Tuesday Jul 12, 2016

8 Ways to Better Learning

In today's world, we are faced with an abundance of information (many times too much information), and we are expected to be experts before we even know what the final picture looks like.

So how do you learn in this kind of environment?  How do you take information and make it meaningful for what you're doing?  

In my own work, research I've done and just experimenting, I've come across a variety of practices that are useful to me when trying to both learn something and apply that learning, so I thought I would share a few ideas with you:

Write down your Questions.  What are you trying to learn?  Why is this important to you?  What questions do you already have about the content you want to learn and its importance to you?  Write these questions down so you can recognize potential answers when you come across them.

Find Existing Content.  I like to use Google and Wikipedia.  When it comes to Google, I look for links to reputable sources.  Obviously, these sources will be different based upon the information you are seeking.  I know some people dislike Wikipedia, but I often find it's a great source for getting a broad picture and jumping into additional sites and concepts.  I also use industry and professional sites (ask colleagues for recommendations).

Keep a Learning Journal.  If you've read any of my posts, this should not be a surprise to you.  When you are reading through new material or thinking about a problem, write down the questions you have, the thoughts going through your mind, and the larger pictures that you see.  This solidifies both your ideas and your questions and provides additional focus points for exploration.

Find Like Minded Individuals. Visit every social platform you are on (this includes OSN for Oracle folks) - read comments to see how others think; click on links that others recommend; look for opposing views to test your own theories.  Continue writing down your questions, ideas, and new things to explore.

Hit the Coffee Shop.  Invite someone who has more knowledge than you to coffee.  Pick their brain; ask how they learned about the topic; have them recommend additional resources.  You may want to go into the conversation with a couple of questions, but allow for a bit of serendipity in the conversation.  (You can read more in my post on informational interviews).

Use Available Technology.  I often cannot read everything I come across at the time I find it.  But then I found this cool little app called Pocket - this lets me save online article to read later, even if I'm not connected to the internet.  My only "gotcha" is that I have to remember to sync between my computer and my iPad.  Think about the tools you already use and how they might help organize your learning and ask others for new ideas.

Popcorn and Movie, Anyone?  Google your topic, and then click "Videos" at the top.  This will give you a list of tons of videos you can watch - many of them by experts in their field.  Again, I tend to look at sources (like TED) that are pretty reputable.  I've also found that looking at the number of hits on YouTube and reading a few of the comments can give you an idea of whether or not something is worth your time.  

Take a Break.  In the course of everything you learn, you need to take time to reflect and think.  Are you still on track for what you want to learn?  Are you limiting your knowledge in some way?  Does what you've learned help build a big picture for you?  If you're questioning the validity of this, google <importance of reflection> for more data!

These are the immediate things that come to mind when someone asks how I learn about a new topic.  What about you - What are the things you do or the tools you use to learn?

Wednesday Jul 06, 2016

When Was Your Last First?

This past weekend, my son asked me "Mommy, when was the last time you did something for the first time?"  Since it was 7am, I had to actually unwrap that question before trying to answer it, but I told him I've had lots of firsts:
  • Managing a team at Oracle for the first time (just this past month)
  • Attending a class at Harvard (last month)
  • Practicing aikido (started this past year)
  • Picking up alto saxophone (since Christmas)
  • Quilting (started two years)
I asked him why he was asking, and he said "Because if you don't have firsts in your life, it's probably not a very good life." 

Think about that for a second - "firsts" make life interesting.  "Firsts" make work more interesting.  When was your last "first" at work?  Maybe you:
  • Wrote your first blog
  • Worked on high visibility project for the first time
  • Managed a team for the first time
  • Received your first promotion
  • Moved into a new role for the first time
  • Found your passion for the first time
As a leader, you have the opportunity to create "firsts" for your people.  We tend to ask people with proven skillsets to work on projects.  But think about asking someone new to work on a project - maybe to be mentored by that experienced person.  You just created a "first" for the new person and maybe a "first" mentoring relationship for the experienced person.

Maybe you have the ability to task someone with presenting at a User Group or some other conference - you've created a "first" for them to get noticed by their peers and by customers.  Maybe you're creating the next (your first) famous TED speaker.

Maybe you have the chance to participate on a new project that is a "first" for Oracle and for everyone on the team.

Think about the last time you experienced a "first" at work.  Were you scared?  Nervous?  Excited?  New experiences give most people a rush - a combination of fear, excitement, and - most importantly -  possibility.

As a leader, you have the ability to create those "firsts" at work and help your people define the possibilities.  So what firsts might you create today?

Tuesday Jun 07, 2016

Four Leadership Lessons From Disneyland

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on Earth? My (unscientific) research would indicate that, yes, it is. My family spent this past week at Disneyland and another well-known theme park, and I have to say that there was a marked difference between the two. My research consisted of talking to park employees to determine what makes their park, their job, and their company special.

At Disneyland, we came across employees who shared their four keys of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. We saw employees smiling all the time and asking how they could make your day perfect. I talked with employees who said they loved working for Disney – one worked there through college and then returned after getting her Masters degree; one employee was in his 47th year at Disney. And I talked with employees who said they never get tired of working at Disney because any daily assignment is a 30 minute rotation, and longer term employees have the opportunity to move throughout the park.

