Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership and setting priorities in the face of disagreement

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 15, 2012

I have written a number of times about leadership in this blog and I come back to this general topic again and with the challenge of setting priorities as my point of discussion. Leaders have to understand and set priorities. As a basic principle, this sounds easy and straightforward. In practice, and when working with people who have invested time and effort and emotional energy into specific projects, programs and approaches, sorting through the options and deciding what to do now, what to do later and what to simply drop can be a lot less simple.

I have written about vision and leadership on several occasions (e.g. see Leadership in Balance – managing vision in the face of detail.) In a fundamental sense that is where a leader comes to see where the priorities have to be set. And this posting is at least in part about effectively conveying that vision to others – and in getting buy-in for it and even when that means convincing people who at least start out seeing they have something to lose from that vision. But it would be more correct to say that this posting is about working with others when they cannot simply, comfortably set aside their now low priority effort and investment and follow this new vision that does not include it.

• Setting priorities means charting a step-by-step and a goal-by-goal path forward.
• But it also means picking up the pieces and helping others to do that too, in the face of everything else that is going to be left out.

Words such as “communications skills” come up in contexts like this. But simply invoking good communications skills and moving on from there to the next topic misses the point. Managing these points of potential disagreement and dissatisfaction begins with listening, and from seeking to understand what the stakeholders of those now lower priority opportunities see in them.

• That should go into setting the priorities to follow, that important ones not be dropped from lack of understanding.
• That should go into determining what positive values and features of the now dropped or low priority options, might be carried over and acted upon in the higher priority items that are kept on the to-do list – you might not achieve them through the initiatives they were originally included in but you might end up supporting some of the goals in those proposals that you have to drop as originally proposed.
• This should go into convincing the people you work with and lead to try the new course that you envision and the priorities that this entails, and with them taking on new projects, programs and approaches that would fit in.

And you may find that some of the people you work with cannot or will not let go of their preferred pet projects and programs and you will have to deal with that. One important issue there is in making it clear to these colleagues that you have listened to them and that you do value their insight and judgment – and that your decision is not about them personally.

As a final thought for this posting:

• One very real reason for resisting change and for resisting the lowered priorities and the goals-dropping that setting new priorities brings, is that some of your people can see work requirements moving out of their areas of expertise and experience.
• People can and will resist change in goals and priorities when they see this as threatening their positions with the organization.

Responding to this can mean shifting people to new work areas where their current skills and experience are still needed. This can mean retraining. This can mean combinations of both of those options. And finally this can mean letting some people go and downsizing their old positions. This posting is not, however, about that level or stage in what turns out to be a longer and more involved process though. It is about going into the steps and decisions that you would have to in follow through on from making your priorities decisions, with a clear up-front understanding of what might happen as you do set your new goals and priorities. And it is about being prepared to carry through on this with minimal misunderstanding and with minimal potential for conflict.

You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 (and also see Business Strategy and Operations.) You can also find this in HR and Personnel.

Developing management and leadership skills in others – 7: teaching mentoring skills

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on February 6, 2012

This is my seventh installment on mentoring and on developing management and leadership skills in others (see HR and Personnel, postings 81-85 and 87 for parts 1-6.) I have been writing in this series about mentoring and the development of a culture of mentorship and about the sharing of best practices in management and leadership. With this posting I complete the circle with a discussion of training others to be effective, engaged mentors in this type of system.

• Mentor the people who you would want to see become effective mentors so they have positive experience and positive mentorship role models to develop this from in themselves.
• Be supportive of your would-be mentors, addressing their concerns. That means addressing potential challenges of favoritism that might arise for them. That means including this in their job descriptions and giving them the time to include mentoring in their responsibilities and as a part of their schedules. But mostly this means listen to their concerns and addressing their questions.
• Make the roles of mentee and mentor standard ways to share knowledge, perspective and experience, and both as individual career development tools and as a way to share best practices throughout the organization. Present this as one of the organization’s strengths and virtues that everyone on the team participate, gaining and sharing value.
• And set the example by actively participating in this culture of mentorship and from the top on down. If an organization’s senior leadership does not walk the talk for this no one else will feel enabled to do so either.

