Tag Archives: Career development

Reactions To My Discrimination Post

generations at work

Reactions to Reactions To My Discrimination Post

I had readers respond to my Are They Discriminating Against You?  Probably. blog post in a couple of different ways.  First, one reader challenged me about “accepting” discrimination.  He believed that I should advocate challenging the ‘discriminatory behaviors’ of others through complaining to the powers that be and/or Human Resources within the organization, or through the legal system.  I certainly don’t mean to suggest that those aren’t legitimate avenues.  It depends on your goals, though.  Do you want to help fix discrimination long term?  In your company? For everyone?  Then routing yourself around the problem and going to find some place and someone(s) who can judge you for what you are and what you bring and make decisions based on that (as suggested in my last blog) is NOT the solution.  Challenging the status quo is the right thing to do.  Go for it.  Those of us who wimp out on that will really appreciate you.  And support you.  And do whatever you need us to do.

If you need to get a job this month, then you need to find a place that doesn’t discriminate.  You need to find decision makers who are smarter, have better judgement and who are worthy of you.  Leave the others in the dirt–where they belong.

The other people admitted that they themselves discriminate and were unhappy with doing so.  One person who reacted wrote that she found herself sometimes on the side of being a discriminator.  She finds herself feeling the way about young people that older people used to feel about her.  Yet another person who responded–same issue–being a discriminator–just can’t break her thinking of older people as ‘time to go-ers.’ The good news is that both of these readers don’t think that it is ‘right’ to think the way they do–they just feel justified.

So What Do You Do?

I guess my first advice is to acknowledge that there is a huge “humans are this way” element to this. We think of people who are different from us as, well, different.  Not as good.   And then my second advice is to do what I do–struggle with yourself every day to challenge this thinking.  Instead of seeing the instances when the young or old person, does something completely wrong, look for when they make sense.  Work really hard to see it from their perspective.  What do you know that they don’t know that would change their perspective.  What EXPERIENCE (not advice or ‘telling’) could you help them have that would help shift their thinking.  Don’t give them the experience and then take credit for it.  Give them experience and let it go.  Give them the experience and try to figure out the next one that will lead them to an understanding of your point of view.  Think of it as an experiment.  Keep trying things.  Try with one person.  Try with two people.  Compare.  What worked and why.  What didn’t work and why?

Now experiment  with yourself.  Listen to your language.  Are you “them” and “us” -ing?  Are you plopping damning stereotypes on a whole category of people?  Work to see each as an individual.  Note the ways in which the person is ‘different’ from the stereotype.  Another thing we humans do–we make fairer judgements about others who we see as ‘exceptions’ to the stereotype.  “Well, s/he is DIFFERENT.”  Of course s/he is–we are ALL different.  None of us completely fit the damning stereotype.  The sooner you can stop applying that stereotype, the sooner you can stop discriminating.

Go for it!

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Filed under Diversity, Inclusion, Personal Change

Are They Discriminating Against You? Probably.

iStock_000011070043XSmall

Discrimination

Not only is it likely that someone (or several someones) are discriminating against you, it is also likely that you are discriminating against someone (or several someones).  It is human nature that we like/trust/believe in/select those who are like us more than those who are different from us.  So . . . Europeans choose Europeans, Americans choose Americans, young people choose young people.  Then there is the problem of stereotypes.  We believe them–without even being aware of them for the most part.  We believe that ‘old’ people aren’t as capable as people our age. We believe that young people aren’t ambitious (at least the latest generation).  Asian people are smart at math.  Women aren’t ambitious because they’re going to go have babies. White men are more ambitious than black men.  And on and on and on.  These stereotypes cause us to discriminate, sometimes without our even being aware of it.  Stereotypes are as  wrong as they are right.  In fact, those of us who are the subject of the stereotypes usually believe they are wrong–period.  I say all of this to acknowledge that discrimination is alive and well in all of our behaviors.   I’m not in any way defending it, just acknowledging it.

So what?

There are laws against discrimination.  There are rules against discrimination.  There are lots of reasons for all of us to struggle against discrimination by others and ourselves.  There are people whose whole existence is focused on the struggle against discrimination.

Can you wait?  Can you wait until everyone stops discriminating against you?  I can’t.  I think it’s time to take the battle on directly.  I think it’s time to work around/through/over and under discrimination.  Just because the decision makers at your organization think you are too old or too young, that doesn’t mean that that is the case at other organizations.  You have a responsibility to yourself to find a place to work that values you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  You need to find a way to make a living that values who and what  you are.