In contrast, at our second theme park, we saw a lot fewer smiles from employees, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like they had been there 47 years. When I asked about training, I was told that “they have certain things we can and can’t say.” When I asked for directions, the employee pointed and said “I think it’s that way.” The best observation was from my 11-year old when we walked past an attraction late in the day, and she said “He doesn’t look as fresh as he did this morning.”

Overall, our experience made me think about the leadership of each park and how their actions can be a lesson to all leaders. The four leadership lessons that I learned from Disneyland include:

  1. Set clear expectations. Employees at Disneyland said their job was to make every park guest’s visit memorable and perfect. This expectation was set from the top level down, through all of the training that employees received. At our second park, nobody talked about the expectations of their job, and you could see the difference in performance.
  2. Keep jobs fresh. At Disneyland, one employee said he never got tired of what he did because they had 30 minute rotations in their area. By contrast, at our second park, the employee who didn’t look “fresh” at 5:30pm was at the same location when we started our day at 9:00am. If you keep jobs fresh – rotate assignments, provide new projects, and give new opportunities – your employees are more likely to stay engaged with their work
  3. Have fun. Nobody wants to work in dreariness. Find ways to make work fun for you employees – create contests out of certain activities, celebrate birthdays, host online holiday parties. When people are having fun, others can see that…including your customers.  My kids easily saw that the Disneyland employees had fun at their jobs – that’s why they’ve been there for 40-plus years!
  4. Provide excellent training. Disney employees had one job – to make every guest’s day perfect. To accomplish this, they had training in all aspects of the park that contributed to that. If you expect certain behaviors or actions from your employees, it is your responsibility to ensure they have the right training to meet those expectations.

One of my final questions at Disneyland was “Do you ever have really bad employees?” The cast member chuckled and told me that employees who don’t meet Disney ideals don’t last long and typically choose to leave before they’re even in front of park guests. As another point for leaders, it’s crucial to remember that not everyone is fit for the goals of your team. You can fight that, or you can accept it and help them find the right roles.

Overall, I saw many employees at Disneyland meeting corporate expectations and making park guests happy. I’m not sure that Disneyland would be everyone’s idea of the Happiest Place on Earth, but if you employ some of the same ideas as Disney leaders, you might have the Happiest Teams at Your Company!

Tuesday Aug 25, 2015

And What, Exactly, Is an Informational Interview?

Quite a few years back, I decided I wanted to know more about some areas of the company I was working in (it was a large company). I asked my mentor and my manager for some advice on who I might talk to, and they gave me five names. I contacted each person and asked if they might have 30 minutes to talk with me about their area of the business and how it integrated with my own. All five said yes.

So I moved forward with all five interviews. My great-grandfather used to tell me that God gave me two ears and one mouth..and why do you think that is?...so I went into each interview planning to listen more than I talked. Great-grandpa knew what he was talking about – I met some great people and learned a lot about different areas of the business. I hit it off with a couple of my interviewees, and we exchanged information periodically. Two years later, both of them helped me out when I needed to accomplish a difficult project in a short time.

All because of that initial informational interview.

In essence, an informational interview is an opportunity to learn more about someone else and what they do. It is NOT, NOT, NOT a job interview…nor is it a plea for a job…nor an opportunity to provide your resume. It is an investment of your time to learn about someone. That’s it.

So why would you ever do an informational interview? Because you think someone is interesting; or something they do is interesting; they might be a future member of your network; they might become a mentor; they might put you in touch with another person who sparks your future.

Let's assume you’re on board with the concept of an informational interview. “How do I do it?” Glad you asked. Here are my tips for conducting an informational interview.

  1. Know what you want to learn. You should identify the topics that you want to learn about. This will also help you determine the appropriate people to contact.

  2. Find the right people. If you know what you want to learn, ask your manager, mentor or someone else who they would recommend you talk to and why. This will give you the information you need to initiate contact.

  3. Schedule a conversation not to exceed 30 minutes. The person you’re talking with is probably busy, so let them know that you will limit your conversation to 30 minutes. If your interviewees want to spend more time with you, they will.

  4. Have a great starting question.  Your first question will get the entire conversation underway.  You may want to start with something like “What was your career path that brought you to your current position?” or “What kind of knowledge does someone in your position need?” Have 3-5 good questions ready, but know that might only need your first great question.

  5. Listen. This is kind of a “duh,” but to actively listen takes a lot of work. You need to concentrate, respond appropriately and build upon the conversation – this is called active listening. If you think your listening skills could use work, check out this MindTools article or Fast Company article for some tips.

  6. Don’t take notes. This might seem counter-intuitive, but taking notes means that you are concentrating on writing something down rather than concentrating on the person talking. Definitely jot down a question that comes up or any major ideas that you want to remember or follow up on. Just remember that your primary purpose is to focus on the person in front of you.