This is not a long posting by any means but it is a very important one, and both for this series and for the blog as a whole. Mentors are peers and colleagues, and not superiors in any way – not in this and regardless of relative positions between mentor and mentee on the table of organization. They are peers with value to offer and mentorship is a way to share that value and throughout an organization. And valuable insight can flow in any direction. When we work in complex organizations we are surrounded by potential sources of insight and knowledge that we could be tapping into and to mutual benefit. This posting and this series are all about systematically enabling achieving that.

I am certain that I will be coming back to the general topics of mentoring and building a culture of mentorship in future postings. Meanwhile, you can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation page: Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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Developing management and leadership skills in others – 6: teaching leadership skills

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on February 1, 2012

This is my sixth installment on mentoring and on developing management and leadership skills in others (see HR and Personnel, postings 81-85 for parts 1-5.) I began this series with a more general discussion of mentoring per se, reviewing the issues pro and con that it brings up when considered. I have also discussed mentoring and corporate culture, and the value in developing a mentoring system as a part of a core corporate culture and value system. After building this foundation I turned to the meat of the issue with Part 5: teaching management skills. And I follow up on that here with a discussion of teaching leadership skills.

I start here by drawing a sharp contract between leadership training and management skills training.

• Effective management skills call for effective communications and interpersonal skills – soft people skills. But the basic management skill set can in many respects be broken down into relatively standard learnable modules and the sharing of specific conceptual and performance-based tools. That is particularly true for basic management skills, and that is why there are so many management courses out there, including self-taught, computer-based automated courses with multiple choice tests to measure learning effectiveness and skills acquisition.
• More senior, advanced management skills are less subject to this type of training approach and teaching them calls for more individualized training approaches. Leadership skills, similarly, are generally best taught by individualized and mentoring approaches too. And this, I add, means learning from both positive and negative role model examples, though mentors are usually selected for their positive role model value.

My goal here is to at least touch upon a number of issues that come up in this type of mentoring.

Let’s start by considering this from the mentee perspective. Leadership training begins with confronting and understanding yourself, and knowing your own blind spots and your own automatic assumptions when you work with and deal with others.

I add that a need for self-knowledge and understanding applies to both mentee and to mentor as training someone else in leadership skills sheds a great deal of light on your own skills and practices too, as you take on mentor responsibilities.

• It is sometimes said that the best way to learn and in depth is to teach, as that forces you to examine and review, and to integrate together all of what you would teach as if with fresh eyes. This definitely applies to the teaching of leadership skills. Teaching forces you to step away from taking things for granted and leaving them only partly thought through.

In Part 4: mentoring versus favoritism and building a mentoring culture I write explicitly of mentoring in corporate cultures as an important approach for teaching more advanced leadership skills in managers who are moving up towards more senior positions. In this, when managers are expected to mentor others in helping them in their careers, the process of mentoring and the effort to help train others also makes them better managers and leaders too. This is a very important point, highlighting the positive synergies that come from having a business-wide culture of mentoring.

What are some of the basic lessons that upcoming and would-be leaders need to learn?

• Leaders need to be able to inspire others and leadership is all about developing trust in others that you will lead them in the right direction.
• A part of that is in learning how to step back from your own emotions and ambitions to look at the issues at hand from the perspective of the people you would lead too. You have to be connected and understand their needs and their concerns too, as you have to be able to do this if you are to enlist the active support of these people in advancing the cause of the mission and vision that you would fulfill with them.
• Some of this is a matter of rote-learnable process. But actually succeeding in this benefits from working with others who have gone through their own learning curves and who can help you manage and shorten your own, and with fewer missteps along the way – or at least with fewer missteps repeated.
• A good leadership mentor can step back and give you an objective, unemotionally involved, new perspective and this becomes very important for resolving issues and challenges where you as a mentee are personally, deeply involved, and perhaps too close to see real alternatives.

As a final thought here, a mentoring system of the type that I write of here can serve as a mechanism for creating and sharing institutional knowledge and wisdom and for disseminating and instilling a shared leadership culture throughout the organization.

I have written of finding a mentoring group – a loose collection of people you can turn to for wisdom, knowledge and insight (see Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation – part 7 and building a mentoring network) and that basic approach can be followed regardless of your career stage or your length of employment tenure at any given business. And in keeping with that, look beyond your own immediate colleagues and supervisors for mentorship value, as well as within your own more day to day work groups. And look for opportunities to serve as mentor as well as mentee, sharing value with others as well as receiving in either role.

