Archive: March, 2012

Post from Transformation Tom: Have Unprofessional Days—Gain Trust and Respect: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - March 29, 2012 - News
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Have Unprofessional DaysGain Trust and Respect

Are you a person people trust and respect? That’s a tough question to answer on your own because trust and respect can’t be asked for—they must be earned. Trust and respect are also easy to lose. In my first year working, we had a person going through a management development program who covered our team in my manager’s absence. The team was not listening to him. They were having side conversations in the middle of a staff meeting. The manager-wannabe screamed out, “You need to respect me.” No, we did not have to respect him. In fact, whatever little respect we might have had was now gone. Respect can’t simply be demanded.

The same is true for trust. Trust has to be gained. It takes a while for some people you are working with to truly trust you. However, in a company working towards a common objective and goal, it is critical to find the trust of the right people, especially people with whom you work closely. Of all my shortfalls, being ethical and trying to do the right thing were not one of them. Although I had issues earning respect from people who worked for me early in my career, trust seemed to be easier to gain. I needed to find a creative way to do both.

I am not a big fan of rumors, talking badly about people we work with, or yelling and screaming in the workplace. However, there are some days you want to bang your head against a wall. There have been occasions I have placed my phone on mute and stuck my tongue out at the computer. This is a very effective way to let off some steam and stem some frustration.

I found a creative way to earn both trust and respect. I used the trusting reputation I had, and gave people an ear during times they needed to vent. I have shocked many people working with me when they started down a tirade or sounded frustrated by encouraging the conversation to go further. Depending on the day of the week this event would occur, I asked them if they wanted this to be “unprofessional Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday).” As expected, I often caught people off guard with the question. However, the question often lightened the mood and allowed me to explain the opportunity that they could have a protected and supportive conversation to get them through the issue. What started as a joke to break up the frustration of a couple of individuals has now turned into a regular routine I have done for many years. I once had a person from Human Resources pull me to the side to “discuss” my “unprofessional Tuesdays.” I thought I was about to get an earful from someone who frowned upon it. She started chuckling and commended me for creating an open environment, and made a comment that she might need to come see me herself for a couple of frustrating moments she wanted to get off her own chest.

The cleansing feeling of letting it all out eventually comes. First, it eases some tension the person may be feeling. However, most people start to tentatively tell me what’s going on. Pent-up frustration soon turns into open dialogue. The discussion might start with problem dumping but most often turns into problem-solving sessions. When they know that what they’ve said behind closed doors (literally or figuratively) stays there in confidence, I earn their trust a little at a time.

In the long term, I am building credibility as a listener, a confidant, and nurturing the relationship with that person. The relationship aspect grows over time, which further allows more complex problem solving. By proactively offering my services to give the person a time and place, even unscheduled, to complain, I actually see the complaints diminish as the person learns to deal more effectively with his or her frustration levels.

This is not a wide-open invitation to “roll buses.” However, I have found that this exercise allowed me to better understand the emotions people experience and how venting clears their heads. Once emotions are in check, the person becomes more objective in his or her thinking. People need to be comfortable in order to speak their minds. By providing a place for them to do that freely, they can become more effective in the short- and long term, and you as a manager or mentor gain trust and respect.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com

 

 

Post from Transformation Tom: Find the Sources of Stage Fright- Chapter “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-Speaking Guide”

Posted by tomdowd - March 23, 2012 - News
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Find the Sources of Stage Fright

You are approaching the lectern for the “big” presentation, or you’re about to have the interview that will change the course of your life. You get dizzy; your heart pounds; your mouth gets dry. It seems to happen every time you need most to be calm, cool, and collected! What if you understood the root causes of your stage fright and anxiety? Understanding the sources of stage fright will enable you, the potential speaker, to take the steps necessary to address the fright head-on. The choice is fight or flight. It’s time to fight back and get you to be the calm, cool, collected person you can be.

Make the anxiety go away. It may not be possible to make it go away fully, but wouldn’t you like to have command over these feelings so you can take advantage of the opportunities presented to you? Stage fright can be categorized as biological, psychological, social, cultural, or a combination of all of the above. Some people might stop reading here, and say that there is far too much to go through to “solve” the public-speaking anxiety, so maybe avoiding it altogether is the best course of action.