  7. Use the ultimate final question. At the end of every interview, ask “Who else would you recommend that I talk to about <insert your topic>?” This opens up additional opportunities for you to talk to others as you can start with “X said that I should contact you to talk about <insert your topic>.” Not only is it an easy way to initiate contact, but you’ll learn even more about others in your company.

  8. Send a thank-you note or email. This is super important. Someone just gave you 30 minutes out of their very busy schedule - the least you can do is say thanks. Additionally, make sure you send the thank-you no later than 48 hours after the interview.

So that’s it – eight easy steps to an informational interview. Once back at your desk, feel free to write down notes about your interview. As you reflect on your notes and your experiences from the interviews, you’ll realize that every interview is a development opportunity – it gives you the chance to make yourself known, to develop your knowledge of the company, to expand your network, and to increase your knowledge in a topic. Informational interviews are a great tool for your professional development, but it’s up to you to use them.

Happy interviewing!

Tuesday Jun 16, 2015

Feedback: What They Want, Or What They Need?

This weekend, my husband and I drove four hours into the mountains to take our kids to church camp.  After getting my "almost 8" year old registered, he hugged me and said, "I'm going to miss you, Mommy."

"Really buddy," I asked, feeling a little "aawww" in my heart for such a rare show of emotion.

"No," he giggled.  "I just know you want me to say that."

Bammo!!  Reality hits hard when it hits!

His comment, though, made me think about something all leaders are responsible for, and some of them don't do very well - feedback.  Often, people in leadership positions will tell people what they want to hear (like my son) - a true leader, however, tells people what they need to hear.

Providing feedback to people is tough - you don't want to hurt their feelings; they might perceive it as negative; you're not sure if you're getting through; the feedback might not be specific enough; the conversation will likely be uncomfortable; and your employee might not like you very much at the end of it.  Great picture, huh?

Here's a different picture.  You start with positive intent - feedback is designed to help a person perform better.  You gather specific actions and results related to your feedback; you talk with your employee about these actions and results and what needs to be different; you ask them how, together, you can help others from making the same mistake in the future; and you both leave the conversation feeling like something was accomplished.

In their book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, authors Tacy Byham and Richard Wellins explain the concept of using STARs for feedback (Oracle employees can access the book via Safari).  STAR stands for:

  • Situation/Task (ST): basically, what was being handled or addressed
  • Action (A): what a person did that was effective
  • Result (R): the positive impact of the action

The book further explains the concept of STAR/AR for providing developmental feedback, where the /AR stands for:

  • Alternative Action (A): what a person might have said or done instead
  • Enhanced Result (R): what might have been more effective as a result of the alternative action

A Zenger/Folkman study written about in Harvard Business Review indicates that people actually want corrective feedback, even more so than they want praise (or positive feedback).  What employees do not want is "constructive criticism" because, let's face it, any criticism is not really constructive.  Additionally, employees don't want feedback that is focused on them, as a person.  For example, if you started the conversation with "I can't believe how inept you were in that discussion," the conversation will undoubtedly go downhill from there.

Instead, experts suggest that the feedback you provide focuses on specific actions (like in the STAR/AR model), and when providing feedback, you:

  • are timely - you don't wait until performance reviews at the end of the year to address an issue from 8 months prior
  • are explicit - you explain exactly what you saw and what you would like to see differently so your employee doesn't have to read your mind
  • ask questions - you ask your employee to consider alternativse by asking them how they perceived the situation and what might have worked better
  • follow through - the first conversation isn't the end.  You need to follow up with your employee to find out how changes are going and how you can continue to support him or her.

Yes, feedback can be uncomfortable, but if you approach it as an opportunity to improve one's performance, it can be well received...much more so than just telling your employees what they want to hear.

Monday May 18, 2015

What's Your Leadership Lesson Plan?

In my former life, I was a high school English teacher, and I was expected to have a lesson plan for every class. I was even given 50 minutes each day to ‘plan’ lessons for my five different classes (about 10 minutes per class). Because I was starting out in my teacher role, I actually spent substantially more than 10 minutes planning for each class.

What was included in my lesson plan? Glad you asked. I had an overall plan for each unit, including the learning objectives for the unit. For each daily lesson, I had an introduction to the lesson, learning objectives, notes on what I would say, how long it would take, discussion questions, vocabulary that might be new, quizzes, handouts, and potential essay questions, etc. I was very prepared for each day. And I knew what I wanted my students to learn and how I was going to build upon each day throughout the semester.

And that made me think about graduation and the fact that companies have a host of graduating college students joining their ranks. If you are going to be leading a team of new college hires, how much time have you spent identifying what you want those new hires to know? Think about what skills you want your new hires to learn – how are they going to learn those skills, who is going to help them, how are you going to provide feedback, and how is your new hire going to show he or she has learned the skill? And do the skills you’ve identified align with the goals of your business unit?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Millenials in the workplace, including research that indicates Millenials aren’t all that different from other generations. That group of college hires that you have coming in probably want the same thing that the rest of your team wants – consistent communication from you, knowledge of how their work fits in the bigger picture, feedback on how they’re doing (beyond once a year performance reviews), and they want to feel valued as an employee and as a person. Research indicates that Millenials want these things, but - no surprise - so does the rest of your team.