In my next installment in this series I am going to turn to the issues of teaching mentoring skills and for senior management, developing a team of mentors and a mentoring-enriched management and leadership system.

You can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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When leadership means accepting the need for unpleasant conversations

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 30, 2012

Leadership is often and even usually spoken of in terms of the positive, and in terms of creating and conveying strategy and vision. Leaders organize others and bring them together in fulfilling goals that no single individual could achieve alone. But not all tasks and responsibilities are pleasant, and some can be difficult – and I do not just mean technically challenging when I write that. Leaders have to take responsibility for and ownership of difficult and unpleasant decisions and conversations too.

That can mean telling a member of your team that a project or program that they feel strongly about cannot be done, or if started, completed. That can mean sitting down with an employee to give them a negative performance review or a reprimand. That can mean letting someone go as part of a downsizing. It can mean firing an employee for cause. Leadership, and at whatever level on the table of organization, means following through on the positive and uplifting sides of the job in creating and sustaining opportunity. But leadership just as thoroughly and significantly means facing and going through unpleasant conversations too, and on following through on decisions made that come out of them.

Many managers viw the first time a new manager has to fire someone as the defining rite of passage test they go through as a manager and leader, and as the defining test of leadership per se. I do not agree with that and for a variety of reasons, but I do understand the point. Terminating employment of someone you have worked with is perhaps the archetypal unpleasant conversation that a leader can, and with time will have to face.

This posting is not about the specifics of the particular unpleasant conversation faced. That varies and in too many ways for it to make sense to have separate ad hoc approaches for each of the possibilities. Consistency and reliability are important here as measures of fairness. So this posting is about best practices for approaching and holding unpleasant conversations per se, and it is about consistent, fair follow-through for decisions and actions that come from these conversations.

• Understand and face your emotions as you consider the conversation and decisions to come, and then set them aside. Emotional outbursts from you as a manager and leader will not help, and responding with your own emotions in the face of any coming from the people you are meeting with would only cloud and confuse matters and make that conversation much more difficult for all.
• When you meet with people in these conversations listen at least as much as you speak – and even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. You have to end a favorite project that one of your managers has invested a great deal of time and energy and hope into because budget considerations no longer make it possible. You have to fire an employee with cause and for reasons that give you no real alternatives. Tell them what you have to say but listen to them too and even accept the fact that they may have to vent their emotions as well as share in their reasoning.
• Both of these points involve fairness and both allow for a measure of closure, and with the greatest chance possible that everyone will at least with time, realize the best or at least the fairest decision was made.

Timing and setting are very important here.

• Never avoidably berate an employee or colleague in public. If you have to criticize or deliver bad news, do so as a private conversation.
• Give the people you meet with in these conversations time to process what was said and discussed where that makes sense. If that means meeting with them on a Friday, do that if it is possible and feasible to do so. Pick you place and time for these conversations with care.
• But balance this with an equally compelling need to act promptly so as to not leave others hanging in wait of your decision.

Be decisive and finish with a clear message on the table.

• If that means letting an employee go by downsizing or firing, do that.
• If it means ending a project do that and end it cleanly, enabling its project manager and any project outcome stakeholders opportunity to close off loose ends.

I will finish this posting with a few additional thoughts.

• Learn from this so you can limit the need for avoidably having to repeat the same unpleasant conversation. If that means more thoroughly and effectively planning and prioritizing what projects you work on, or leading more strategically do that. If it means hiring with more care do that. The need for unpleasant conversations can serve as impetus to learn and to develop better best practices for moving forward.
• But accept that the truly unexpected can arise too, and can bring you to make force decisions that could not be anticipated or planned for but that you still have to make.
• And when you have to hold an unpleasant conversation, take on this responsibility yourself and do it. Be the bearer of good news when that is appropriate but be the bearer of bad news when that is necessary too.

You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 and see also Business Strategy and Operations. I have also included this in HR and Personnel and you can find related postings there too.

