Leadership Labs – Mentor for the first steps

At some point, a leader is going to give you a tough message. Maybe it is your next mentor. Mentors are a critical piece to career growth, even more so for leaders looking to reach executive levels. Nothing can take the place of experience, and mentors can multiply experience through their coaching and insights. It is essential to put stock in the right mentoring relationships and record the lessons learned from them.

Early on in my career, I certainly worked for some great leaders, but they were not mentors. These leaders often lacked conviction or had benefited from lousy office politics. I quickly discerned that I did not want success based on being part of the right good old boy network. I also did not want to be a leader or invest in a business that did not truly value its employees. The environment must support mentoring. Meaning leaders must align to a set of values, and the organization must use mistakes as an opportunity to coach and build up their team members. 

A few years into my career, I accepted a role with a new company in the Treasure Valley and met my first mentor. My mentor was my direct leader and a relationship that would carry on to this day. It has not always been an easy relationship. Each of us has grown as people and teammates over the years. However, the lessons have certainly stuck, and early on in my career, they were the building blocks of my long-term success. The first piece of having a great mentor is that they do not just make you better at work, but a better person all around. 

Accountability was the first great lesson I learned from my mentor. At the time, it was not an easy lesson, and it came with consequences. I want to say that I handled it well, but I did not. This leader mentor was patient and took time to hear me out. Even more that took the opportunity to share the stern message that getting away with something and being stand up were two very different things. The lesson ultimately was about self-accountability and the personal power that comes with it. It taught me to manage the things I can control in my performance to better take on the things I cannot. Accountability was not the most important lesson I learned from this mentor, though. 

One of the most significant examples I saw from my mentor was being willing to take on risks, leaning heavily into self-accountability, working hard, and taking advantage of exposure moments. My mentor encouraged me to make my first move to Washington and put me in the right situations to shine. These exposure moments not only helped me to network but build up experience in how to work with others. It was my first lesson on how power dynamics work within an organization. When I was successful at obtaining my first manager role, my mentor was there for each step of the process, helping me prepare and have the right strategy. 

The lesson that evolved and has become the most important is experience. My mentor had a fantastic ability to see the opportunity of experience in each thing they took on. He could see what was needed to create an authentic experience for each person involved. It taught me to consider experience as part of the strategy, to not see things just at face value. The experience strategy is to have a long-term impression or impact. The experience strategy focuses on how each role contributes, what they take away, and the customer impact. Experience is the measurement that is longest-lasting and most impactful. Most use it as a guide on whether they want to continue or chose something else. 

It is not easy being a mentor. Being a mentor comes with stress and the loss of personal time. On many occasions, I have called my mentor late at night or shown up looking for advice in some of my most challenging times. We have not always agreed and have endured many food fights. Over the years, we have learned to lean into each other even more during tough times. Having a great mentor has helped set the example of being a leader that is available while still being a father and a husband. 

It is not uncommon to have more than one mentor throughout a career. I have certainly had other mentors, some that I chose and some that I did not. My first mentor gave me the building blocks that have become foundational in the success I have had in each position that I have held, not only making me a great teammate but a better person all around.

Essential lessons for mentoring:

In most cases, it is best when mentees get to chose their mentors. Work to create an environment where mentoring is encouraged. Create processes for when mentors need to be assigned where participants can interview each other and have options. The mentoring relationship is something that should be organic and has the opportunity to grow. Mentor relationships should be lasting and not set up to go for short bursts and programs. 

Be a mentor of honesty and transparency. No one wants development to someone’s puppet. Mentors should be observant and willing to give tough messages. Be ready to be a mentor who shares mistakes and discuss the lessons learned in their career. Having a mentor is about learning how to navigate an organization and make decisions. 

Choose a mentor with conviction and has aligned themselves to a set of values. When times get tough, you want an unwavering mentor and willing to stand next to you. More importantly, having a mentor whose opinion cannot easily be changed, especially about you.

Mentors should help young leaders to broaden their perspectives and challenge ways of looking at problems. Great leaders understand that diversity will build the path to inclusion. No one person is self-made, and very few are not willing to accept help.

The Wayward Manager – The beginning of a long journey

I had never planned to be the type of employee that would relocate. I grew up in a small town in Idaho. I was one of the few in my group of friends that did not have dreams of city life. I also did not put a lot of thought into what my career would be. I remember thinking if I could find something in time that pays around $55,000 a year, that would not be a bad living.  Who would have thought years later I would have lived in 5 new states, on each side of the country?

            My move to Washington came at an interesting time in my life. I was only a year out from a significant medical event where I had spent 30 days in the hospital.  My wife, Alycia, was four months pregnant with our first child. I had been promoted to a supervisor level less than 12 months prior. To add to the complication, I  lived in a house that I had flipped with my father and brother. I would be accepting a role that put my back into an analyst role, intending to get back into the organization I wanted to be a manager in.

            At this point in my career, I had certainly had to endure a young professional’s ups and downs. I relied on my ability to learn quickly and that no job was ever too tough. I had no problem doing what others would not or putting in more hours. I had not completed college like so many others, which would drive many of my decisions early in my career. One of my successes had been taking on new projects and or created positions. This move was for a new role that balanced leadership along with being an analyst. The exposure would be great as I would be in meetings with VP’s several times a week.

            I nailed the interview. I had put in the prep and was able to take control of the interview. My interview was a show of selling yourself and an idea of performance management. I wish I could say a great interview that I parlayed into future interviews, but win some, lose some. The interview was my first business trip ever. I had never rented a car or had to have the responsibility of finding an office in a new town. I came home on a high, mainly at the significant jump in my income that I would be receiving. I knew not having the education to lean back into that progression was necessary, and I needed to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me.