A teacher creates lesson plans not to be completely rigid about each day, but to ensure that they are providing the greatest amount of learning opportunity for their students. Likewise, as a leader, you should create a lesson plan for you team that provides the greatest learning opportunity possible for all of your team members. This might mean that those new hires mentor older workers on new technologies; older workers provide business context around the ‘college learning’, and you, as a leader, provide the structure that makes it all work. Creating a lesson plan is hard work, but the payoff is tremendous. You have 50 minutes – go!

Wednesday Apr 01, 2015

1 Easy Rule for Being a Great Leader

I've been reading a lot of blogs and articles that talk about how you should treat your employees in order to motivate them, help them achieve peak performance, engage them, etc.  The advice is generally really good, but I admit that I'm one of the people who is going to forget to:
Smile at people every day; Talk to my team to really get to know them; Remember to marry employee desires to corporate strategy; Know the top three things that motivate each employee; Help tie personal goals to corporate goals; Have 1:1 meetings; Have career conversations with each employee; Avoid blame; Bring others along on a change journey; Build trust; Maintain integrity; Build meaningful relationships and networks; Conduct an annual performance review; Be vulnerable...be strong; Communicate often...don't over-communicate.

I'm sure you get the picture.  So, I've boiled it down to just one single rule for being a great leader:  Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated. 

This is a rule that was drilled into us in kindergarten, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the "Golden Rule" in many religions, but somewhere along the way, we forgot about it.  It's the rule of the philosopher Plato when he said "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."  But we forget about it.

Instead, we rush to work in a traffic jam that is being created just to piss us off and start our day off wrong.  The person in front of you saw you coming up to the door and slammed it in your face instead.  The one employee that you really needed to perform today should know that you need more from them.  And why did your whole team decide to slack off when you needed them working hard.  By golly, you have a right to be mad as hell and take it out on everyone!

But we forget.

Take a deep breath.

That traffic jam occurred because there was an accident on the highway, and someone was killed.  The person going through the door in front of you happened to be blind and didn't even know you were there.  The distracted employee just learned yesterday that her parent had a stroke.  And that team that wasn't working...they were working to support their co-worker who was just diagnosed with cancer.

Treat everyone on your team the way you would like to be treated.

Instead of being mad that a traffic jam exists, use the time to think about how you're going to approach a specific problem.  Instead of assuming ill-intent from your employee, ask her "I notice that you're attention isn't really here today.  Is something going on?"  Instead of being mad that someone in front of you didn't hold the door, hold the door for the person behind you.  And instead of assuming that your team isn't working, ask them what is top of their mind.

Most people don't wake up and plan how they are going to make everyone around them miserable.  They don't plan how badly they can screw up at work.  They don't plan how they're going to make everyone else look bad. 

So the next time you are interacting with your employees, think about how you would like to be treated.  Ask instead of assuming.  Listen with respect.  Show compassion.  Act like a human being.  Remember Plato's advice to "Be kind."  Chances are pretty good that you'll learn something about your employees, and they'll learn that you are, indeed, a great leader.

Monday Mar 30, 2015

3 Characteristics of Poetry That Can Help You Communicate Better

My fifth grade daughter has a new assignment in school - she has to read 100 poems by the end of May, with specifics about the types of poems to be covered and what information is to be recorded for each poem.  Almost immediately, I pulled out all sorts of poems that she could read, running the gamut from Christopher Marlow to John Donne to Emily Dickinson (I was an English major, so I have a fairly large selection of poetry on my bookshelves).

As I started reading through different poems, I was reminded once more of how incredible poems are because they teach us how to communicate more effectively than we might imagine possible.  I might have lost you at the mention of reading 100 poems, but if you're still with me, let me explain the characteristics that I'm talking about:
  • Word choice:   Poets carefully choose their words to paint a picture of what they want you to see.  Instead of "it was cloudy," a poet might say "the wisps of white were like puffs of dandelion floating in a gentle blue breeze."  The poet has selected words that create the image of puffy clouds slowly moving in the breeze.  It is this kind of careful selection of words that we should strive for in our own messaging - using powerful words to tell our story. 
  • Brevity:  With the exception of epic poems (apologies to Homer, Milton, Vyasa and others), poems don't spew forth every word known to man.  Poets manager to get their points across in as few words as possible.  Think about this - the human brain can store 5-7 'chunks' of information in short term memory.  If you want to get your point across and be memorable, you should aim for 'short and sweet' in your message.
  • Reflection:  A great poem gives you something to think about, and the message of that poem may stay with you long after you read it.  Likewise, if you are presenting a message, you should think about what you want your audience to continue thinking about long after the presentation.  This can help define the words that you use when you communicate.

You may think word choice and brevity conflict with each other, but they really don't.  A poet might choose very precise words to create the imagery that is necessary for the meaning of the poem, but the overall poem may be very short.  Check out the following:

Risk - Anais Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Hans Christian Anderson

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.