Developing management and leadership skills in others – 5: teaching management skills

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 25, 2012

This is my fifth installment in a series on developing management and leadership skills in others (see HR and Personnel, postings 81-84 for parts 1-4), and I turn in it from the issues of mentoring and building a mentorship supportive corporate culture per se, to the specific issues of training others in management skills. My next posting in this series after this one will consider leadership training. And after that I will post on teaching mentoring skills themselves, and on training managers and leaders to be effective mentors too, to bring this discussion full circle.

• The best management oriented mentoring is very here and now focused, and oriented towards capturing the lessons-learned potential of the moment – clarifying, prioritizing and resolving real world challenges currently faced.
• That does not mean that good advice should be or is entirely ad hoc or applicable only to an immediate circumstance, though. An important part of hands-on management training is in helping a less experienced colleague more readily discern when a novel, none-of-the-above approach might be needed.
• A lot of what a mentor shares that offers lasting value is generalizable, and helps the mentee to build a skills and experience foundation to work from.
• I return to the first bullet point, above, with that to stress the importance of real world applicability. Abstract lessons can offer value but only when there is sufficient leavening from real-world experience to translate them from the abstract to the directly here-and-now applicable.

With that I note that mentoring is only one approach for learning or for training in management skills, and understanding its role and value means considering it as it fits into this wider context.

• A lot of businesses offer employee training and that often includes options for picking up more basic, first-time management skills. But course work and certainly online and self-paced/automated programs with their multiple choice test questions do not offer focused, immediate feedback or insight in a way that working with a mentor in your own business can.
• I add into consideration online groups and the discussions and sharing of insight that they bring in this, and I do recommend crowd sourcing for insight that comes from a wider perspective of sources too. But even with that included, most online and standard management training courses can at most only provide a partial solution to the issues and challenges of training next generation managers.
• And I add that these programs and courses generally offer entry level management training only, and not middle-management or more senior management guidance. Mentors are essential there as management training at a higher level benefits from and even requires a more personalized focus.
• And I add that regardless of level taught at, most courses are fairly industry-agnostic and while that can be a positive, it can leave important areas untouched for any given manager in training and certainly as they seek to learn the skills needed for working more effectively in their specific industry or business-type.
• Organized courses can and do offer value. Peer discussion, face to face or online offers real value too. But even taken together, mentoring still can fill critical gaps. And the networking and connections building that mentoring engenders can offer value that lasts beyond any explicit mentoring-based training too, and in ways that supplement and complement other and more general business networking.

What of business degrees? The back story of the MBA is insightful in that regard. There was a time when having an MBA in and of itself meant higher salary and a higher position on the table of organization, with these increases coming fairly automatically for employees who successfully complete a degree program. More importantly here, this bump came to new gradates who did not have the leavening of real world business experience too, with their starting at a significantly higher average salary than their non-Masters degreed peers. Then businesses came to see that new MBAs who lacked real world experience did not bring that expected value with them from having their advanced degree. And this filtered back to the business schools that offered these degree programs, and they began to rigorously require real business experience as a program entry requirement; the last thing they wanted was to graduate new MBAs who would not be able to find employment commensurate with the costs and effort of gaining the degree for lack of marketplace-required credentials.

Partly this real world leavening means hands-on working and on a day to day basis in real businesses and marketplaces. But this also means learning from the experience and insight of others, and in the immediate context of the workplace where any advice or insight would be immediately validated or disproven by empirical experience.

And I finish this posting by noting, as stated in earlier postings, that mentoring should not always be from older mentor to younger mentee. And I cite a specific area where this can be crucially important in management training. Older managers who grew up looking at computers strictly as desktop or larger hardware, and who do not think in terms of everywhere and all the time connected of younger generations, need help in bridging the gap and in learning how to work with generation X and generation Y employees. Articulate and patient members of these new and advancing generations can provide essential management insight for working with these employees that can in fact be more valuable for a senior manager than their picking up new hands-on technology skills. And it is where younger mentor older, that the most overall value to the business can be found in this – and of a type that is specifically not going to be covered in management training courses offered through a business, or in general.