I wish it was that easy. Depending on your job, for example, it may be a little easier to avoid these situations. However, what happens when you’re asked to be the best man or maid of honor in a wedding? What if you are forced into the unfortunate duty of delivering a close friend’s eulogy? What if you want to buy a car and need to negotiate? It should be becoming clear that avoiding public speaking situations isn’t as easy as you might think, because it is everywhere. When you learn to address the symptoms straight on rather than avoiding the situation entirely, you will find that each new situation will get a little easier. Your confidence levels will skyrocket. You may not notice it right away, but the invested time to practice and prepare will pay off in the end.

Can you “unlearn” the pent-up fears that have kept you from being your best? My wife often notes that I’ve successfully untrained everything she has taught our dog. Therefore, I have to believe we can turn the tides on our own emotions and confidence level.

I know what you’re thinking: Can’t you just give me medication? Is there an “app” for that? In a culture where we are constantly looking for a quick fix, they are available. If you do a search on iTunes, for example, it will bring up podcasts and applications relating to the topic of public speaking and stage fright. As far as medication, some jokingly may say, “Have a drink.” I have read many books and articles on public speaking that reference the use of alcohol to calm nerves. All have very clearly stated the obvious risk of overindulgence, when you go beyond the calming of nerves and begin to impact your ability to think and speak clearly.

There are similar risks associated with taking medications, which only conceal the symptoms for a little while. You must remember that public speaking is everywhere, so reaching for medication may suffice for that one-time event, but may not always be there for a chance meeting that can change your life. The website www.changethatsrightnow.com was one of many sources offering tips for quick resolutions to stage fright. There are many medications suggested to combat anxiety and stage fright. The organization Change That’s Right Now describes the following three medications:

“Beta blockers are used for relieving performance anxiety. They work by blocking the flow of adrenaline that occurs when you’re anxious. While beta blockers don’t affect the emotional symptoms of anxiety, they can control physical symptoms such as shaking hands or voice, sweating, and rapid heartbeat.

“Antidepressants can be helpful when the feelings of fear are severe and debilitating. Three specific antidepressants — Paxil, Effexor, and Zoloft — have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration phobias.

“Benzodiazepines are fast-acting anti-anxiety medications. However, they are sedating and addictive, so they are typically prescribed only when other medications have not worked.”

As with any discussion about medication, please check with your doctor before taking it to fully understand the impact it may have on your mind and body.

My caution for these suggestions—besides the side effects that may take some television commercials far too long to disclose to meet the regulations, at least in the United States—is the fact that the taking of this medication does not get to the root cause of the issue. Drugs are for short-term solutions. In fact, I think solution is probably too strong a word. I think it should actually be mask the symptoms. There are long-term, sustainable resolutions to control the onset of symptoms of stage fright. For those individuals willing to invest the time, they can have a lifetime of success versus the Band Aid you might find by going straight to your medicine cabinet.

In our anxiety over public speaking, our thoughts instantly go to a scene of us standing at a lectern in front of hundreds of people. Culturally, we are brought up from the time we are young to believe that public speaking and anxiety is synonymous. It would almost seem unnatural if I didn’t include the statement that most people fear it more than death. This cultural myth has permeated our thoughts from the beginning, so we often perpetuate the myth by doing everything possible to avoid public-speaking situations. We are inadvertently taught about fearing fear itself.

We often create our own self-fulfilling prophesies. You can run from those presentations in front of hundreds of people periodically.  However, each day presents itself with a new challenge that we could rise above if we simply learned the appropriate techniques to effectively communicate in a public setting, regardless of whether it is with one person or with thousands.

Anxiety is glossed over in a small section of many public-speaking books as being an inevitable part of the equation. Unfortunately, either through genes—which prove that some of us have a higher propensity for that type of anxiety—or cultural inundation of the horrors of public speaking, we all believe we can simply suffer through the few times we’ll be required to speak publicly. In some cases, we are pointed toward a quick fix designed to simply get us through a single moment. My goal is to get you to stand tall and confidently present yourself in a commanding and influential manner that will cause the receiver of your message to take notice as a result of the power of your words, gestures, and vocal inflections. I want you to be able to stand in front of a crowd with a smile on your face, and truly mean it. That smile will show the world that you are having fun and that your messages are being heard. I can teach you that the rising heat up the sides of your neck and a flushing face should be an afterthought rather than something that impacts your ability to attain your public speaking goals. In fact, let’s strike the afterthought comment, and set a goal to not even think about it at all. With preparation and practice, it is possible.