Nin tells us that at some point we have to step up and take a risk; Dickinson tells us that what we do actually matters to others; and Anderson makes us want to get on the next plane to some unknown destiny.  And they do this with beautifully painted imagery and a minimum number of words.

Long after you read this post, you'll probably be wondering 'What risk should I be taking?'  Or 'Who's life might I have impacted by my actions?'  Or 'Where should I go on my next journey?' And therein lies the reflective nature of poetry and its message.

Poetry may not speak to the masses (at least that's what my husband tells me), but if you consider the word choice, brevity and reflective qualities of poems and and how they relate to your own messaging, poetry may just help you become a more effective communicator.

Monday Mar 16, 2015

Are You Leading With a Growth Mindset?

Growing up, my mom would tell me "You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it."  Mom was also a big believer in PMA, or Positive Mental Attitude.  If I was having a bad day...PMA.  If I was having a bad gymnastics meet...PMA.  If I didn't achieve to the level I expected of myself...PMA.  My mom wasn't going to let me feel sorry for myself or dwell in negative thought; instead, she insisted that I figure out what went wrong and move forward with a positive mental attitude.  I heard PMA from Mom so often that when I left home for college and then moved away to start a career, I would tell myself "PMA" whenever I was having issues with something (I think that was my mom's goal).

Little did I know, my mom was teaching me to have a growth mindset.  The term 'growth mindset' refers to the belief that abilities can be developed and honed through dedication and hard work.  In contrast a 'fixed mindset' is the belief that you are born with a level of talent and intelligence that really can't be changed.  These concepts are the basis for Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Dweck maintains that how we feel about things like risk, learning, intelligence, tests, failure , effort (and other things) form our beliefs, and those beliefs can ultimately impact our performance and success.  This is a great picture differentiating growth/fixed mindset:

(Click here for a larger image of this picture)

Fortunately, as Dweck explains, mindsets are simply our beliefs, and we have the power to change our beliefs and our mind.  In Dweck's TED Talk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, she describes the power of "not yet."  The phrase "not yet" implies a learning path into the future and provides a person the confidence to persevere.  Think about it like this - you are coaching an employee on a particular issue, and they come to you with an idea on how they will solve the issue.  Do you say No, that won't work or do you say You're not there yet.  Think about what else you might do?

"That won't work" closes down the conversation and forces the employee to give up.  On the other hand, the "not yet" phrase gives the employee permission to grapple with the problem, learn from what he or she has already tried and come up with a better solution.  And, an additional benefit is that the employe has learned to persevere and think outside his or her comfort zone - this causes neurons in the brain to form new connections, which helps with future problem solving.  You are, in essence, setting up the employee for success.

If you tend to have a fixed mindset, you can change it!  First, learn to "hear" your fixed mindset when it occurs.  Second, recognize that you have a choice on how you interpret what is happening.  Third, talk back to your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice.  And finally, take the growth mindset actions.  Details of each of these steps can be found on MindSetOnline

New research tells us that leaders with a growth mindset tend to be better coaches to their employees; they are more likely to notice improvement in their employees; they make better negotiators; they seek more feedback so they can improve.  And - I think this is a biggie - they are modeling a growth mindset for their employees.  Even Harvard Business Review has written about "How Companies Can Profit from a 'Growth Mindset"  (Hint: words like trustworthy, commitment and innovation are used).

Leadership is all about the willingness to grow and change and to help your people do the same...this is the embodiment of the growth mindset.  You may not have my mom whispering "PMA" inside your head whenever you're facing a challenge, but you do have Carol Dweck telling you that the only thing standing between you and your goals is the story you tell yourself about why you can't achieve them.  And the beauty is, you have the power to change that story!

Monday Mar 09, 2015

Leadership Lessons from the Hallway

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my kids’ school, and I was sitting in the hall working while the high school students had lunch. Since I’m curious about kids today and their leadership skills tomorrow, I decided to ask them a few questions (this is where my husband would cringe and say “Do you have to?”). Despite the fact that I was a “mom,’ the kids were really receptive to the conversation.

I started with “What does leadership mean to you guys?” They proceeded to tell me that “leadership” means putting others before yourself; helping others do something while you’re doing it as well; not being judgmental; equality; being able to direct people without having a superiority complex. One boy even offered the comparison that good leaders direct and help while bad leaders sit on the sidelines and point fingers. All of these kids understood that leadership was about helping others be better.

Then I asked what they felt leaders needed to learn, and I was blown away by the answers. Be personal – tell me you need my help, and I’ll want to help you. Let me know how things relate back to me and what I’m supposed to be doing. And then there was this – leaders need to teach people how to think for themselves and teach those people how to teach others. Too often, we’re taught how to think in one way, and that can stifle our creativity and ability to solve problems. Wow!

The question around social media was quick as all the kids said they don’t really pay attention to social media as they would rather talk to someone; employees shouldn’t be consumed by social media and should have a life outside of work; and it’s a good tool to post those things that college recruiters and potential employees would like to know about.

