Everyone Needs a Mentor

“Every Soldier needs a Sergeant.” is an old Army adage based on the traditional role of Noncommissioned Officer taking care of their men. More senior sergeants use the phrase to encourage new platoon sergeants to look out for their young lieutenants with the understanding that the lieutenant is in charge, but the sergeants know what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the correct way to do it. Smart lieutenants understand the wisdom of their sergeant’s advise and follow his lead.

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Career progression outside the military is less clear. What works in one company or organization does not work in the next. Even if you are the boss, like that young lieutenant, you need a trusted, wise guide to show you the path to success no matter how you define success. Like the old Army saying above, everyone needs a mentor.

It can be difficult to find a good mentor. Mentors are trusted guides. Typically mentoring relationship occur voluntarily between a person with less experience and another who has accomplished similar goals as the protege. The relationship is characterized by mutual trust and respect. Frequently these relationship occur outside supervisory channels.

Good mentors are interested in the success of others. They help their protege gain confidence and encourage growth. Mentors serve as role models. Mentors help their protege develop achievable goals, identify steps required to accomplish those goals, and as a result increase the likelihood of success.

Next time you take on a new task, think about finding a mentor to guide you along the way. You may find their experience leads you down paths you never would have found and methods to overcome obstacles. Every journey is an adventure, but with a mentor to guide you along the way, you improve your chances of reaching the end of the road and achieving the success you envisioned at the beginning of the trip.

Check your Map & Compass

Hard to believe, but it will not be long before people start making resolutions for the New Year. Last New Year I posted a piece on how to successfully complete your resolutions (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/time-to-reflect-plan-act/). I used the system I described before and also during this year to achieve goals successfully. One more birthday card and I can say I achieved the three resolutions I set for my self. How did you do? 2014 has not yet ended so there is time to dig up the written goals you started with and determine how much you completed on each of them. You may find there is time to finish one or more in the remaining days. If not, you can try again next year. Reviewing your progress is important, and so it reviewing your achievements. Today schedule time to take stock of how you did with your goals, the lessons you learned along the way so that your plans for next year include strategies to avoid pitfalls. Assessing is an important action to achieve continuous success.

Start your assessment by asking questions about your goal and plan.

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  • Was my goal specificity stated?
  • Was is it measurable and did I have reasonable expectations and standards?
  • Did I allow reasonable time to complete the goal?
  • What resources did I lack? How can I obtain those resources for the future?
  • Is completion still desirable and reasonable?
  • Who can help me achieve my goal; a mentor, supervisor, friend, spouse or trainer?
  • If I choose not to complete this goal (notice the key word choose), what lessons did I learn that will help me with similar projects in the future?

As I discussed in my blog on taking time to review your progress (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/check-your-map-achieve-your-goal/), it is equally important to review and evaluate your successes. Learning to set small, achievable goals allows you to complete what you start. Evaluating your success enables you to see your new location on the map. As you set a small goal, achieve success, evaluate your achievement you begin to understand that small, regular improvements are more likely to help you obtain long term success that lofty big goals. Smaller goals allow you to adjust course frequently ensuring you end up where you wanted to go, not just arrive at the end of the road. Assessments also allow you to determine if you are still on the correct road, or if your course corrections have really established a different goal and destination.

This is a busy time of the year for everyone. Taking a few minutes to review your achievements allows you to learn from both your achievements and mistakes. It allows you to determine if you are on the correct course or if you need to make some adjustments. Even if you have not completed what you set out to accomplish, this assessment shows the progress made encouraging further small improvements. Dig up the resolutions you made at the beginning of the year. Assess your success and chart your course for 2015. Do it today!

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Photo Credit:  Reggie

For more information see my deck on SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/achieve-29982036 and

Leadership Vision; A Requirement for All Leaders

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Leadership vision helps leaders look ahead to prepare and avoid obstacles allowing their organization to achieve its mission.

Several years ago I attended a leadership seminar taught by Richard Ayres retired FBI leadership trainer coaching leaders from all walks of life. He was not the first to discuss the importance of leadership vision, but he was the first who caused me to reflect upon the importance of leadership vision at every level within an organization whether they are the CEO, or a brand new front line supervisor with only one direct report. Often leaders on the line or somewhere in the middle think their slice of the organization is so small they have no affect on the course of the organization. Without vision the small groups these middle and front line supervisors lead will drift in the wind and dragging on the success of the larger organization. There are ways non-executive leaders can develop a small group vision for their sections that complement the larger organization and inspire employees.

Lower level leaders are the people that get things done in organizations. An organization can survive without a CEO or miss several VPs. Run an overnight shift with poor leadership and before long everyone know who the important leaders are; the local leaders who interact with employees daily.