As I noted above, the next installment in this series will focus on mentoring and the development of leadership skills. You can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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Developing management and leadership skills in others – 4: mentoring versus favoritism and building a mentoring culture

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 20, 2012

Favoritism and a culture of favoritism constitute a system in which “who you know” and “who you are related to” carry greater weight in an organization than do ability or potential to actually perform. So people are advanced along because they are relatives of friends or of colleagues to whom favors are owed and you have cronyism. Or they are specially treated because of who they are related to among the people in direct power and the result is nepotism. There are a variety of –isms that fit this basic model, but in any case opportunity and advancement are doled out without regard to the contributions or abilities of the individuals involved, or of the needs or long-term good of the organization.

I add that favoritism harms all – the people so favored included. They find themselves carrying responsibilities for which they are not suited and for which they are not prepared. So even when people who are so promoted have potential to grow and advance on merit into higher positions, favoritism can push them into positions of responsibility before they are ready, in effect setting them up for failure.

• Favoritism breeds a culture of mediocrity and a cynical workplace where cutting corners becomes acceptable for those who are properly connected, and where ability and drive are seen as a losing strategy.

Mentoring and a culture of mentoring are in a fundamental sense the opposite of favoritism. Mentoring, and certainly as I define and use the term, is about recognizing and cultivating potential to bring out the fullest ability of employees who are willing to take on greater challenges. There, training and advancement, and the opportunity to advance are predicated on ability and determination, and on a willingness to prove oneself and to do more.

This is my fourth installment in a series on developing management and leadership skills in others (see HR and Personnel, postings 81-83 for parts 1-3), and my goal here is two-fold:

• To clearly distinguish between favoritism and mentoring as approaches and practices, and
• To focus on mentoring as a core business practice and as a basis for a corporate culture.

A corporate culture built upon a mentoring system is one that is centered on developing and promoting greater organizational effectiveness through a process of enriching the lives of individual people in the organization.

• A culture of mentoring attracts the people you would seek out who would do more and better and who would do so collaboratively.
• A culture of mentoring provides a system for sharing, validating and continuously updating best practices to keep them best.

But what of people who perform best when given room to think things through and to develop and even prototype new ideas and new approaches on their own? This can include some of your most creative and long-term most valuable employees and team members.

• Effective mentoring and effective mentoring systems do not compel simple conformity and they do allow for and support differences in personality and approach.

So I tentatively add:

• A culture based on mentoring and mentoring-supported collaboration challenges those who would simply drift with a status quo, limiting their advancement through their failure to actively prepare to succeed in it.

I add this tentatively as a conformity and consensus forcing cartoon implementation of a mentoring culture would stifle, and in its own way be as bad as any favoritism-based system. It could in fact become a favoritism of the already accepted and known, as opposed to a favoritism of select individuals.

• Look for and encourage mentors who are younger than their mentees, and whose expertise and insight come from greater hands-on experience with newer and more cutting edge ideas, technologies and approaches, as well as older mentors who have longer-term experience and insight.
• Look for and encourage mentors who regardless of age, view the world differently than you do and who bring different and even challenging thought processes to the table when they work with others.
• Look for and cultivate your creative thinkers and builders, and with an acute awareness that they are not going to readily follow standard patterns or approaches – and your best will not.
• And support mentors and mentees in reversing roles, and even back and forth between individuals working together in this. Insight can develop and flow both ways, and it should.

How do you actively build a mentoring-based corporate culture? You have to start on a number of fronts. Organizationally, identify and break down the silo walls that block connectivity and sharing of knowledge and other resources, and that can sequester and locally promote favoritism. And welcome, include and involve diversity – and without automatic assumptions that those higher on the table of organization, or older should always be mentoring those lower and/or younger.

And as a final thought here, accept the fact that a mentoring culture is a culture of change as new ideas and approaches are created and shared, tested and allowed to prove themselves. Mentoring as a system, supports the rapid diffusion of knowledge and perspective, and of innovation.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to teaching management skills. Meanwhile, you can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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Developing management and leadership skills in others – 3: mentors and mentees 2

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 17, 2012

This is my third installment in a series on mentoring and on developing the management and leadership potential in others (see Part 1 and Part 2 as included in my HR and Personnel directory.)

In Part 2, I at least touched upon a number of issues that go into finding and engaging the interest and support of potential mentors for employees seeking advice and guidance. I switch to look at this from the other side of the table here in this installment, where I will look as how would-be and potential mentors find those they would help in their careers in this way.

