Thursday, May 31, 2012

4 Things Mentors Want From Their Proteges

I get asked all the time, “What do mentors really want from me anyway?” I wish there was a magic potion I could share with you that would create perfectly satisfying mentor-protégé relationships. Although the mysterious alchemy between individual mentor-protégé pairs is usually quite unique, there are four general desires that most mentors would have from their protégés. If you're hungry for more, Susan Murphy and I discuss these ideas further in chapter 4 of Power Mentoring.

1) Mentors want protégés to be like themselves. Remember the movie Austin Powers and the mini me character (for those who are familiar please pause here for evil laugher and pinky finger in mouth!)?! I always think about that character when I consider this concept. I have been writing about perceived similarity (which comes out of social psychology) for a long time now. It is basically the idea that successful mentoring relationships need to have some basis in similarity. In fact, sometimes mentors are initially attracted to certain protégés because they see a younger version of themselves in their protégé or they share similarity in salient demographic characteristics (so a scientist who sees herself in the budding young scientist). However, now we know especially with the prevalence of online mentoring that people can also see similarity in deeper level characteristics (goals, values, interests) which are even more important for figuring out how to be a mentor in the relationship in the long term.

So, how can all of this actually help you? I recommend that you research mentoring programs, find a would-be mentor and get to know them and actively look for areas of perceived similarity. Start with surface level similarity (when I have designed youth mentoring for at risk youth I start with very basic stuff like favorite TV shows, food etc.). Additionally, when getting to know each other initially, you shouldn't discount surface level similarity for bonding and developing a rapport-it might be around favorite books, a love for pets, reality TV or shoes - in other words safe personal topics are okay to broach. When getting to know a potential mentor try to think of some clever getting-to-know you questions that might uncover a hidden area of similarity (For example- I love time travel books so I sometimes ask “If you could go back in time, where would you go and what would you do?” Or I might ask ‘What countries are on your bucket list to travel to and where are some of the favorite place you have seen?)

2) Mentors want protégés who add value with different skills/perspectives. For example, when my co-author and I conducted our interviews for Power Mentoring we interviewed David Dreir (R-CA) who is a Republican. He talked about mentoring ACROSS political parties including mentoring Democrats. He talked about mentoring the junior members of congress in terms of norms, networking, etc. We also spoke with a Disney executive who gave career advice to a Nickelodeon executive - so mentoring across barriers can be very enlightening. Think about how you can complete and add to the mentor’s knowledge base/skills/connections. Do not discount the value of just adding a perspective they have not considered or unbridled enthusiasm.

3) Mentors want to see a compelling characteristic/skill or high potential. In other words, mentors are attracted to people they feel have some compelling interest, talent, or gift. For example, at the end of the semester I often recruit research assistants by picking out the brightest student I liked the best and approaching them with a job after the final is over. Many of these turn into long term mentoring relationships. So if you are good at what you do, you may just naturally attract mentors… although it is best not to wait for that but instead leverage what you are good at.

4) Mentors want protégés who are willing to learn. Mentors want to teach those who want to learn. The most important way to demonstrate that you are willing to learn is by following up! In other words, take any suggestions given by the mentor and loop back and communicate results. Also, by take a suggestion, idea etc. and build on it- so if a mentor suggests reading several blogs to develop ideas for creative writing I suggest that the protégé comes back having started their own blog and has already posted two stories! I think the other key here is to learn from mistakes and take risks. I think most mentors can forgive mistakes and mis-steps as long as there is learning and personal responsibility taken. And here is one other idea – humility. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos discusses this idea in this book. I interviewed Tony a few years ago and he is quite fascinating. Tony is another Harvard wunderkind who sold his first business in his twenties for millions of dollars. Now he runs Zappos and has created a corporate culture that focuses on happiness. He talks about hiring and keeping people who are humble. I think sometimes super smart people do not always have opportunities for humility or they are not always framed this way… and yet being humble is a big part of being willing to learn. This is one most people can work on including yours truly.

Image source:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Newsweek Article on Job Outlook for New Grads

Here is the link to a great Newsweek Article about a brighter outlook for 2012 graduates.

If this doesn't give you any good ideas for your future employment, then stop by for some great career advice!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Everything You Need to Know about Presenting You can Learn from Shark Tank!

Spring is in the air which means students around the country especially in Colleges of
Business are getting ready for that annual rites of passage- team presentations! This is a great chance for students to really show what they have learned from their mentoring programs and practice being on stage. It is also a great way for students to develop some empathy for the job of a professor as they need to research, design, and deliver something captivating that engages and educates.

Sooo- how should a student prepare? First, begin by finding the comfiest chair possible and then sit down and watch some TV! No, seriously Shark Tank is my new Professor Couch Potato guilty pleasure. I finally understand why people scream at the TV during sporting events- I find myself doing the same thing when watching this show!

The basic idea behind the show is that budding entrepreneurs can come in and pitch their products/ideas to five venture capitalists type/money people who are known as the sharks because they eat you alive. These folks challenge, berate, ridicule and sometimes even encourage and fund burgeoning businesses presented to them by their eager founders. It is good fun to watch and a great source of career advice for young entrepreneurs!

Here’s a success blueprint for presenting;
1) Be prepared for the obvious questions! Also, be prepared for the non-obvious questions and the contrarian viewpoint! For example, a couple came in to present “fat tape.” Yup, this is just what it sounds like- it is clear tape to bind up your fat on your arms, legs, butt, etc. and is targeted toward the female market. Kind of like duct tape only clear. The couple had already some success with this yet became defensive when confronted with the obvious question… “What happens when you un-tape your woman and all the fat comes out?!” The uber competitive sharks had a field day with this one and the entrepreneurs became defensive and lost this valuable opportunity.