Developing a vision is not difficult. Focusing on what is important and communicating your vision to your leaders, peers and followers is another story. When you announce, “Go west young man!” others may not understand why. New leaders who learn to succussfully identify key tasks and direction have the edge developling their vision. Many issues, problems and people compete for their attention they do not know what is important and what is window dressing. Experienced leaders develop skills to help them focus on the real issues quickly. New front line leaders lack this background but a good mentoring program helps them by providing tools and strategies to focus their attention quickly.

Assessments are one tool. Start by assessing yourself. Identify your core values. Ask how these align with the principals of the organization. What strengths and weaknesses do you bring to your new position? Take time to write these down. Assess your people, not only your direct reports but as deep as you can reasonably dig. Identify their strengths and weaknesses, skills and passions. Learn by talking to each of them one-on-one. Document what your learn.

Examine the environment. Determine how your section supports the organizational mission. Identify the guiding principals of the organization. Learn about your leaders’ vision for the people they lead. Identify opportunities and threats to your small group and the organization, both internal and external. This may be the most difficult portion of the assessment because obtaining accurate information about the intentions and actions of competitors, collaborators and regulators is difficult for many reason.

Use this information like a jigsaw puzzled. As you work on analyzing the information you will notice that the pieces come together revealing a map that shows where you and the organization has been and where it is now. You also see the goal or destination desired by those who lead you. Like early explorers learned maps are only an image of what the cartographer thought the world looked like at the point in time it was created and may not reflect reality. The process provides ideas of where your slice of this organization should be headed to support the larger group.

This becomes your vision, tell your employees where they are going, show them what your group will become. Schedule resources, plan for training, develop a plan and mark your route. Your map also serves as ammunition to argue for resources. Your vision is not only a rosy only picture, but illustrates the rough roads and alternative paths. With this information in hand, prepare your followers and leaders for the curves, potholes and slippery spots on the road ahead.

Vision is critical for leaders at all levels. Front line supervisors’ vision while limited by their location on the organization’s ladder is pivotal to their success. Leaders must create the time to map out the territory allowing them to see where they have been, where they are and where they are going. Their map provides primary routes and detours to arrive at the end point. Traveling along the path, they recognize sign posts and mile markers to measure progress. Whether you are a newly assigned rookie leader or a grizzled leadership veteran, having a vision for your organization improves organizational performance. Dig out you binoculars and climb on the roof. Find out where you have been and most importantly, where you go from here!

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Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis some rights reserved Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

http://www.flickr.com/photos/klearchos/4541701032/sizes/l/in/photolist-7Vkpud-7Zz91R-9Uwxxs-bQGaiB-9XpiD3-5xhA3q-hAsUt7-ehvoLf-HtFik-9p5PM2-bXfqDC-dvWd8u-NgUKM-7B7xCj-58ayC9-khcgo-hJnvz-8pcL3G-XY2DB-dT5Yfm-dZMiF9-ctk3m5-6mNWbw-7ekpic-9DdSAN-7A3dvw-7LFrio-9nRYzW-4CYTmR-5KGg5B-buvfKc-5Cpqwz-asyX89-9vQUT3-6kYiBz-aSKrMn-4gX3v-e3d3jE-aCMtE3-7FbnVz-onMv1-52hjw8-5dPFT2-bn6iPb-7u6hjK-5xKhH6-8WR3XM-8rhBvX-cpfj3-fr4gn7-6Kg4w/

Focusing on Ethical Lenses

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Wall Street struggles with insider trading scandals. Capital Hill drowns in waves of corruption. The military suffers from being blown up by sexual assault after sexual assault. All these organizations have professed values. They have codes of ethics. They investigate allegations of wrong doing daily. In spite of their best efforts the same problems continue to plague them.

Each of these organizations teach ethics. Many of us have sat through classes teaching us what is right and what is wrong based on organizational principles. None of these classes explores the underpinnings of ethical thinking and are therefore doomed to fail.

In their book, When Generations Collide, Lynne C. Lancaster & David Stilman explore the differences between generations based on the differences of the history that defined the moments each grew up with. The thesis of the book is that understanding the forces that shaped each generation allows the others to understand the motivations behind the behaviors of each group of people. Young people are not lazy, but rather value their free time to associate with friends and family. Boomers think globally and act locally. Understanding the forces that shaped the values of others creates harmonious relationships at work and home.

Ethics are the same. When an organization professes to value loyalty, the committee that established that as an important guiding principle envisioned that everyone understands what loyalty means. Everyone does, but brings their own history to the definition. One who has strong family ties is loyal to his family. Another employee who values friendships is loyal to her friends. A third employee is third generation at the company. He benefited from many of the past policies that rewarded hard working employees, his loyalty lies with the company. From different points of view come different views of loyalty each equally valid yet when viewed by the others, bound to create disagreement and tension. A study of ethical theory enables understanding of how others define ethical values such as loyalty, honor or duty.

Four major concepts of ethical thinking include:

  • Seeking to do the Greatest Good for Me,
  • Accomplish My Duties & Safeguard My Rights,
  • Making Choices that are Just and Fair for All,
  • Living Virtuous Life According to a Selected Code of Conduct.