When a would-be mentee seeks out a mentor, they approach them from a position of need, and in most cases as someone lower on the table of organization as well as younger in experience. They can and generally do look at their search strictly in terms of the qualities and abilities, and the availability of the individual people who they would seek out as potential mentors. Those more senior colleagues look to the qualities and the potential of the people who approach them, as a mirror image reflection of the mentee’s side of this. But they also often find themselves looking at least as much to external and contextual considerations too.

• We all have only so many hours in the day and days in the week. And we need to be able to devote enough time and effort from the limited supply we have available to us to act as mentor, if we are to effectively take on this additional responsibility too. And when we do agree to do this, it is always added on top of an already busy schedule.
• If we mentor A that takes up the time and energy that we might devote to mentoring B, or to focusing on other work responsibilities. Simply considering the mentor A versus mentor B side of this, we have to consider the possible appearance if nothing else, of showing favoritism. And even where that type of selectivity is both legal and a part of the corporate culture in place with regard to mentoring, we need to be aware of potential impact on morale and for B and for others who we might not have time for.
• External-to-the-individual considerations such as affirmative action, and the development of career opportunities for women and minorities can become a factor and particularly in industries and businesses where opportunities for advancement for them have been limited and for reasons that do not involve their abilities or potential for advancement.
• A potential mentor might select people to work with in this way because they see particular long-term value to the organization in developing and advancing them for their specific skills and hands-on experience that will become essential to longer term core strategic goals and priorities and to the infrastructure needed to achieve them.
• Mentors need to look at the mentorship candidates they would potentially work with and in terms of the commitment they would take on in helping to guide and train them, and they have to look at them from the perspective of a wider context too.

• An effective mentorship culture is built around effectively meshing needs and concerns to bring mentors and mentees together.
• An effective mentorship culture seeks to offer every employee who wishes to participate in this, the opportunity to be a mentor, a mentee or both.
• In this I write of cultures of sharing and of collaborative excellence.
• And this can be among a business’ greatest sources of unique value in what it offers, and both within its own organization and outwardly to its marketplace. In practice these two areas of involvement drive and reinforce each other in a virtuous cycle.

I am going to pick up on these points in my next series installment where I will address some of the issues of mentoring and favoritism, and separating the two, and both in fact and in appearance. I will also discuss the process of building a mentoring culture.

You can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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Developing management and leadership skills in others – 2: mentors and mentees 1

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 12, 2012

This is my second installment in a short series on developing management and leadership skills in others (see Part 1: starting a new series, and a second posting that in a fundamental sense led to this series as a whole: Making Leadership Not Just About You.)

I have in fact written a number of times about both leadership per se and about mentoring in this blog. So the basic topics and issues that I touch upon here should seem familiar ground for anyone who has followed the blog as I have posted to it, and on anything like a regular basis. At the risk of seeming repetitious for those readers I would begin this posting by stressing a point that I see as crucial and to both business leaders and for the businesses they would lead.

• Management per se is all about the here and now and about tasks and responsibilities at hand. Leadership of necessity steps past that, acknowledging its importance but looking at the organization and its context and needs from a wider, longer-term perspective. And leadership, of necessity looks to the people who collectively comprise the business too, and to their longer term job performance and career needs.

Your good-performer employees can with guidance become your best, and your good and best employees can become your business’ senior managers and leaders moving into tomorrow.

I have written about mentoring a number of times, and for purpose of this note cite two of those earlier postings here:

Mentoring as a Source of Positive Value to the Business and to the Mentor, and
The Power of Leadership as Mentorship.

Mentorship is in fact the single most important side to leadership that is usually ignored, and it is often overlooked and ignored for a variety of reasons.

1. People in a position of power and authority have busy schedules and they resist taking from their time in the midst of their already full schedules to train others – others who may simply take the fruits of this effort with them to a new job and even with a competitor.
• The positive value of mentoring and the strength of interpersonal bonds that it creates can be one of your most powerful tools for retaining the people you most want and need to keep with your organization, and are often more powerful incentives to stay than any salary or bonus increases that might be provided.