I talk to people who are absolutely sure that they are being discriminated against.  That makes them feel like there is nothing that they can do about it.  They are the age they are.  They are born black or Hispanic or Asian or female, and nothing can change that. True.  There are places, organizations, friends, decision makers, and opportunities where it doesn’t matter.  Go find them.  You are not sentenced to the status quo.  You choose it.

Do something different.

You are not stuck.  When you graduated from high school you didn’t think about this the way you do now (unless, of course, you just graduated from high school).  Life and your experiences have made you believe that people are discriminating against you.  Wipe all that experience off your radar and ASSUME that someone out there can and will believe in you and what you can do.  Go FIND them!  Where are they?  Make people prove that they don’t believe in you instead of assuming that they don’t.  To be clear, I’m not saying they AREN’T discriminating.  I’m saying, don’t let that rule your life.  Go work someplace else.  Go work for a different boss.  Find a way to make a living (including working for yourself) that doesn’t let those who discriminate against you prevent you from doing/being/having what you deserve.  I know that it might be hard.  I know that it would be a lot easier for all of us if discrimination wasn’t a factor.  Don’t let it prevent you from living your life, making a living, being successful.

And then focus on your own discriminatory behavior.

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Filed under Derailment, Diversity, Executive Development, Inclusion, Job Hunt, New Job

Reflections on Being a Mother, Working and “Leaning In”

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great day to reflect on being a mother.  And on being a mother who works.  And on the controversy over Sharon Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  I come from a family of working mothers.  My mother worked.  Her mother worked.  It frankly never occurred to me not to work. It never occurred to me to hold back or not be ambitious (something that Ms. Sandburg says that some women do). I guess I was lucky–I had models of working mothers who managed both jobs and families. I had the luxury of having a husband who believed that I should work, who supported me in working and who carried close to a 50/50 load at home (he traveled more than me for many years, so it wasn’t 50/50 in those years).  My kids were adequately cared for–if not perfectly cared for; my house was never really clean, and my career worked well enough–until I got near the top of the organization.  Whatever the reason for my not becoming a C-suite-r, it wasn’t because I was a mother or because I cut corners because I had a family.  Or maybe it was.  Maybe the people above me made decisions about my career taking my family into consideration.  I don’t know.  I just know that a certain point I chose to leave the organization where I worked because I definitely wasn’t going up any more and there were interesting opportunities for me outside of working for that company.

The bottom line is that being a mother is very important. Working is very important(to some). Being at the top is very important (to some). You have to find your balance among them. You have to find your own happiness.  There are prices–guilt, being tired, dirty houses, missed soccer games. As long as you’re being driven by your own values and dreams you can make it work. I have two very successful daughters, in part because they had a model to follow.  My successful sons regularly do more than 50%.  I guess they had a model too.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity

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.

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

Does Aggressive Leadership Work?

BadBossThe Rutgers Coach

I had breakfast with a group of friends this morning, evenly divided male/female.  The topic of the Rutgers coach who got fired came up.  I don’t think anyone in the discussion had seen more than a brief clip of the video that detailed the coach’s aggressive behavior toward his athletes.  “Like Bobby Knight” was a quick comparison that came up in the discussion.  Then someone said, “That aggressive style works.”  Participants (all male) in the discussion cited their own experiences with aggressive coaches or bosses and defended that style as effective.  (Since none of these folks had seen the video, they were not defending this coach’s behavior specifically, but an aggressive coaching/leadership style generally).

My position was that aggressive leadership styles work as long as the leader is physically present or likely to be in the vicinity, but that “when the cat is away” the style stops working.  In fact, it is my experience that aggressive (or worse, abusive) styles are more destructive than constructive because they create negative reactive behaviors, damage employee/leader  (or coach/athlete) relationships, and are short term effective, long term destructive.  They rely on bullying rather than inspiring.

So, I throw this out to you.  What do you think.  Does the aggressive style used by some coaches and lots of managers work?  Is it ok?  Is it productive or destructive?  Is it more acceptable for those who have experienced it in their lives than for those who have not, but have only watched it from afar?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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Filed under Executive Development, Leadership

Why Is It So Hard to Build A Team?

 

PPP_PRD_060_3D_people-TeamworkTeams Are Easy, Right?