I also asked the kids what they thought would be the biggest issues in the next 15-20 years as they started moving into leadership positions. One response was that we need to keep in mind that the world is shrinking and will only get smaller, and we need to be able to make hard decisions without groups feeling left out of the decision. Another student said that we need to focus – he went on to explain that we don’t focus as much as we used to because there are too many different things competing for attention. All of the kids felt that the conversation we have need to be “bigger” and more inclusive.

My final question was “How many of you see yourself working in an office 8-5?” They all laughed.

Lunch was over, and when I apologized for taking their whole lunch period, all of the kids responded with something along the lines of “No, this was great. It gives us a chance to really think about what we might do in the future.”

Why am I sharing this? Because I thought it was interesting that we complain about “kids these days” and “those millennial” who are entering the workforce; and, even these kids are any indication, I don’t think we have that much to worry about. I learned that these kids have it right – leadership is about helping others become better; it’s about becoming better yourself; and it’s about remembering we’re all human and that we should focus on the important things. If the high school students can get it right in the hallway, we should be able to get it right in the cubicle!

Thank you to the high school kids at Cornerstone Christian Academy who spent their lunch with me that day!

Monday Mar 02, 2015

Mentoring: It's Not For Wimps

My family spent three days last weekend skiing in the Colorado mountains.  It was a great deal of fun because my daughter skied with some of our friends, and they took her down moguls, terrain parks, jumps and a variety of other things that my husband and I were not going to do.  My son, on the other hand, took two days of lessons, and then I had to ski faster to keep up with him.  We all learned new things over the weekend thanks to people who knew more than we did.  And that got me thinking...

As part of my day job, I've been doing some work on mentoring programs and best practices around mentoring.  A disturbing theme that I'm seeing in my research is that mentoring is viewed as something for those people on their way out - that is, if you have a mentor, you're obviously not doing very well in your current position.  I'd like to take that idea and throw it out the window!!

Think back to 7th Century BC...Thales, one of the 7 ancient sages, founded a school of philosophy to share knowledge.  Every philosopher that came after Thales learned from the ones who came before.  Fast forward 1500 years to the Middle Ages, and you have apprentices who are learning and perfecting skills taught by master craftsmen.  Fast forward to today - we have apprentices who work under a master in a skilled trade; we have Masters students who study for a Doctorate under the supervision of an "expert;" we even have television programs where musicians are being mentored by current stars.  In all sorts of fields throughout history, people learn from those with more knowledge.  But we're suppose to look down on that in the business world?  Inconceivable!!  (to steal a line from The Princess Bride)

If you are a mentor, you have one of the most important jobs around.  You need to have a wealth of self-awareness and understanding about what makes you successful, and then you have to be able to share that with your mentee in a way that they can internalize and apply to their own development.  You have to dig in and push someone beyond their comfort zone because you are the person who is helping someone else define their future and take appropriate steps to reach those goals.  That is no small task!

If you are being mentored, you know that learning from someone who has been in your position or is in a position you would like one day is the best way to explore that experience...without actually going through the experience.  A person being mentored has basically stood up and said "I want to be the best that I can be" and has found people to help him or her achieve that best and is willing to take on the difficult work of self-reflection and achieving goals to become their best.  This is not not the behavior of a person headed out the door - this is the awareness and actions of someone that you want on your teams! 

You may not ever follow someone down moguls or terrain parks while skiing, but if you have the drive to help others as a mentor and/or the desire to achieve your best by being mentored, the resulting relationship will set both of you up for success no matter what path you choose.

Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Stay Interviews: A Great Tool for Great Leaders (Including You)

I’ve been a fan of stay interviews for a long time, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen questions from people about what a stay interview is and comments that they’ve never heard of stay interviews. Since I’m a fan, I figured I would share a little bit of information about stay interviews and why I think it’s a great leadership tool that you should be using regularly.

What Is a Stay Interview?

At its core, a stay interview is a conversation with your employees to learn why they stay at Oracle and with you. That is, what are the specific things that contribute to an employee’s decision to remain in their current position rather than move to a different position or company? These factors might be things like salary, ability to work from home, free soda, fitness centers on location, FMLA access, great insurance, ability to try new things, going to OpenWorld, etc.

The point is, you want to understand what motivates each employee so you can do more of that for each unique person.

How Do I Initiate a Stay Interview?

This is an easy one! You simply make an appointment with one of your employees and say “You’re a key contributor on the team, and I’d like to know more about what you like about your job and why you choose to stay at Oracle.”

Honestly, if you’re not in the habit of talking to your employees (and there are books written on that topic!), your employees will probably hesitate and wonder what kind of trick you’re playing. Your best option is to be honest and simply tell them “I read about something called a stay interview, and it got me thinking about what makes our team members stay here.”

Your employees may be a bit jaded from previous managers who simply didn’t care, but if you keep trying, they will respect your effort and open up to you.

What do I say during a Stay Interview?