2. Mentoring some employees but not others can be viewed and challenged as favoritism and that at least potentially can be seen as problematical and as a source of avoidable liability.
• Like the first objection point, as touched upon immediately above, there is always going to be some risk involved when mentoring others. But there is potential for risk in any professional interactions or relationships. In this case, select the people you would specifically mentor or help to mentor according to professional criteria and based on performance and potential shown. Look for those who you see as capable of doing more than they are now and who would thrive when challenged with greater responsibilities. And mentor them with the goal of making that possibility a reality.

I see mentorship as one of the most important tasks that a true leader assumes responsibility for when taking on the role of leader. And one key leadership lesson that should be shared with everyone and as a matter of day to day mentoring, is in leading by example. The best leadership role model I have ever had the privilege of working with led by example – doing what he said and striving to do himself, the best of what he demanded of others in his own day to day actions and decisions and follow-through.

In that, I write of leadership and management, as the example of leadership is most actively expressed and certainly day to day in how management responsibilities are carried out – with a dual focus of one eye on the tasks and priorities at hand, and the other on how this fits into a larger scheme of things. And for both approaches and both visions, a true leader performs with both the organization and its people in mind and as priorities of importance.

• How do you find a mentor?
• If you are in a position of leadership and seek to impart what you know to others in this way, how do you find the right employees and colleagues to train and mentor?

I am going to start addressing those points of discussion in this posting, with some thoughts on finding the right mentor included here. I will continue on that set of issues in my next series installment and also turn tables to look at the issue of finding the right mentees – the right people to be mentor to.

Here, looking at this from the finding a mentor side:

• Look for people who might advise and mentor you who have experience that goes beyond your own, and a richness of perspective and understanding.
• Look for people who like working with others, and who seem to enjoy sharing and even teaching – people who are good communicators who clearly explain things.
• Look for people who can be patient, and even then always be respectful of their schedules and responsibilities so as not to overly-impose.
• And have a focused, specific reason for approaching someone as a potential mentor – something very specific you would seek advice on, and for which they would be good or even best candidates for knowing what you need to learn. This is very important.
• Look for people who can guide and advise you on time-limited, specific issues and problems, and without imposing or seeking to impose upon them with long-term or vaguely understood goals. If you do not know precisely what you need advice and guidance on you cannot get the advice or guidance you need.

Your best mentor in the immediate here and now might not see themselves as mentoring you even as they do so. This might be someone who in general would state they do not mentor others. You might be their first mentee in this, as they help you navigate some specific, focused challenge that you seek to professionally grow through. And this challenge, and certainly in this type of circumstance, is likely to be very task and here-and-now goals oriented. But good lessons learned tend to be transferrable to new contexts and needs too, so that is not necessarily a limitation to value received.

As just noted, the next installment in this series will turn to the issues of finding the right people to mentor, with a few more thoughts on this from the mentee side of these relationships. You can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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Developing management and leadership skills in others – 1: starting a new series

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 8, 2012

I recently posted a thought piece on leadership, as one more contribution to an ongoing if occasional topic I have been posting on (see Making Leadership Not Just About You.) I write this posting and in fact the series that it initiates with that in mind, and with a second specifically relevant posting in mind too – The Power of Leadership as Mentorship.

As any reader of this blog would already know, I see mentoring as one of the core virtues and requirements of true leadership. Leaders have to think ahead and beyond their time in a position of authority and responsibility. Leadership creates value for the here and now, but more than just that, it builds foundations for the future too. And the most valuable assets we have in this come from the people we work with and from their potential to live up to the fullest of their capabilities. This is my first installment in a series that I admit I am still actively planning through as I write this, that seeks to explore some of the issues of leadership as it involves training others to be leaders too. I draw a relatively sharp distinction between management and leadership in this and will in fact be discussing both here – and with an emphasis on sharing skills and experience in them with others.

I want to begin this series by offering at least tentative distinctions between management and leadership.

• Management is about operational goals and processes, and about meeting timelines and deadlines in getting required work done. Managers work with and direct the activities of others in doing this. But the focus of their effort as managers is goals and performance centered and on meeting direct, immediate organizational needs.
• Leadership is all about the people involved in this ongoing endeavor. Leaders create and sustain an organizing vision as to what has to be done, that brings others together to achieve it. In this, leadership is not necessarily about charisma or having it as a personal quality. It is, however, about communications skills and character, and of being a person who others would listen to and follow, and willingly – without need of any outside pressures to do so.
• In that any effective leader has to be an effective manager too, but many managers who can reach operational goals and schedules are poorly equipped to lead. They may know where their teams are headed but no one else necessarily does, at least from them. Or they cannot instill a sense of trust and reliability to always do the right thing for the people they do lead.

