Archive for Alvin Miles

Mentoring: 6 Actions That Add Value!

32e023aThere are no shortage of requests for my time from my former students. Some of them want to “bounce ideas,” others want to work toward solutions in their entrepreneurial pursuits, still others are looking for career advice or personal development tips. While I’m happy to oblige in each of these areas, a small subset of them want to broaden the relationship, continue to receive advice to the point of scheduling a year’s worth of meetings, and enter into a mentoring relationship.

My opinion is that a mentee should provide value to the relationship as the process of mentoring should not be a one-way street. As a case in point of how NOT to do this, consider this story. In the spring of last year, I met with a former student who began a “side” business offering entertainment events. He asked me to look over his business plan and marketing e-mails because his initial launch didn’t go as planned, and he lost money in the process. During an hour-long conversation over lunch in early summer, I asked several coaching questions meant to check his understanding & recognition of his customer’s point of view, his competition, etc, and we had a great discussion leading him to draw several new distinctions and deeper understandings. As a result of our meeting, he revised his offering, adjusted his website and enjoyed a successful second attempt this past fall. A few weeks after his successful second attempt, he reached out and asked to schedule a series of meetings to continue our conversations, and brought up the “M” word.

Internally, I appreciated that he would reach back out to me to continue a relationship. At the same time, it occurred to me that I was not invited to his entertainment event, nor was there a note to say what worked and how our conversation helped as a summary. When I considered his request more deeply, I realized it wasn’t about a lack of monetary remuneration (we meet over lunch), but at the core, there may be ways he could add value to our relationship. Given that, here are six relational and technical actions I’ve used over the years when interacting with my Mentors and Mentees.

1) Send an agenda 24 – 48 hrs in advance of the meeting. This action helps you to organize and articulate your thoughts. This tip also gives your Mentor an idea of your oral and written communication skills, and whether or not they should bring anything additional to help make the conversation more robust and valuable. Further, it helps to set time parameters to the conversation by indicating a definite beginning and ending. (NOTE: If you’ll contribute to the conversation by commenting to this post and request an agenda template via email at acmiles@bellsouth.net, I’ll forward my favorite template.)

2) Invite your Mentor to share in your successes and “near successes.” In the aforementioned scenario, my potential Mentee could have invited me to his entertainment event, and our future conversations could be richer because of my firsthand experience with his endeavor. Conversely, I’ve had many conversations with one of my academic Mentors during my recently completed doctoral journey. I recall many days when I asked for (and received) the gift of his time and wisdom which helped me earn my terminal degree. I wanted to do something special for him and three other similar Mentors, and I thought a card, a photo from the event or even lunch would not be worthy of their contribution to my success. My solution was to invite him to a private pre and post graduation event to honor him and my family as being an important part of my journey, and he had a seat of honor at the graduation ceremony. He is also mentioned in the acknowledgments section of my dissertation as a permanent memorial of sharing in my success.

3) Ask your Mentor how you can add value to him or her. Besides being impressed that you’ve asked, this question signals a deeper level of maturity and understanding, and a true relationship. Whether it’s a short article you’ve summarized and attached in an email, the link to a short video from an expert in an area of interest, or the “heads up” on a Groupon at their favorite merchant, these actions serve to differentiate you. They also let your (potential) Mentor know that although you may need to stretch to provide value to him or her, you are willing to do just that. You may need to “think outside the box” for more value-adding ideas, but isn’t that something you currently do?

4) Provide a summary of what you’ve learned in each conversation. Verbalizing your learnings are good. Documenting them in writing, then sharing this with your Mentor is better in my opinion. This drives your learning deeper and removes all doubt about whether or not your sessions have been time well spent.

5) Send a hand-written thank you note. To say “Thank you for sharing your time with me, I am continuing to get better under your tutelage. Please let me know if you think there’s anything I should be aware of before we meet again, and I’ll do the same for you.”

6) Recognize your Mentor’s birthday or new job role. Call, email or visit to say “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations”. Take him or her to lunch and celebrate their special day. This shows you genuinely care about them as a person & not just as a silo of “free” advice.

While you aren’t limited to the number of Mentors you can potentially have, I believe the depth of your learning is in direct proportion to the amount of value you add to these relationships! Finally, remember the positive effects of these actions accrue as you practice them. Go forth and add value!

How to Eliminate Fear, Doubt and Anxiety

Eliminate doubtDuring a recent conversation with one of my former students; Jen, the subject of anxiety came up. Jen relayed a scenario where one of her co-workers failed to greet her the way they normally greeted each other; no eye contact or calling her by name when she passed her in the hall the morning before. I could tell she was worried, so I asked a few questions to better understand why.

I learned that although Jen had only been with the company for 8 months, her co-worker was Director of Human Resources (HR) at this small firm. Since Jen’s desk and the HR Director’s office shared a hallway, and they saw each other frequently. Jen described that this was the first time in her short tenure that this had ever happened and she was concerned that it meant something unfortunate might happen.

Had she somehow disappointed someone in the organization who mentioned it to the HR Director? Has the company decided to downsize positions meaning the last-hired would be first-fired? Is she in danger of losing her job? I offered Jen my 3F Process to help her determine if this situation was worth being concerned about. This may help you as well.

The 3 F’s are Facts, Feel & Follow Through.

I asked Jen to have a conversation with the HR Director to recall the facts of their interaction, how that interaction made her feel, then follow through by asking the Director whether there needs to be a quick discussion now, or a larger conversation later?

Let’s touch upon each step:

Step 1: Recalling the facts from Jen’s point of view opens the discussion and allows the leader to see the effect of this interaction on the employee. There tends to be more than one side to each story, so this is where the leader is mentally taken back to the incident. Really bring them back to the moment by recalling specific and objective nuances such as the day of the week, time of day, the specific conversation, or whatever brought them together for this interaction to take place. This is where Jen explained that there was no eye contact, nor was she called by name when they passed each other in the hall the morning before. This includes verbalizing the exact scenario and set of circumstances bringing them together for this interaction.

Step 2: Explaining how that interaction made Jen feel allows her an opportunity to open up and express the reason for her doubts, concern or anxiety. In this step, In this step, Jen told the HR Director they cross paths in their mutual hall, an average of 3 times each week, and that this was the first time in her 8-month tenure she recalls this ever happening, and that it left her wondering if it meant something deeper or not. She went on to relay the questions swirling in her head (Had she somehow disappointed someone in the organization who mentioned it to HR? Has the company decided to downsize positions meaning the last-hired would be first-fired? Is she in danger of losing her job?).

The HR Director immediately and apologetically responded by saying there was no issue, and that the reason for the seemingly distant greeting was that she was having a difficult morning and she hadn’t had her morning coffee!

Step 3: Although she understood the response, she continued and followed through by asking the HR Director – “The reason I decided to drop into your office is to ask if we should have a quick discussion about this now, or to know if it makes more sense to have a larger conversation later?” The HR Director responded with a smile and said that there was no issue, and apologized for the perception of her being distant. She thanked Jen for quickly verifying if there were any issues.

When Jen and I discussed the details, she was relieved. She also mentioned that she now had a framework to use instead of automatically defaulting to a state of nervousness and concern leading to distraction and lost productivity. The Director could perhaps be impressed that Jen is courageous, responds, and follows a process instead of defaulting to an emotional reaction which is all too common in my experience.

We have a choice. We can either choose to worry about what others intended when we interact with them, or we can utilize a healthy, easy-to-remember process designed to make our interactions simple.

How will you use the 3F Process to overcome fear, doubt and anxiety in your personal or professional life?