Using a story will help put each theory into perspective. While shopping, a person notices another placing a package of meat into a pocket on the inside of a bulky coat. What is the ethical thing to do?

If we use the first theory, by reporting it he may find he is required to make a written statement, wait for police to arrive and possibly testify in court. This may mean missing time for work and not getting paid. From this point of view, the person may reason the best thing for him to do is nothing.

Using the second ethical view, the shopper may decide that she has a duty to report what she saw to the manager which may require the same sacrifices already described. In addition she has a right to pay the lowest possible prices. People stealing food causes prices to rise so by reporting she fulfills her duty and protects her rights.

Using the third outlook the shopper may take into consideration things like the ability of the thief to pay as well as missing work and going to court. He may reason that overall it is not fair for everyone to pay higher prices, but also that the other should be able to purchase food at a reasonable rate. He may choose not to report, but rather approach the thief and offer to buy the meat for the other.

I the final theory, the shopper decides that virtue requires reporting. She determines that if no one pays for the food than the store goes out of business and there is no place to shop. Stealing is against the law no matter the reason (the selected code of conduct) and must not be tolerated. Additionally if everyone turns a blind eye to theft, stealing will escalate resulting in the store closing. Reporting is the only virtuous thing to do.

As the example shows, the lens of one’s ethical view determines how principles such as loyalty, duty and honor focus actions. Based upon the ethical point of view none of the answers provided are incorrect. Likewise in the workplace, when employees make decisions, they select choices based on their ethical lens changing the focus to actions that match. In order to maximize mission statements, value selection, guiding principals and visions for the future, leaders must not only provide ethics training, but also train understanding which lenses employees use. Failure to recognize employee focal points ensures failure of ethical decision making efforts by leaders. Take the time to teach junior leaders and their employees which lens is used by the key leaders to view the world so they can make better choices.

They’ve Got You Now…

At the end of Heartbreak Ridge, GSG Highway turns to CPL Jones and says something like “They don’t need me anymore, besides they got you now.” This is truly an impressive quote on many levels. Many would argue that the main character in this movie is an ideal mentor or role model, but others would argue he is the very definition of as a Level 5 Leader. One of the benefits of this discussion and analysis is that the Gunny is a fictional character and not a real person, but tDSC00585he military is full of commissioned and non-commissioned officers who are less than perfect yet meet the definition of a Level 5 Leader. This article seeks to identify why the military successfully develops so many leaders who meet this definition.

Before looking at the reasons the military generates so many great leaders, a review of Level 5 Leadership in in order. At least two authors have discussed five levels of leadership, Jim Collins and John Maxwell. Collins’ five levels appear to receive the most attention, but a comparison between both author’s writings demonstrate similar ideas for each level.

Level 5 Leaders build enduring greatness by placing the needs of the organization above their own. They blend humility with personal will-power influencing others to accomplish great things. They do the things that need doing establishing demanding standards. They do not expect perfection but rather demand excellence & continuous improvement. They bask in the reflected glory of the spotlight of success focused on those they lead. They create sustainable leadership development programs ensuring organizational success long after they leave. Level 5 Leaders are well respected attracting others who want to follow them.

While purely fictional, the actions of Gunny Highway are exaggerated but typical of many military leaders. They are humble about their achievements by acknowledging the fact they could have only achieved success through the efforts of their followers. They set high standards and expect others to meet them not occasionally, but every day. They accomplish those things that need doing whether pleasant or distasteful. They demand their followers achieve excellence and continuously improve their performance. They provide junior leaders opportunities to lead, allowing them to make mistakes, hold them accountable and permit them to try again until they succeed. These actions set an example for those future leaders to follow when promoted.

Gunny Highway’s first impression of Jones and the other members of the platoon was unfavorable. He established high standards and through his will-power influenced them to achieve those standards and succeed. The platoon went from being the laughing stock of the post to a well-respected organization capable of meeting any challenge presented. He developed other leaders such as Jones and his Lieutenant who tripped when presented problems, but learned the value of adapting, improvising and overcoming to achieve success.

At the end of the day, it was Highway and his platoon were not favorable. Previous leaders allowed them to slack off becoming regarded as a bunch of out-of-control misfits who could never succeed let along achieve excellence. Highway know one day their lives could be at stake and pushed them to achieve and exceed military standards. After an emergency deployment to rescue stranded Americans it was Highway’s platoon on the top of the hill after enduring several battles and receiving the accolades of their commander. In true Level 5 fashion, Gunny denied having accomplished much, but rather thrust his followers into the spotlight. He was humble, demonstrated tremendous will-power, set high standards, developed others, expected continuous improvement from previous excellent results and set up his unit for continued greatness for years after his retirement. Who knows, in 20 years Gunny Jones could be the one leading the charge, achieving success and passing the glory onto a well-mentored Corporal when the Commanding General teleports to that forward position. Hooah!