coffee some morning and you could share with me some of the things you wish someone had told you?

Imagine if someone approached you this way.  It’s likely that you would be flattered.  If you had the time, it is likely that you would be willing to do this.  You’re not asking for a long term commitment in this situation.  You’re testing the waters.  If you have the first meeting (which, if it is more comfortable for you, you could formally schedule a meeting), and the chemistry seems good and the mentor seemed to enjoy it as much as you did, then you can ask for another meeting.  In the second meeting, you can ask the person about him/herself.

  • How did you get to where you are in the organization?
  • What have been your biggest career learnings?
  • What do you wish you had known that you know now?
  • Are there things you would have done differently?
  • Which jobs have taught you the most?  Which bosses?

If this conversation goes well, then it is time to suggest that the person be a mentor.  Ask if he is willing to be your mentor.  Tell him what kinds of things you’d like to learn from him.  Over what period of time?  How often would you like to meet with him?  (Be very reasonable here).  Show him that you will take responsibility for learning with him as your guide.  If he agrees, ask him how he wants you to be prepared before your conversations?  What kind of follow-up and follow-through does he want?  Get clear on your goals.

If you approach it in these stages, you get to feel out the relationship element of the mentoring–do you think it will work?  Push yourself to ask if the relationship works for you, because it will be worth it.  If s/he says no, don’t take it personally.  It is probably about time commitment or, just as likely, about the mentor feeling inadequate to the task.

How Does Having A Mentor Work?

The mentoring relationship is about learning–usually both the mentor and the mentee learn.  Sometimes the mentor is able to open doors for opportunities, but almost always the mentor opens minds.  The mentor helps the mentee see the world through different eyes (usually higher ranking eyes).  The mentor helps the mentee have a new perspective–thinking strategically instead of tactically, thinking like a sales person instead of an HR person, understanding how decisions get made at the top of the organization.  These new perspectives are JUST AS IMPORTANT as if the mentor helps the mentee land a new job.  It is these new perspectives that enable the mentee to succeed at the new job.

What If We Don’t Get Along?

Sometimes mentors and mentees don’t get along.  Having a couple of exchanges before you ask for a more formal mentoring relationship can sometimes help avoid this, but not always.  If you don’t get along with your mentor, ask yourself why.  Is it because she is speaking truth to you and you don’t like it?  If that is the reason, it is probably very worth hanging in there.  It is really hard to get people to tell you the truth–it is easier to learn to deal with it than to find someone else who will tell it.  Is it because the mentor reminds you of someone who you haven’t gotten along with in the past?  Your father?  Your older sister?  Your first boss?  Again, it’s really better to work through these issues than to find someone else–this is the kind of issue that will continue to bit you until you learn to deal with it.  Is it because the person is a bully or abusive?  If so, then it is best to end the relationship.  Don’t end it by stomping out.  Just thank the person for all the help s/he has provided (this is VERY important) and tell him/her to be sure to let you know if you can return the favor.  Then don’t schedule any more appointments.

What If My Mentor Won’t Meet With Me?

It is highly that anyone you want to mentor you is a very busy person.  When you have the conversation requesting that she become your mentor, you need to agree how often you will meet.  The more you can talk it out–what to do if one of you has to cancel, what to do if scheduling becomes a problem, what are the expectations, what to do if this becomes too burdensome–the less likely this is to be a problem.  After a number of cancels–this number should be different if it is a CEO v. a manager–then it is appropriate to ask whether it would be better to take a break till a time that is better.  Then go find someone else.  The biggest risk here, though, is that you will interpret normal scheduling problems as the mentor not wanting to do this.  It is likely that the mentor just has a busy schedule.  Don’t read too much into it.

How Do I End The Mentor Relationship?

It is best that you make some kind of arrangement for the end of the mentoring relationship (not the end of the relationship) in the initial agreement that establishes the relationship.    You can make it time specific or task specific–get through your next performance review, or do an Executive level presentation, but you do need to identify what the goal and timing of the mentoring relationship should be.

Many, many mentor relationships end and friendship remains.  That is ok, but be careful to make the shift in your mental model.  Be sure to thank your mentor in a meaningful way.    It’s great to keep notes as the mentoring proceeds and to write a summary of what you learned over time for your mentor.  It will help cement the learning in both your minds.  This could be one of the most important relationships of your working life.

A Good Book That Will Help

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Face What’s Holding You Back

Career Roadblock

What Do You Think is Holding You Back?

What do you tell yourself about what is holding you back?  You need another degree? Your boss doesn’t like you?  You have to relocate for the next step? You’re too old?  Too young? You’ve been out of work too long? Your technical skills aren’t current? You’re overweight/a minority/gay/a woman? You don’t fit into the culture?  They don’t think you’re a ‘hi-po’?

Two Questions:

Whatever it is, I have two questions for you:

1)  How do you know you’re right?

Are you sure that you aren’t looking at it through ‘victim’ eyes?  What is your evidence that you are right?  Are you the only one with this problem? Are you fully engaged, working as hard as you can, delivering results and this is still happening?  Or have you checked out?  Have you talked to anyone about what is going on?  Have you asked for feedback? Has this been a pattern at other organizations/with other bosses/in other jobs? Are you on an emotional roller coaster or on an even keel?

If you are right in your assessment of what is holding you back, I have another question:

2)  What are you going to do about it?

If you need another degree, why don’t you get one?  No, really, why not?  No money? No time? Look at it through business case eyes–will it get you a better job, with more money, with a higher quality of life?  If so, tell me again why not?