If you google stay interview questions, you will receive 271 million hits. Since looking through 271M hits isn't really feasible for most people, I've identified a dozen common questions that you might consider:

  1. What about your job makes you excited to come to work?
  2. If you changed your role completely, what are the things that you would miss most?
  3. What job from your past would you go back to if you had to stay in it for an extended period of time? Why did you choose that job?
  4. What skills do you have that you are not using but would like to?
  5. What have you felt good about accomplishing in your current position?
  6. What bothers you the most about your work?
  7. What kind of feedback would you like about your performance that you are not currently receiving?
  8. What development opportunities would you like that can push you past your current role?
  9. If you could spend 10-20% of your time exploring something related to your job, what would that be and why?
  10. What do you like to do outside of work? What are you passionate about?
  11. What is one thing that you would change about your current position, team or company if you could?
  12. What can I do more of less of as your manager?

Keep in mind that you primary job is to listen…and maybe take some notes. Whatever you do, do NOT rebut anything your employee is telling you. Nothing will shut down the conversation faster than you saying “But that’s not true. We really do (fill in the blank).” Your goal is simply to understand what motivates and engages your employees and to let your employees know that you recognize and appreciate their contributions.

Also be aware, that this is not the time to promise anything to your employees. You are simply gathering information to help you understand your employees and identify what keeps them satisfied.

What do I do with the information I get?

Your first step is to simply review your notes and ensure you understand what you heard. From there, determine what you can do to support those things that motivate your employees. Perhaps you have an employee who is motivated by the opportunities for professional development. Maybe you can approve their attending a conference, working with an extended team on a cross-functional project, or securing a presentation at a local User’s Group conference. The point is, you don’t know that you should be doing these things if you don’t know that your employee is motivated by development opportunities.

You should also be sure that your Stay Interview isn’t a one-time event. Your employees have given you great information. You need to have continued conversations with them to make sure that both of you are on the right track. As you have these conversations with your employees, you will be building trust in those relationships, which can open even more dialogue about the team and its achievements.


Stay Interviews are not difficult – you are simply having a conversation to learn more about your employees and why they continue to work for you. There are no judgments, no promises, no pressures – just an effort to understand what motivates your employees.

One thing to consider – conduct Stay Interviews with all your employees within a set timeframe (within a couple of weeks). This allows you to see any trends across all employees and implement any changes right away rather than letting something negative sit within your team for an extended period of time.

If you’re concerned that a Stay Interview might be difficult, think about the best performer on your team. Do you know what keeps him or her in their position? What might you do if you knew that information? Start with this one employee. My guess is that your conversation will inspire you to do the same for all of your employees – and your employee will talk about what a great leader they have!

Tuesday Feb 10, 2015

Do You Have a Learning Habit?

Habit (hab'it)

  1. An act or practice so frequently repeated as to become almost automatic.
  2. A tendency or disposition to act consistently or to repeat.

We all have habits, and most of the conversation around habits consists of talking about how bad the habit is and how difficult it is to stop the habit. I’m going to switch the conversation on you and tell you that for 2015 you should have a habit – a learning habit!

I was on a call a couple of weeks ago, and the topic of learning habits came up. The question was “What learning habit do you have or will you build for this year? Using the definition above, a learning habit is something that you do repeatedly or consistently in order to develop your knowledge. It’s really nothing more than making a commitment that you are going to do something to stretch your knowledge.

On my phone call, people shared what they already do or are planning to do, including:

  • Read one news article each day in my professional area.
  • Watch 2 or 3 TED talks each week that look interesting.
  • Read one business related book each quarter.
  • Read one Business Book Summary each week. (Oracle employees have access to Business Book Summaries through the Virtual Library).
  • Interview one leader each month that you feel is a great leader and find out what they do differently.
  • Have one-on-one meetings with your team members each month to learn more about them and what they want to achieve.
  • Finish my degree (whatever level it may be).

Any advice we read on leadership tells us that great leaders are continual learners – without constantly assessing where you are, where you want to go and what you need to get there, you will never improve.

So here’s my challenge to you – figure out what you are going to do in the next 7 days to start your learning habit. Write it down in your learning journal. At the end of seven days, check in with yourself and see how you did. Repeat this process for the next month (or quarter) until your habit is established. If you’re feeling up to it, share a comment about what your new habit will be.

By incorporating a learning habit into your leadership actions, you will be modeling continual learning for your employees and taking a great opportunity to develop yourself.

Wednesday Jan 28, 2015

4 Leadership Challenges for 2015

With the start of a new year, there are predictions all over the place about what 2015 will bring. So what makes my predictions any different? They’re mine…and you have to wait 12 months to tell me that I was wrong!! These predictions are based solely on my own research and trends that I’m seeing in the industry. So, with that, here’s what I think will be happening with leadership in 2015:

  • Leaders will become marketeers to a new workforce. The global workforce will drastically change as more employees approach retirement age but still want to work reduced hours and younger employees choose work that really matters to them. We will see a rise in micro-consulting – short bursts of project-based work that is still very important to the business (check out platforms like Maven, Guru and Elance). Leaders will have to develop marketing skills that continue to ‘sell’ the organization and projects to these ‘sometime’ employees, especially if they want the employee to come back for more projects. Further, the ability to quickly and effectively coalesce a team will be required as the ‘sometimes’ employees and full-time employees will need to work together to achieve project outcomes. The leader’s ability to manage this diverse knowledge community will be crucial in meeting the needs of an organization and its customers
  • A leader’s new career tool will be the Learning Portfolio. The world is constantly changing; information continues to increase at exponential rates; knowledge is doubling every 12 months, with the rate expected to increase to every 12 hours with the build out of the “internet of things;” and leaders will be expected to stay ahead of the curve. Now, more than ever, learning agility is a key to leader success. Organizations will start looking at how a leader has learned throughout his or her career to determine if they are capable of creating and driving new ideas. Rather than a resume, this proof will instead come in the form of a Learning Portfolio that documents everything learned – degrees, MOOCs, mentoring, formal and informal learning – how it’s learned, and learning plans that show a leader’s growth and indicate what they plan to learn in the future. And the best jobs will go to those who can prove that they are continually learning.
  • Accountability will be the battle cry. We have more leadership advice available than ever before, and more people are unhappy with their managers and leaders than ever before – a Forbes article even indicated that 65% of Americans would prefer a new boss over a raise. I think this has to do with the trust that employees have in their managers and their companies. We are told to focus on we and us rather than me or I – and that allows us to shift responsibility from me to the unknown them. Accountability means taking ownership of your actions and decisions – not passing them off as group-think and -actions. Leaders who hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions build trust in their organizations, and that trust allows for greater accomplishment. As we see leaders hold themselves to a higher level of accountability, we’ll see their teams and employees being held to a higher standard as well. If you’re wondering what accountability looks like, check out Michael Hyatt’s article “How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability.”
  • The Re-emergence of Systems Thinking. Systems thinking is basically understanding how individual things influence one another within a whole. In today’s business environment, we need to be able to make connections like never before – connections between multiple projects, company strategies, competitor strategies, world economies, business trends, geographical differences, remote teams, our social networks, and so on. The complexity that we live in increases every day, month, year. Successful leaders will need to look at their business with a systems mindset – they need to influence across multiple differences; they need to recognize recurring patterns and behaviors within the system; they need to address cause/effect and unintended consequences resulting from their (and their teams’) decisions; they must project potential risk and accelerate decisions within an increasingly complex business environment; and they need to help their people (and themselves) deal effectively with the ongoing complexity. By having this broad understanding of their system, leaders will be able to have an increasingly positive impact on their organizations’ performance.

Are there other things that leaders will have to concern themselves with in 2015? Yes. Things like employees as stakeholders, leaders becoming career coaches, mass customization of learning, cloud based learning, and so on. But, those are fodder for another post!

So, what do you think? Will these four things become big issues for leaders? What do YOU think will be the biggest leadership challenges this year?

Tuesday Jan 20, 2015

Your Mom Loves You, But She Doesn't Work Here

You’ve probably heard the stories about helicopter parents – those moms and dads who show up to their kids’ job interviews and don’t hesitate to call the hiring manager to find out why little Johnny didn’t get the big grown-up job.

Now picture this kind of parent “helping” you at work. He or she makes an appointment with your manager (and maybe you in the room) to ask why you don’t have a career path mapped out in order to be CEO by the time you’re 32? Your manager turns to you and says “Because you didn’t make one. And you didn’t tell me anything you wanted to do. Nor did you ever tell me you wanted to be CEO. Further, I’m not a freaking mind-reader.”

No good manager is seriously going to be that blunt (probably), but he or she will get the same point across through many 1-on-1 conversations with you about your development and your career. The point of the scenario above is that you – and only you – own your own career and development. You have to put in the thought to figure out what you want to be, what goals you want to achieve, when you want to do it, and what you need to know to get there. You are also responsible for coming up with the steps you’re going to take to obtain that knowledge.

So, what does a manager need to do? Think of your manager as a tour guide. They are there to guide you, to open doors, help define possibilities, fine-tune your development or career plan so that it works with the goals of the business (this assumes that you’re not wanting to change careers from a programmer to a children’s book artist or something like that). They do this by having conversations with you where you share what it is you want and how you think you might achieve it.

What does your manager not do? The things you would expect a helicopter parent to do. Your manager does not decide what your career path looks like. Your manager does not assume that you want to achieve a specific role unless you tell them. Your manager does not question your level of achievement by a certain age. And you manager definitely doesn’t read your mind to know exactly what you want.

Now, you might read this and think it’s all good and well, but then you say “But my manager doesn’t have development conversations with me.” My response is going to be “Take the initiative.” Send an email to your manager requesting 30 minutes to talk about your career. Tell him or her you would like their advice on how your aspirations can help build the department or contribute to the company. Any good manager will welcome a conversation like this. It’s called managing.

Defining where you want to be in 5-10 years helps you determine the steps that you need to take and the help that you need to ask for to get there. However, the key is that you need to be the one defining the end goal. After all, you want to be happy in your career – not in someone else’s.


My blog is a look inside my head on ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff. I manage Oracle's Managing at Oracle team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!


« July 2016