What is a mentor and what do they do? Are your chances of success increased by having a mentor? These are good questions to ask yourself, and today I’ve wondered too.


In these days of the internet there are many open-source and the free available sophisticated tools to support those who want to be successful. But one of the most valuable and gifted assets anyone can have is also one of the oldest. I’m talking about a mentor – someone who can show you the ropes, avoid obstacles, and navigate around scary politics to help get you where you want to go.


Mentors are people who have achieved success themselves and want to pass along what they’ve learned to others. They don’t usually tell you what to do – that’s not their role – but they do help you weigh your options and think through decisions.


With the pass of change to the way the business world works the power of a mentor seems to becoming a double edged sword. When neither your mentor nor more than a very small number of people have ever experienced the new technologies or recognises the potential impact to the industry their power is challenging your opinions and perceptions.


Who are you mentoring and who is mentoring you?


“You Can’t Stop Learning”


It was odd to go back to school in my age, not only because I had forgotten how to write essays but academic learning was a distant memory. Well how’s your education coming along? While there is a good chance that you are not longer in education yet that is no reason to stop learning.


When you think about the people you have known, the ones who are most engaging, invariably, are those who have never stopped learning. It is also those who have developed creative strategies to keep themselves from becoming stuck in a rut, no matter how comfortable that rut may seem.


A retired couple who felt that their evenings at home were becoming dull just sitting in front of the TV. So, they agreed to turn it off every night for at least an hour and spent the time reading aloud to each other. There were ground rules to stop this too descending into another dull activity so gossip magazines, romance or detective novels were off limits, but everything else was fine. They read philosophy, theology, and a great deal number of biographies. They really got into Churchill’s history of World War II. After doing this every evening for a few weeks, they found that their powers of concentration had increased. Most evenings, they never turned the television set on at all.


Some large organizations require some of their staff members to take a certain amount of continuing education every year. In some rare cases the businesses help pay the tuition fees. In these austere economic times, this has become more unusual, but does is education factor in your household/personal budget? If it isn’t, should it be? With the proliferation of on-line courses (MOOCs), many of which are free the financial impact would be minimal. As you don’t even need to leave the house to learn something new and it will cost you nothing bar your time, the accuses are wearing thin.


Just because you are no longer in fulltime education, it doesn’t mean your learning stops. If you are like most folks, you have probably learned more since you graduated! Education is a lifelong endeavour. If you are serious about personal growth, you will take time to nourish your intellect as well as your soul.


“Changing Perspective”

The other day some asked a question which seems simple on the surface but the conversation halted when I asked perspective would he like. Let’s think about looking at things from different perspectives. “Context Reframing” as it’s known is a technique you can use to help shift your perspective from negative to positive.


Our past experiences influence the context that we see the world our ability to interpret what’s happening in it. However, there are many ways to explain a situation. One of the keys to making good decisions is to consistently interpret your knowledge and experience in ways that support you in getting the outcomes you expect.


Context Reframing” is a technique that can help you do just that. It involves taking a seemingly negative situation and examining the same experience in a different context/perspective to see how could be positive. Children’s literature is full of context reframing. The ugly duckling suffered great pain because he was so different from his peers, but his difference was his beauty as a full-grown swan. Rudolph’s nose, at first an object of ridicule, turned into an advantage and made him a hero in the context of a dark, snowy night.


So, you see, it’s not what happens to you in life that makes or breaks you. It’s how you interpret what happens to you – and that decision is in your hands.


Leadership Is About Doing, Not Saying

We’ve all seen those inspirational posters that started to appear on office walls in the 90’s. We’ve heard the inspiring mottos, lovingly lambasted in films like Men in Black; “The best of the best!” I’m sure that many businesses across the western world have spent millions on agonising over the latest buzzwords, management speak and the slogans. Just imagine how much time and money has been expended morphing these stated goals to keep up with the latest trends. Businesses may start with pushing for “Customer Satisfaction” then move to “Total Customer Satisfaction”, before reaching the point of aiming for “Customer Delight”.


Organisations have taken these beautifully created phrases and words and adorned the walls of numerous offices. All of these have been designed to with the intention of modifying employees’ behaviour, as we all know when we read the mere act of reading the pronouncement of “strategy and values” will instantly change deep seated attitudes. Writing “Trust” or “Collaboration” in big letters on a poster will not change opinions towards each other and especially the organisations leaders.


Talking a Good Game

Regardless of the near obsessive focus on the words some may have, a very large problem exists: there is rarely any correlation between the words agonised over and displayed on walls and the behaviour of the organisations leaders. I don’t think I’ve heard of a company that hasn’t espoused or valued “integrity”, “respect for employees”, “quality”, “customer satisfaction”, “innovation” and so on. As, in essence, all businesses are striving for the same behavioural objectives, these slogans lose meaning with employees and customers.


Enrol is a good example. Before their very well publicised collapse in 2011, they had created a very professionally produced show-reel on Enron’s ethics and integrity. This highlighted their philanthropic activities and community work; the character of the Executive team were of particular note. Clearly Enron had spent a considerable sum on “packaging” the messages and marketing these values. In the end it didn’t have any bearing on what was to follow. As you will be away many on the top executives subsequently ended up in prison or indicted.


Leadership Development

In a study by Business Week in 2006, involving more than 11,000 managers across 8 large organisations in the USA, looked at the impact of leadership development programs in changing and shaping leaders’ behaviour. Each of the eight businesses espoused different values through very different words describing their ideal leadership behaviours.


The study discovered that the different words or phrasing made absolutely no difference in determining the behaviour of the leaders. One of the business in the study have spent thousands of hours crafting the precise words to best express its view on how their leaders should act, this appears to have been in vain. The first draft, if grammatically correct may have been just as valuable as the final polished version. The study found the deciding factor as to the effectiveness of any initiative was how seriously the participants took the feedback and training. Those who made a personal commitment to improvement and followed up with their fellow attendees became more effective. The Leaders who dutifully attended sessions, listened but took no immediate action or made no personal commitment were found to develop at the same level as those that had not attended the presentations or workshops.


Actions Speak Loudest

The businesses that that are the most successful at living up to their espoused values and produce ethical employees, including leaders, realise that the key to success – or failure- is always the people, not the words that are in the corporate literature. Rather than expending time feverously revamping the slogans and behaviour posters to find the precise words to capture the desired leadership conduct. Businesses that ensure that leaders get (and act upon) feedback from employees and customers, those who actually observe the leadership behaviours, see tangible results.


The preoccupation of modifying performance appraisal forms and scoring mechanisms was found by the study to provide little value at the higher levels of the organisation. It suggested that business leaders should focus their energy on providing coaching and learning from employees removing perceived barriers.


Ultimately, leaders’ actions will be more powerful message to employees about values and the competence of the leadership than the words used. If the actions of the leadership are clear and purposeful, the words that emblazon the walls of the offices will be of very little importance regardless of how ‘prefect’ they may be. Conversely, if the leadership actions are at odds with the wonderfully crafted words displayed the walls of the offices they will look more ridiculous.