I have an almost existential view of public speaking. Don’t psych yourself up so much that it takes away from your ability to rationally state the points necessary to make an impact, and don’t talk yourself down so much that the audience’s enthusiasm wanes at your own lack of passion. Repeating the same words, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this” as you struggle to stand upright on your walk to the lectern most likely won’t strengthen your presentation. In addition, the repeated mantra won’t resolve your deep-seated fear unless the true investment of practice and preparation are also part of the process. Stage fright may not ever fully go away, but it can be controlled with the right invested actions and efforts. These actions and efforts will most likely all filter back to practice and preparation.

Public speaking is a journey that needs the roller coaster ride for the audience to feel the emotions that you’re feeling. The audience wants to be a part of your message and success. They want to walk away with some meaningful, inspirational, or motivational message. Public speaking surrounds us. It is a normal fact in our life and culture. Although technology has changed how we communicate, for the most part we still can’t avoid the need to interact in some way on a regular basis. Even if you are more on the latter half of fight or flight when it comes to hitting the topic head on, you will need to use many aspects of public speaking, such as writing or sending a message. Some people would rather communicate behind a computer screen within social media channels, but in this book you will also learn the importance of the written word and understand what your message says about you, the writer. Your personal and professional success is directly linked to your ability to communicate effectively.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com

Post from Transformation Tom: Be a Mentor, and Learn Something Yourself- Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - March 16, 2012 - News
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Be a Mentor, and Learn Something Yourself

I never connected the dots about how much I missed leading people until I stopped managing them. I was finding teachable moments from lessons I had learned that needed to be expressed, and found I was lacking the people to tell. I think I found therapy in sharing all of my mistakes with others. I often told people regularly, “Don’t step on any toes, don’t burn any bridges, and keep the lines of communications open…because you will cross paths again.” The purpose was to remind people that even if we part ways, we can still be there for each other.

Working for me was once described as swimming in the oceans of Maine. Initially, when you jump in, you are shocked and can barely move. After a while, you get used to it, are refreshed, and ultimately you learn to enjoy swimming in it. I had enough people tell me how much they learned under my management, but only after they had time to reflect on our time together (often many years later). Since at the time I held positions which involved more project management versus people management, I longed for the two-way dialogue of professional development conversations. Once I realized that I did, eventually, have a positive influence on people, I knew I wanted to at least be a mentor. As a mentor, I also came to the conclusion that the people I mentored—as opposed to those I managed—didn’t have to listen to me, so I had to work harder to exert the right influence. I wanted to be a teacher again without having people wait years for that “aha” moment that they had learned something from me. I wanted to do it without throwing people into the ocean first.

It is interesting how people would come to me to say how they wanted me to teach their newer leaders how to be better organized, or to teach managers how to be more direct. I underestimated the influence I was having on people who were eager to learn. By investing time with others with no strings attached, I began to naturally soften my directness because they had no vested interest in my teachings unless I could give them something impactful to walk away with. From an objective mentoring point of view, I could teach without forcing the issue. I could adapt my teachings based on what worked best for that person’s style or situation.

I found myself more effective influencing others as I was learning myself. I found success in building bridges, and actively sharing my past successes and failures. Most importantly, I was becoming a better listener. I was growing more patient, and was no longer just hearing the words but was truly listening. I improved my communication skills by understanding the impact I had on others when I tried to speak over them or ignore their comments while I tried to come up with the next thing to say.