In theory it should be easy to create a team.  Each stakeholder part of the organization sends their best and brightest, outside expertise is brought in, the goal is explained and the “team” gets to work.  The reality is almost always different.

The reality is that each stakeholder part of the organization has a different agenda.  Some parts of the organization really want the goal to happen.  Some kind of want it to happen, as long as it doesn’t disrupt other things.  Some parts of the organization emphatically don’t want it to happen.  In fact those parts of the organization and their leadership will work hard to keep the goals from happening.  Leadership in some parts of the organization may feel that the project goals have been inflicted upon them.  When they select team members, they may choose people who aren’t the best and brightest.  Or they may instruct their team members to protect the suborbanization’s interest at all costs.

Frequently the people who are chosen to join the team are not relieved of their day jobs.  The people in their home organizations don’t have a real appreciation of the team demands being placed on the team member and just see a diminishment in performance.  They don’t see the massive increase in responsibility and demand being created by team responsibilities.  This creates a tension for the team member that is painful.  It actually puts the team member’s career at risk.

Ideally the outside expert resources are there with the best interests of the organization at heart.  Frequently, however, they are the “them” to the organization’s “us.”  There are rules about how these outside resources can be treated by the organization–there are barriers to keep them from being identified as employees for tax and regulation purposes.  These differences just enforce the ‘outsider’ aspect.  It is hard to create a team when you’ve got the them and us dichotomy.

According to Wikipedia, a dichotomy is “any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts.

It is a partition of a whole into two parts that are:

  • jointly exhaustive: everything must belong to one part or the other, and
  • mutually exclusive: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts”

How do you create a ‘whole’–a TEAM–when you start out with the split between the outsiders and the insiders? How do you build a team when each member comes from an organization, led by a leader in control of the team member’s career, with a different agenda?

Start with the Goals

  • The goals must serve the ORGANIZATION.  The goals may serve one part of the organization more, but the WHOLE organization must benefit from project.
  • The team members–all of them, from every part of the organization, from the inside and the outside–must be able to see the benefit to the whole organization.  This may be a process.  Every team member comes to the team with his/her own organization’s perspective.  Changing that perspective to see and want what is best for the whole organization is a process, it takes time.  It must start, however, with goals that DO benefit the whole organization.  Without this, creating a ‘team’ is a non-starter.

Build Relationships

People will work to benefit their friends.  I’m not saying that all team members have to be friends, but there have to be cordial, complex, willing relationships among team members.  That transformation from us to “US” must take place.  This is what organizations are trying to create and support when they bring in “team building” activities.  These help.  They are not enough, though, especially when the team is dipped briefly in the team building and then goes back to whatever business as usual that happened before.

Things that help build relationships:

  • Proximity–teams that work together and live together (in a work sense) form relationships and are forced to work through problems among themselves.  In a virtual world, you have to figure out how to do this.  Things like Lync and Skype help with this enormously, but creating opportunities to really get to know each other are essential.
  • Eating–human beings feel better about people when they break bread together.  Why is that?  Who knows–it probably goes back to the cave days.  At any rate, eating together helps build relationships.
  • Playing–it helps to see each other in different roles and places.  Outside the work context.  When you play together you start to see each other differently.  You develop inside jokes, fun memories, even trust.
  • Talking–encourage people on the team to talk about things beyond just the tasks of the project.  It is NOT a waste of time.
  • Solving hard problems–let the team, rather than their leadership, solve the hard problems.  At first they will resist that.  At first they will delegate up.  If they start working together to solve the problems, they will form different, more integrated relationships.
  • Celebrating–all kinds of celebrations create and cement relationships.  When people feel happy and proud, they feel connected. They associate with positive celebratory feelings help cement the relationships.

Discipline and Execution

Get the project done.  Enforce deadlines–for everyone.  The chief complaint for people on teams is that some people do all the work and everyone gets all the credit.  If there is a system that assigns tasks and enforces delivery on those tasks; if team members see steady progress and see that everyone is working; if leadership sees things moving along and meeting expectations, then the team works better.

Bottom Line: Do What It Takes

Building teams is work.  Don’t take the team creation be the end.  Keep trying things until your done.  A great team delivers a project.  It’s worth it.

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Filed under Teams, Trust

Are You Stuck?

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Have you noticed that you’re not moving up in your organization any more?  Have your last couple of job changes been laterals?  Have your last couple of reviews been ho-hum? Are you starting to get the message that you’re stuck in your career trajectory?  There are some common causes and, believe it or not, some things that YOU can do about it.