I will be elaborating on points made and alluded to in those bullet points in series installments to come, as well as delving into to areas.

By quick and rough count I currently have 22 postings showing, between Business Strategy and Operations and Business Strategy and Operations – 2 that have the word “leadership” in their title. I will be adding this series into HR and Personnel as this general topics area belongs there too and this side to leadership definitely does.

My next installment in this series is going to look into some of the issues of finding a mentor, and finding a mentee – a good candidate for mentoring.

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Reconsidering how work is structured 2 – working in-house, working off-site and in between

Posted in HR and personnel, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on January 7, 2012

This is a second posting on the general topic of how work requirements and responsibilities are chunked together to build job descriptions and to determine hiring and staff needs ( see Part 1: going beyond the standard in-house employee and consultant model for the start of this discussion.) I add here in general commentary about this series, that how employers envision and assemble work positions that would go onto their table of organizations, and chunk together what would go into determining a complete full time position, plays an important role in shaping hiring requirements and in determining hiring decisions. So systematic changes in how businesses determine this would have a profound impact on overall hiring and on both job search and employment/unemployment levels.

As noted in Part 1:

• “When the job market is down, there is pressure against hiring into positions that fall too far towards just fitting into the timeline and duration box, and hiring such as it is, is more skewed towards the functionality and specific tasks completed box.”

This installment picks up on that point.

I raised in Part 1, the example of job sharing as an option that for the individual employee shifts their job description box’s position more from time and schedule prioritization to functionality and results prioritization. That, in fact is only one possible approach for relaxing pressures to meet the needs of a time-there box.

• Any job development and definition strategy that allows for or requires flexible schedules in employees, shifts the job definition and how it is conceived from having to fill a time-defined box to a position of focusing on results.
• Any shift in thinking towards workers being on the job for the time-needed to complete specific tasks and whether long or short, from the standard of a fixed amount of time required to be there, for a job description does this too.

I note here as an aside, that if you talk with a manager who has to write a job description you will always hear it expressed in terms of results and functionality, and for them that can even be true. But hiring decisions and the decision to even consider hiring is done differently, and especially where Human Resources and company policy come into play. There, tendency is to look first and foremost to that time-defined box and with both direct expenses of salary, and indirect expenses that add in benefits included as determining factors for what will be approved. That is why I write this in the HR and Personnel directory – that is where a reconsideration of jobs and hiring capabilities and needs is most called for.

I also note here that those same managers who would say their job descriptions are goals and results oriented and not built around filling up a time-there box, often watch the clock to make sure their people fill that time box requirement and every workday – and with that as a core operational job requirement actually followed.

Flexible scheduling for work shifts and telecommuting per se do not necessarily shift a position away from being primarily or even exclusively time-oriented. There is no real distinction here between working 8 AM to 4 PM, or 9 to 5 or 10 to 6, or however the clock would be set. There is no significant difference here between working some set of scheduled hours in-house or logged in from a remote site through telecommunications and internet-supported services to work those same set hours.

• What other types of work format besides job sharing and consulting would fit here as alternatives that can and do shift a job from being primarily time-filling oriented?

The most important criterion for demonstrating that a proposed job format would do this and be a good option in doing so, would be that it be cost-effective and productive for the business that would try it.

I have been writing a great deal recently about in-house employees as in-house consultants (see my table of organization and compensation package series at HR and Personnel, postings 63 and scattered following.) At least as of this writing I see that as a best approach for developing approaches to work and employment that would meet both employer and employee needs, and break out of the time-filling box in doing so. And in that, job sharing and other possibilities become in-house consulting positions too – but with benefits packages, as would hold for in-house consultants who consistently work at least some minimum number of hours weekly or biweekly to qualify.

I will be adding more on this general topic area in future postings. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development -2 (and also see the first directory page for this) I also include this posting in HR and Personnel.

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