2) Surprise your audience… pleasantly. On one episode, an entrepreneur came in to pitch educational music software… a bit of a snore until he invited in his surprise presenter, award winning Ingrid Michaelson – he had the sharks eating out of his hands and they were fighting to give him money!
3) Research your audience – One entrepreneur came in to pitch a wine product but three of the sharks were not even wine drinkers so they immediately lost interest.

4) Bring some notes in case you completely lose your mind! One presenter came in and sweated, stammered and went absolutely blank when asked to provide numbers. When you get in trouble, take a deep break, look at your notes and get back on track.

5) Know the outcome you want before you walk in! Two ladies came in with some very cool outerwear gear but they had no clear objective and quickly crumpled in the face of the sharks severe questioning- they ended up giving up a huge chunk of their company and it was sad to see them fold. You must know what the objectives are of your presentation and stick to them.

Of course, there is more to being a good presenter than watching Shark Tank however these tips can get you started. Good luck on your next presentation!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What the Avengers Taught Me About Organizational Learning

Last night I went to see The Avengers. I know I am about to express a minority, and possibly Anti-American opinion… but I thought the movie was really long and kinda boring. My son tells me I feel this way because I am a girl. Perhaps so but, as I was enduring the movie, I did realized that The Avengers actually had some valuable lessons for an important aspect of organizational behavior- team development.

  1. 1) Individual contributors can be brought together as an effective team when they coalesce around a common enemy, like for instance, a super villain named Loki. So, if you are having trouble getting folks to act as a team in a service learning environment, you might want to consider who the common enemies are.

  2. 2) People with very different personalities and agendas can become an effective team if they have a higher goal that is meaningful to all of them. Spoiler alert but the common goal for The Avengers was saving the earth and all of humanity. Pretty good goal I think.

  3. 3) An extremely important success strategy is to build a team that is composed of people who can appreciate and leverage their complementary skills and differences. In other words, people need to know what their super powers are and how to leverage them. Can you imagine if everybody on your team had an anger management problem and became The Hulk when provoked? Nope, that would not work. But instead if you have one raging Hulk figure, one techno nerd guy with a flying iron suit and tons of money, one guy who wields thunder and understands the enemy culture, one guy who rocks the tights and is steadfastly loyal, and one woman who is strong, beautiful, and can psyche out the enemy then you have a powerful team (I would have liked to see more female super heroes but that is another blog, another time).

The greatest lesson learned from The Avengers is that even a super hero can be more effective at saving the earth when they work as a team. Is your team working for the greatest good these days? Seems like it is a lot more fun when they do.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

6 Easy Steps to Getting a Mentor

  1. Know Thyself- figure out your goals, wishes, and ideas about what you want.  I would like you invite you to take some pressure off. You do not have to know your exact interest in order to connect with a mentor. This will continue to change and evolve. I see this all the time with college students who change their major more times than a fashion model changes clothes!  As for adults in the workforce, the average person changes job 16-29 times and careers 7-10 times. You don’t have to have your exact career mapped out- just know the next step to explore.  Also, I will mention one resource – the Strong Interest inventory based on John Holland’s work with a typology of vocational codes and occupations can be very helpful in helping people match specific interests with certain occupations.

  2. Figure out the go-to people in particular area. Here is where you get to do some research.  Look around – who are the thought leaders in a particular area? Immerse yourself in the writing, the YouTube clips, and the presentations of an individual. If local, see who speaks up, who talks at professional meetings, who is the one person that everyone says you should talk to for career advice… keep immersing yourself- a pattern will emerge and a few names will appear as the go to people.

  3. Think outside the box and consider different types of mentoring programs. What knowledge, skills, or abilities do you want to acquire?  Probably different mentors can help in different ways. For example, perhaps a step-ahead mentor who is several years older than you can help with issues of adjusting to being new to a work environment.   Or maybe you want to connect with someone prominent like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and gain her support as a mentor because you are considering a career in the Foreign Service?  Yes, Hillary is a little busy and probably tough to reach!  But Hillary and other successful people have people that work for them and it is their job to write back when you contact them.  Work on developing a relationship with gatekeepers, and second or third tier connections. A great way to do this is to link in with past professors, alumni groups and take a look at their networks.  Also, think about e-mentors, reverse mentors, peer mentors, as well as traditional mentors.  Also, source out formal mentoring programs.  For more ideas about different types of mentors see my book that I co-wrote with Susan Murphy, Power Mentoring.

  4. Make a warm call instead of a cold call- In other words, find someone who knows somebody who can provide an introduction – LinkedIn is  a great tool for this.

  5. Give Back -Make your complementary skills explicit.  For example, a few years ago, I helped a recent MBA grad land his first job in entertainment and marketing.  In return, one day he stopped by my office and said I am not leaving until you get on Facebook and Linked In- I mentored him about getting ahead in his career and in return he became my social media guru. An exchange of technology savvy for technical knowledge is a great example of  reciprocal mentoring.

  6. Follow up, express appreciation and pay it forward.  Keep expanding your network. Since it is Girl Scout cookie time (Samoa’s rock!). I am reminded of the Girl  Scout jingle, “Make new friends, keep the old, new is silver, old is gold.” In other words, we are never too young or old to start creating a network of helping relationships and it is never to soon to pay it forward. .. at my son’s school the eighth  graders are paired as mentors to the kindergartners so for him, he learned how to be a mentor when he was five years old. People who live well never keep learning so we always need to be involved as both mentors and protégés to others.