Are You Bored?

Do you find yourself finding other things to do (other than your job) at work?  Are you consistently late for work and early to leave? Do you think you can do your job in your sleep? Have you done it and done it and done it and don’t want to do it anymore? Do you remember when you were challenged by the tasks of your job, but that was a long time ago?  Boredom is a common cause of burnout and demotivation in a job.  And it shows.  You may be the most experienced, the one with the longest tenure, but if you aren’t engaged with your job, it shows.  People who aren’t engaged don’t get promoted.  People who are bored are obvious about being bored.  People who are bored don’t get promoted.

Are You Under-Performing?

Have you noticed that people are passing you up?  Are they getting promoted (or appreciated and recognized) when you sit there like chopped liver?  This is the time to be really honest with yourself.  Are you really performing as well as them?  I know you’ve been telling yourself that you are, but are you really?  Are you making deadlines?  Are you over-delivering?  Are you looking for ways to improve what you do?  Are you looking at what you boss (and her boss) needs and trying to figure out how to get that done in addition to what you’re supposed to work on?  If your peers are over-performing, then you aren’t making the cut if you are merely performing.

Do You Have an “Attitude”?  That Shows?

Are you pissed?  Are you aware that you’ve been treated unfairly, badly, been ‘wronged’?  If so it shows.  No matter how much you try to keep it under wraps, it shows.  If it shows, people back off from you.  They can ‘feel’ your anger.  They certainly don’t promote angry people-even people who are out-performing others.

Are You Falling Behind?

We are constantly barraged by new systems, new tools, new processes at work.  Are you up-to-date on all of them?  Even the ones that you don’t need to use very often?  These tools, systems and processes change the way our minds work.  If you’re not keeping up, then you mind is not in sync with your co-workers’ minds.  Or your bosses.  People who can’t do the latest systems and tools rationalize it–I can do the same thing–the old way.  That may be true.  For a while.  Then others can take it to the next level and then the level beyond that.  And you can’t go there with the old way.  You may not even know what you can’t do if you don’t understand the new way.  Think about the things that you don’t do.  Texting?  Excel Pivot tables? Macs? Photoshop? Prezi? Dropbox?  Get with it. Do it.  Keep up.

Are You Being Rigid?

This is somewhat related to the item above, but that is more about tools and systems.  This is more about the way you think.  Are you open to new ideas?  I do organizational change management for major organizational changes.  I do a lot of ‘readiness’ workshops.  I see the rigid ones.  They are hard to get to the sessions.  They sit in the back and glare.  They bring up all the ways/reasons/causes that this won’t work.  My personal favorite, “We tried this before.”  Everyone resists some changes–that is completely normal.  If you resist all changes, if you are the one who knows all the ways and reasons this won’t work, then you aren’t fun to have around.  You certainly aren’t likely to be promoted.

Are You Not A Good Fit For Your Organization Anymore?

Organizations change.  People change.  Just like with marriages, sometimes you’ve grown apart.  Sometimes it’s time to move on.  The hard part is knowing when.  I used to work for an organization that was fairly small when I started and very large when I left.  It was a midwestern company when I started and an European conglomerate when I left.  It had one kind of product when I started and lots of kinds of products when I left.  Over the course of time from when I started and when I left there was an ebb and flow to the ‘fit’ for me.  Some management changes made it worse and some made it better.  Some positions were good fits for me and some were lousy.  In the end, it was me who had changed the most.  It was me who figured out what I liked about the work I had done for this company and figured out that I could find more of that kind of work as a consultant than as an employee at that company. It was a gradual evolutionary change in the relationship.  It happens.  It takes considerable thought and analysis to figure out whether it is a normal ebb and flow in the relationship or time to move on.  When it is time, either for you or the organization, then it isn’t likely that you will keep moving up.

What Do You Do?

Even if you decide that the fit isn’t right, there are things you can do in the mean time.  You have to really be honest with yourself.