            I left Idaho with a Uhaul and my pregnant wife in a car behind me. We drove right through a snowstorm and over the blues mountain pass with no experience under our belts. I want to say I was accepted right away with welcoming arms. Instead, several of my new teammates thought an internal peer should have the new title I held. It was my first lesson on how to come in as the new guy and build relationships. More importantly, I had to learn how to be the new guy and quickly build credibility. 

            The worst task in the department was manually allocating call volume. I jumped at the opportunity to take this on from the people that worked with me. It was not fun, but I learned to make it enjoyable but always trying to improve my efficiency score. I also learned the importance of crisis management and mitigation. When things went down, we were the hub of communication and needed to engage all partners required for resolution. It was essential always to be prepared to answer a VP’s call on what was happening and an ETA for resolution.

            So many changes happened through the 11 months of my first relocation. I had endured my first typhoon and days without power, all while my wife was five month’s pregnant. Snowstorms that shut down roads, where I spent 6 hours driving two miles. My last grandmother passed away, and months later, the birth of my daughter. Many of the leaders that had hired me already had been promoted and moved on. It’s where I learned to rely on myself and start to be more observant of what was happening around me. The skill of observation has helped with much of the success that I had.

            Deep down, I think I believed that the move to Washington would help in my next promotion and would likely lead me back to Idaho reasonably quickly. The work that I did in Washington was so beneficial in my experience, and many of the relationships are still present today. As a whole, it built up my confidence that I could take a risk and see it through, that my wife and I could take on the world. We could support each other, and we were all we needed, even in the most challenging of situations.

            It might have been youthful ignorance or just chasing money, but there were several things I learned from the first moveā€”the long-term sustainability of a high cost of living even with a significant wage increase. How much it cost for child care, and what kind of wage it takes to offset this new bill. It seemed like the connection to family and friends back home slipped away quickly, and people will not come to visit as often as you like. Perhaps the most challenging was in the worst of times, having to look at my wife and say we are home.

The move worked out, and within 12 months, I achieved my next promotion to manager. It was the most validating thing that had happened in my adult life. It built up my confidence in myself, and I was so excited that I had achieved this level in my career. Two years earlier, I was not sure if I would make it through the night. Now I’m making good money, and my wife can stay home. We are new parents with so much opportunity in front of us. Oh, I should mention we also now have move two in front of us, this new promotion requires a move to Oregon.

Check out the next stage of the journey: https://idaleadershiplab.com/2021/03/29/the-wayward-manager-the-manager-role-is-a-lonely-one/

Health is a big part of the remote worker.

The past year dragged on in so many ways. Instead of time being the measuring, the first and last meetings of the day seem to be the clock. We couldn’t help but start observing the total people attending along with the total clicks our content received. Each moment seemed to compared to the amount of time until a weekend was here again. The expectations of schooling, working, and no peace were simply overwhelming. In perspective, everyone has been trying to rush through the slowest and most boring time any of us have experienced.

            The mental decline that came with the pandemic was well covered. For many, the cognitive decline happened right before most people’s eyes as they watched their co-workers through the camera. In a recent check-up with my Doctor, I had asked if the pandemic had made her office busier? She said, “no, fewer people are coming in, but those that come in are sicker.” At the time, I only consider those that come in with the COVID virus. After some recent problems with my health, I have a whole new perspective on last year’s time and the impact on overall health. After considering some of my own choices, here are some areas to consider. 

            Be careful habits started easier than we see ourselves starting them.   It was easy to observe how efficiently my days were, starting with better planning or taking time to go for a walk each day. I missed how much time I had spent sitting in the evening doing nothing.  Another miss was the amount of take-out ordered. Almost all activities outside the home are scheduled and come with the risk of infecting yourself or others. I had seen an increase in my time for running each day but had missed the weight gain from the poor eating.  Not only was the poor eating affecting my energy, but I also failed to consider the long-term impact.

            As a leader, do not think that the message is not for you as well. We talked about fatigue and signs to watch out for the changes we were experiencing brought the pandemic. In several mediums and meetings, resources are provided in several ways, and every employee was encouraged to use them. Maybe early on, the symptoms did not appear consistent. I may have felt I was making the changes that were needed to move forward. Having a journal that reflects on the emotions of the day can help. Maybe the swing was not drastic, or one symptom was not consistent. IF you added all of them up, something was not right.

            Be mindful of the routine you set versus the one you are following. Early on in the pandemic, I had started to plan differently for each day. The result of improved planning was all meetings and facilitation was going smoothly. I had failed to observe how often my days we starting earlier and ending later. With my office being so accessible, I had increased my pace of output. I was using my free time to focus more on work. If I added up all the symptoms and how often I was experiencing them, it might have made the diagnosis quicker.

Remote work is new, and it is easy to get out of sync with how each day connects with the previous one. It is essential to purposeful in how each day is approached and reviewed for closure. The measurements that often in the office should be re-evaluated and pointed into the home office as well. The remote worker must be compliant and adhere to their schedule as well. It is crucial to have the right boundaries. Take time to consider all the changes being experienced and the impact that is coming with them. Health is essential, and one symptom may only be part of the story.

Getting Started…

This is just the beginning, every business must start somewhere. Over the past several years I have been working to develop leaders directly for my internal company, and I have decided that it is time to take this show on the road. Please stop by and check out my thoughts in my blog or reach out about opportunity to attend one of our on site or virtual sessions. Want help getting your goals and dreams started, lets talk!