If you are ‘too’ old, find someplace that appreciates your wisdom.  Why not?  There are places that do.  Just because your present organization doesn’t DOES not mean they all don’t.  Go FIND a better place.

Whatever the thing is that is holding you back, it is possible to overcome it.  It is possible to find a solution.  Set an audacious goal to fix/solve/overcome it and then do it.  Maybe it is the way you’re looking at it that is really what is holding you back?

Who can fix THAT?

(Did you notice that I asked more than two questions?:-))

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Career Accelerants

Win the Career Race

Do are you know people who are about your age, have about the same experience, and aren’t more talented/smart/capable than you, but who are more successful in their career than you?  Are you puzzled about what they have that you don’t?  What do they do/who do they know/how do they do it? Do you want to go faster, too?

There are some tools that can help you accelerate your career success.  I call them career accelerants.


How you think.  What you think.  When you think.  All make a huge difference in how fast and how well your career progresses.  Mind set includes:

  • Your Attitude–“I can.  I will.”
  • Being Positive
  • Constantly Learning
  • Being committed


There is an old Chinese proverb that says that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher.  The second you get stuck with “this is the way it is” or “I’m not going to do this,” is the beginning of the end of your upward trajectory in that organization.  The way I think of it is, “If I had started at this organization today, I wouldn’t object to this. I would just do it.”  This can apply to systems, processes, organizations, etc.  It doesn’t occur to us to ‘resist’ when we’re new to an organization.  Try to adopt that way of looking at things.


Use whatever tools you can to help you learn/understand/experience faster.  Some of the best tools are:

  • Books
  • Feedback
  • Goals/Measures
  • Training


You need a high level of energy to speed up your career.  You are more in control of your energy level than you might think.  For high energy you need:

  • Good Health
  • Fitness
  • Mindset


Successful careers need an infrastructure too.  Set up your life so that it supports your career.  To do this, you need:

  • A Support System
  • De-clutter your life–get rid of the things that you ‘tolerate,’ but which weigh you down–anything from messy desks to people who suck you dry
  • Balance–whatever this means for you (not what others think).  Keep adjusting this, it is a work in progress.

You are in control of your career.  If it isn’t moving the way you want it to, look at this list and start experimenting with changing the way you’re doing things.

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Are You a Good Fit For Your Organization?

What is the Culture of Your Organization?

Two key components of managing your career to success are to know yourself well and to understand your organizational environment.  The next step is to evaluate your fit within your organizational culture.  All organizations have cultures–like personalites.  The culture of an organization is like the water that fish swim in. The people who work in the organization are pretty much unaware of the culture on a daily basis.  It surrounds them and drives a lot of the behavior, it includes the unwritten rules and the things that are important, the values, the rituals and the history.   It is very likely that you know a lot about the culture without really realizing that you do.  This exercise will help you see your behavior within the context of the organization.

Evaluate Your Behaviors

One good way to evaluate your fit in the organization is to first assess your behaviors, like decisiveness or leadership, on a continuum and then to do the same assessment looking through the lens of what the organization rewards in that behavior.  Take a list of behaviors like those below and first mark where you believe that you are on the continuum between the two extremes of the behavior.  Go with your gut.  Try not to answer according to where you “should” be, but rather where you believe you are.  Then make a mark on the same continua according to where you believe your organization wants you to be.  Think about what you’ve heard from managers, in 360 assessments, in reviews.  Think about the people in your organization who are obviously successful and highly thought of–where does their behavior fit? Even if you aren’t completely right about what your organization wants, you will be able to identify the biggest discrepancies.

Behavior continuum analysis

Once you have marked where you think you are and where you think the organization wants to you to be, connect each set of marks like in the example below.  This will provide you with a graphic that shows you where the gaps are between where your behavior is and what the organization’s norm is.  For example, if you look at the continuum Optimistic . . . Pessimistic or at the bottom, Change Leader . . . Change Resister, you see that there is a gap.

Example of behavior continuum evaluation

PDF Version of Worksheet

Address The Gaps Between Your Behaviors and the Cultural Norms

Once you are aware of the gaps, then you can decide what you want to do about them.  You have several choices:

  1. You can do nothing.  You can decide this is who you are and you aren’t willing to change to fit better in your organization.
  2. You can decide to change your behaviors (remember, behavior is not WHO you are).  Think about the way you are different at your boss’ staff meeting than at home, or how you are different at church than you are at girls-night-out.  You can change your behavior without changing who you are.  When you learn to change your behavior, you have more control over your career.
  3. You can be selective about which behaviors you want to change.  Which behavior have you heard the most about?  Which one do you think would be the easiest to work on (it is always best to start with baby steps)?

If you decide that you want to change a behavior, here are some steps that will help:

  • Observe others who have the behavior you would like to have.  Imitate them. Try it out.
  • Share with someone that you’re trying to change and ask him to give you feedback on how you’re doing.  Just knowing that someone is watching you will help you be more aware and will push you to try harder.
  • Practice “being” different in your mind.  Imagine what you look like, what you say, how you sound.
  • If the behavior you’re trying to change is something you’ve heard about in your reviews, make sure that you demonstrate the new behavior in front of your boss.

It’s normal to be uncomfortable as you go through this process.  Keep trying.  Don’t expect others to notice at first. It will take a while.  That makes it easier, though, because it gives you some time to practice and get more comfortable.

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