  • If you’re bored, figure out how you can start to out-perform your peers.
  • Figure out how you can over-deliver.  Figure out how, in addition to your normal responsibilities, how to deliver something that your boss really needs.
  • If you’re angry, get some professional help to understand where it is coming from and to decide what to do about it.
  • If you are behind on the technology or systems or processes in your organization, then dedicate yourself to catching up and becoming an expert.
  • If you’re rigid, start to experiment with loosening up.  If you find yourself having a negative reaction to an idea, explore–privately at first–what would actually be the worst thing that could happen if the event took place.  Little steps can take you a long way to letting go of your rigidity.  Once you’re comfortable with letting go a little, then start to be more vocal about that openness.
  • If you are not a good fit for your organization, figure out why not, what you need in an organization and then GO FIND IT.
  • Any and all of these will relieve your boredom.  When you are experimenting with new behavior and thinking, it is really hard to be bored.

When your boss and peers see changes in you, it is highly likely that your upward trajectory will restart.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Personal Change, Success, Uncategorized

Mentor Me, Mentor You

Find a Mentor.  Use a Mentor. Be a Mentor.

I’m sure you’re always hearing the advice that you need a mentor.  In fact, you’ve even heard it from me.    Why do people keep giving that advice?   There is research that  supports the theory that people with mentors are more successful, get promoted faster and are happier on the job. It certainly has been my personal experience.   My mentors guided me over rough spots, taught me things that I needed to know, and told me things straight that no one else would.

What Do Mentors Do That Helps?

  • Provide One-On-One Support
  • Provide A Different Organizational Perspective (and Usually a Better One)
  • Provide Help With Organizational Politics
  • Provide a Power Boost to Your Network
  • Provide a Different Generational Perspective
  • Provide Some Problem or Task Specific Guidance
  • Hold You Accountable
  • Help Make the Unknown Knowable

Help and support signpost

Types Of Mentoring Relationships

  • Developmental– These mentors help you grow your abilities and skills.  They teach, model and guide.
  • Sponsorship–These mentors can open doors to you–help you get into a school or an organization.
  • Hierarchical–Most of us think of mentors/mentees as  a ‘Senior Person in Organization/Junior Person in  the Organization’ model.  This is probably the most standard kind of mentor relationship in career development.
  • Expertise–This relationship between an expert and a novice can be based on knowledge, skill or experience.  This mentor can help with specific or global learning.
  • Boss Mentors, Boss’ Boss Mentors, Boss’ Peer Mentors–Bosses can be good mentors, as can their peers or bosses.  These mentor relationships have to be handled with a little more care since there are potential negative ramifications if it doesn’t work out.
  • Career, Dream, Life–Mentors come in many flavors.  They can help your career trajectory.  They can also help you achieve your dream–start a business, write a book, learn to cook.  They can also help you with other aspects of a great life–being a good husband, father, golfer, healthy.
  • Generational Mentors–Most mentor relationships are between older mentors and younger mentees.  Consider getting a younger mentor–they definitely have a different perspective.  If you can get over thinking that your perspective is “right,” through a relationship with a younger mentor, then you will be far better off than you are now. Younger mentors know things that you don’t know and their mental models are different.  Sooner or later, you will work for someone younger than you.  Who better to help you get good at than than someone of the same generation.

How Do You Find A Mentor?

What Do You Want From A Mentor?

Get very clear about why you want a mentor.  ‘Just cause’ isn’t good enough.  When you think about your career, or your life, or your progress, what is missing.  How do you think a mentor can help you?  What are your goals?  What do you need to know?  What do you need to do?  Investigate whether your organization already has a  mentoring program that would help you.  Even if you aren’t eligible for some reason–find out how it works, how mentors/mentees are chosen.  You might want to model it for yourself.  Based on your goals and gaps, who could help you?

How Do You Pick?

  • Think of someone who is where you want to be.
  • Think of someone who you like.
  • Think of someone who knows how to do something that you need to know how to do.
  • Think of someone who is well-connected to people who could help you.
  • Think of someone who is a thought leader in your field.
  • Think outside your organization.  Is there someone in another organization (not a competitor) who can help you understand? (Try using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search)
  • Think virtual–your mentor doesn’t have to be physically present–not today.
  • Think more than one–I once worked with a very successful man who had three–two for different aspects of his business and one for balance.

How Do You Ask Someone to Be a Mentor?

First of all, don’t wait.  Mentors can be major accelerators for career performance.  Just the questions they ask can cause you to change your performance.  I know it is hard to approach someone, especially someone you don’t know well, and ask them to help you on something as personal and important as your career.  Push yourself to do it.

  • Start small.  Ask for some advice.  Reply to a blog post.  Go speak to the person after a presentation or speech.  Comment on a book.  Ask for an interview for an article, a blog, a presentation. Seek an introduction through LinkedIn.
  • Gauge the reaction to the first encounter.  How did it feel to interact with the person?  How open did the person seem.  Don’t give up after the first encounter.  Find another way to interact again.
  • Be proactive.  Get noticed.
  • Once noticed, ask.  Ask if the person would be willing to be your mentor.  Or ask if the person would be willing to have an occasional conversation about your career.  Ask if the person will advise you about how your project.  Or, based on her experience and career path, what she would suggest as next career steps for you.
  • Don’t get too formal too quickly.
  • Be clear and honest on who you are, what you need, what you can provide.  (In a recent LinkedIn survey on women mentors, most women said they had never been mentors because . . . wait for it . . . they had never been asked.

If your first or second encounter with the person doesn’t “feel” right, then don’t continue.  Mentor relationships are dependent on the chemistry between the two parties to work well.  You certainly can learn from people you don’t ‘click’ with, but a long-term, ongoing mentor relationship works best if there is a connection between the two.  It works best if both people genuinely care about each other and want to contribute to the success of the encounters and each person’s goals.  If the person you seek out declines, move on.  I know you hear it all the time, but IT ISN’T PERSONAL.  He is busy.  She feels uncomfortable at the idea of being a mentor.  He doesn’t want to run afoul of your boss.  She doesn’t believe bosses are good mentors.  Whatever his/her reason, articulated or not, move on.  Find someone else.  There are thousands of people (at least) out there who can be just as good a mentor as the one you just asked.

How Do You Get the Most Out Of A Mentor Relationship?

  • Straight Talk:   The most important thing in a mentor relationship is to create an environment where your mentor feels comfortable being straight with you.  It is an incredible gift to get clear and unencumbered feedback about yourself, you skills, the way others perceive you and WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.  If you overreact, get emotional or aren’t straight yourself, you will have some nice conversations, but you will not have a powerful mentor relationship.
  • Work It, It’s Up To You:  The success of the relationship and the subsequent results are UP TO YOU.  You do the work.  It is your career or dream or life.  You get the answers, the feedback, the ideas and THEN YOU WORK IT.
  • Don’t Waste Their Time: Treat the relationship and its output like the gift that it is.  Be grateful.  Reciprocate.  Don’t think that because you are lower down the hierarchy or are younger or less educated that you don’t bring something to the table.  You bring a different perspective.  Anytime you (or your mentor) sees things differently, you become more powerful and more capable of better solutions.

Become A Mentor Yourself, And Get Even More Out Of It

If you think having a mentor is good, being a mentor is better.  Having to articulate your knowledge, perspective, theory of success or providing “how-to” knowledge makes you better.  It opens you up to new ideas and provides you with energy and motivation.  It is a really great experience.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Mentor

Are You Too Old To Get a (New) Job?

iStock_000016076327XSmallHow Old Is Old? 

Lately the theme of being too old has continued to pop up in my coaching practice like a Whack-A- Mole game on steroids.  The ironic thing is that the people who have brought it up have ranged from 39 to 60.  These people are not making this up out of whole cloth.  They are getting a signal from something or someone that they are too old to do the job they want to do.  Is there an age that is too old for a job?  Of course there is.  Ninety years old is (probably) too old to do the Tour de France.  So . . . there is probably an age that is too old to do some kinds of physical jobs.  How about mental jobs?  I personally doubt it.  There are people who are as mentally agile in their nineties as some 25 year olds.  I am not saying that all 90 year olds are, but there are some.  And there are some 90 year olds that would be better employees than some 25 year olds.  There aren’t many 90 year olds out there looking for jobs, so let’s talk about my 30-60 year olds who are being put aside because they are “too old.”

Let’s start with what is going on in the job seeker’s head.  Are there other reasons that they aren’t getting the job that they are attributing to being too old.  In other words, is the “too old” thought in the job seeker’s head rather than in the recruiter’s head?  Maybe.  When you don’t get a job and you are looking for a reason, sometimes you attribute it to your own greatest concern–in this case, being too old.  In other cases, not being pretty enough, or being too tall, or not being an extrovert, or not being smart enough.  In other words, maybe you are self-sabotaging by attributing your failure to get the job as being something about yourself that you can’t change.  What about if it was because you didn’t come across in the interview well (you talked too much, or you didn’t make eye contact).  What about if it was something on your resume–in one case in my recent experience a typo!–or the lack of the kind of experience they are looking for.  Or, what if, as in most cases these days, the resume just never got in front of the right eyes?  Your resume was the 583rd resume that came in when they stopped looking at 30?  SO, examine your own mindset and make sure you aren’t attributing it to age, when it is something altogether different.

It is about age, sometimes, though.  People (recruiters, hiring managers, and even you) have stereotypes and prejudices about age that stop you at the door.  Understandingstereotypes a little can help to counter it bit.

Stereotypes

Let’s look at common stereotypes about aging:

  • Older people are more set in their ways
  • Older people’s thinking ability deteriorates
  • Older people’s physical ability deteriorates
  • Older people don’t make good decisions
  • Older people can’t learn, especially technology
  • Older people can’t remember things

So why would anyone want to hire someone for a job who is set in their ways, can’t think, can’t do physical work, can’t make good decisions, can’t learn and can’t remember things?  No one would.  The problem is, these things are not true about ALL old people. In fact, they aren’t true about MOST old people.  (And remember, some of these “too old” people we’re talking about aren’t even 40 yet.)  In some businesses, especially those high tech, start-up kinds of businesses, twenty somethings are preferred to those older than that.

Stereotypes exist because there are some truths to them.  Some old people are set in their ways (as are some young people–ever met a rebellious 16 year old?) Some older people–even as young as late forties–have dementia.  While I am actually stronger and in better shape than I was in my thirties, there are “old” people who have let themselves deteriorate physically.  (Not to say that I’m OLD, but I am over 39)  And then there are those who haven’t kept up with the technology (although if I need my computer fixed, I call on my 80 something father–or my 21-year-old nephew, and frequently they consult).  The tough thing about stereotypes is that they are not reasoned, rational thoughts.  They are automated, instant conclusions that we frequently don’t even know that we have.  That makes them very hard to refute.  When someone who is recruiting for a job takes one look at your resume, looks at your years of experience, the year you graduated from school, the year of your graduate degree, she automatically concludes you are too old for the job because her auto-thoughts go to all the stereotypes listed above.  She can’t even stop herself from dong that.  It gets worse if the person she is hiring for has told her (illegally, I might add) that he doesn’t want anyone over 30 or 40 or 50.  Now she’s got instructions to validate her stereotypes.

Stereotypes Don’t Apply To You

These things don’t apply to you, you say.  You feel, think, act, deliver the same way that you did 20 years ago.  Yeah, that’s the frustrating thing about this.  When a “wrong” stereotype applies to you, reality isn’t a sufficient defense.  Because stereotypes are based on facts.  They are based on generalized assumptions.  So what do you do?  First of all, you MAKE SURE that the stereotypes don’t apply to you.  Make sure you are up to date in all the latest theories, research, tools, and current news in your field.  Make sure that you are current in all the technology.  You don’t text, you say, because it is expensive, or dangerous, or whatever.  Most big companies these days have a texting-IM’ing ability for their employees for in-house communication.  You better learn.  You don’t do Excel, or Publisher, or Access because you never needed it.  You need it now.  Learn it.  You don’t do webex or Telepresence or GoToMeeting.  Then you can’t meet with a huge contingent of workers in almost any company these days.  Learn it.  You cannot stop paying attention to and learning technology tools.  If you do, then they’re right.  Get yourself and keep yourself in shape.  I heard a recruiter say that he walked people up the stairs and if they were huffing and puffing at the top, then they didn’t get the job.  Fair?  No.  Legal–not sure–depends on the job maybe.  Real?  Yes.

Once you make sure that indeed, none of this applies to you, then you need to counteract it in the recruiter/hiring manager’s head.

  • Get past the resume screen.  You need to have at least 10 years experience (if you have it) on your resume.  After that, make a calculation about whether  the older experience is relevant?  Can you say, “more than ten years experience?” Is there a logical break short of going back to when you dipped ice cream at Baskin Robbins?  Address the relevant experience necessary for the job, but consider taking some of it off your resume.  I know, I know, you are more valuable because of that experience.  Prove that to them in the interview, or on the job.  Don’t get cut at the resume stage.  Same is true for the year you graduated from college.  Is the information that is important that you graduated, or the year that you graduated.
  • Get them to see you as a person, as opposed to an (too) old person.  The one thing that helps overcome stereotypes is for people to come to see you as not a fit with the stereotypes.  We all do this.  We don’t necessarily admit to anyone that we do it, but once we see a person as “one of us”–co-worker, friend, leader–as opposed to as “one of them,” we stop thinking that the stereotypes apply.   Do this in the phone screen.  Do this in the interview.  Do it in any interaction you have with the recruiter or the hiring manager.  Do it with interactions with co-workers.  Is it fair that you have to do this?  No.  Is it effective?  Yes.
  • When you encounter a recruiter/hiring manager who is probing your resume/experiences trying to prove/apply the stereotypes, challenge them.  Yes, I said challenge them.  You don’t have anything to lose.  If they are trying to figure out your age, then they hold those stereotypes.  They aren’t allowed to ask how old you are, so they’ll ask what year you graduated from college.  Or they’ll ask whether something was your ‘first’ job with this company.  They’re going to go where they’re going to go. If you ask them if they are trying to figure out how old you are, then you make it a little better for the rest of us who come after.  You probably won’t get the job, but you probably weren’t going to get it anyway.  You can ask them why they think age is relevant for this job. Are there some parts of the job that are specific to younger people.  Again, let me be clear–this will not help you get the job.  It will make their stereotype-thinking more conscious and it might make a difference in changing the way they think–for those who come after.

Get The Stereotypes Out Of Your Own Head

When you don’t get a job, do not automatically assume it is because of the way you are (age, health, credentials).  Of course it may be.  But it is more likely to be about the fact that your resume never got to where it needed to get–it didn’t make it past the computer screen, never got to the top of the pile, etc.  The way you think about it is critical to your ability to get up and keep going.  Erase the stereotypes from your own head.  Assume other decision points.  Keep going.

Best Way To Find A Job, Stereotypes Or Not.

NetworkingHidden Job Market.  Stereotypes are much less a factor when you do it this way.

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Stick with Your New Year’s Resolutions: Find Your Gateway Habits

new years resolutions

Another Year, Another List

Do you make the same New Year’s Resolutions year after year?  Save money.  Lose weight. Get a new job. Get a promotion.  Spend more time with the family.  Do you ever get your resolutions done?  How about trying something new this year.

Look at your resolutions.  What is the one key thing that you could do that would make a difference on all of them?  What behavior could you change that would help you achieve your goals for the year?  For example, if this were your list of resolutions:

  • Lose weight
  • Start a blog
  • Spend more time with the kids

What behavior change could you make that would help achieve all of them?  What about if you increased your weekly and daily planning?  What about if each week–let’s say on Sunday–you planned your meals for the week, calendared exercise and writing and time with the kids-and then followed up each morning (or evening if that works better for you) with specifics re:  food you’re going to eat, review of what you have eaten, when/where you’re going to exercise and activities with the kids?  If you put weekly/daily planning into your life, then your success with your yearly goals is much more likely.  If you add a “gateway” habit into your life that serves your goals, then you are much more likely to be able to stick to achieving your goals.In this case, the weekly/daily planning would be a gateway habit.  If you want to increase your exercise, parking far from the door or walking up the stairs could be a gateway habit.   If you eliminate an existing gateway habit—eating in the car, starting your day with the Internet–then you can impact the follow on unconscious habits.

Gateway Habits

A gateway habit is a habit that leads to other behaviors and habits.  According to research done at Duke University, more than 40% of the actions people take each day are unconscious habits.  Autopilot.  We’re aren’t thinking about it.  We just do it.  Like what we eat for lunch.  Like the snacks we grab as we walk through the kitchen.  Like the TV in the background.    One of these unconscious habits leads to the next–drinking and smoking, watching TV and eating–and at the end of the year, we’ve made no progress.  The secret to making changes is to identify key gateway habits that will lead to other changes that get you to your goals.  Changing gateway habits helps make all the related habits conscious and puts us more in control.

For example, if you need to lose weight, you could cut out eating after 7 pm.  Make your eating after 7 a conscious no-no.  Once you’ve mastered that, all of your eating will be more conscious.  Then focus or what you eat for lunch, or decide to always eat breakfast.  This will make your eating much more conscious.  Before you know it, you are in control of your unconscious eating.  Losing weight is easier when you are focusing on specific eating-related habits, rather than all the deprivations of losing weight.  Add new habits as you succeed with changing and before you know it, you’ve succeeded.  You can have as much success through eliminating existing gateway habits.

Great books to help you with getting control of your unconscious and conscious behavior:

Try Something New This Year.  What Do You Have to Lose (or Gain)?

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Filed under Books, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Personal Change