I was becoming someone else’s sounding board. I could have put on my psychiatrist hat for some sessions. It depended on what the person I was mentoring at the time wanted or needed. I began to better adapt my advice and teachings based on the various situations. I became a stronger role model and a better mentor. Many people have invested their time and energy to share their knowledge with me as my mentors. I knew I wanted to do the same. Selfishly, I just couldn’t—and still can’t—get past the fact the every time I mentor someone, I walk away thanking them.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com

 

 

Post from Transformation Tom: Step into the Public Forum- Chapter “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-Speaking Guide”

Posted by tomdowd - March 9, 2012 - News
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Step into the Public Forum

My first memory of public speaking was in the fourth grade. I was asked to present some topic that I can’t even recall in front of a class of about twenty students. What I remember is the heat running up to my face and head, and the heart palpitations that caused greater tension and fear as I walked to the front of the room. After what I remember to be a dreadful display of public speaking, I became disoriented. I walked down the wrong aisle and sat down in someone else’s seat.

This frightful performance was followed a few years later as I awaited my turn to present to my seventh-grade class. I misread the ending of a classmate’s presentation and prematurely went to the front of the room. Not knowing what to do, I sat frozen sitting on the desk beside her while she spent the next five minutes finishing her thoughts. I was dumbfounded, and could only hope the entire class could not see the panic running through me for my mistake, all the while dreading the embarrassing performance to come.

I could go on with many other stories that show my own failure in the public forum. Instead of focusing on the paralyzing potential of the public speaking world in this book, I will share with you the observations and lessons that have taught me to be a confident and successful speaker. I want to teach you how to change that fear that freezes so many of us and turn it into positive energy so that you can not only survive a public-speaking experience, but can gain the confidence to want to share your message with others.

Public-speaking fear emerges early on, as childhood inhibitions slowly turn to hesitation and angst. We’ll discuss some of these sources of stage fright shortly. We each have our individual reasons for why stepping in front of a group of people becomes so daunting. I know firsthand the physical and mental anguish of stepping into a public forum when my words became gibberish and my thoughts left my mind. I have had to work hard to gain control of my faculties to be able to successfully share thoughts, feelings, and stories in such a way that people want to listen to me. Shockingly, I can’t wait to do it now. This learned confidence has made me successful personally and professionally.

As a public speaker and author, I have taken the lessons and observations that have worked for me and turned them into practical tips that speakers at all levels can use. My approach teaches hands-on, realistic applications that can be implemented right away. I can’t say that it’s not as hard as it looks to stand in front of a group of people, but I can say that implementing the information in this book will make the experience easier, and—believe it or not—even enjoyable.

In this age of headline news and information overload, who has time to read a book on public speaking? We decide we will work on these skills later, when we have more time. Maybe simply avoiding the topic will somehow make the fear go away. Be aware: it is not a matter of if you will have to speak in public; it is a matter of when. Will you have to give a Thanksgiving dinner toast? Will you have to make a cold sale to a new potential client? Do you have a burning question as an audience member, but are too scared to ask it?  Are you sitting at a cocktail party or at a business networking event where you don’t know anyone and are paralyzed against a wall?

There are plenty of books on this subject, ranging from an academic approach diagnosing physical and mental barriers that cause stage fright to guidance on becoming a professional speaker. This book won’t show you how to perform academic research on what’s going on in our body and head, or how to break into the speaking profession. I realize that everyone’s motives for improvement will vary. My intentions are to provide speakers of all levels with the foundation to give them the courage to take action to develop and grow. The fact that you picked up this book is a good indicator that you want to improve.

My approach is straightforward. Let me intentionally repeat myself: my approach is straightforward. Let’s break down the fundamentals of practical public speaking. You will be ahead of the game if you take nothing more out of this book than the following:

  1. Effective public speaking is more about confidence than communication skills.
  2. Public speaking is more than a lectern, podium, or microphone; it is everywhere.
  3. The ability to speak publicly is not as hard as you may imagine—the hardest part is taking the first action steps.
  4. Public speaking is a learned skill that must continually be developed.
  5. Your own success, both personal and professional, is directly related to your ability to communicate effectively.

 

These fundamentals will permeate the suggestions and recommendations throughout this book.

Most people I have coached through public speaking already have some communication skills. Skill levels vary by individual. Many of them can have what seems like a normal conversation in person or over the phone, until they hear the phrase “public speaking.” I have seen a roomful of people freeze in horror when they are asked to step up front to provide a one-minute introduction. Here is a key lesson: speak of something that you know or that relates to you. Whether you are asked to give a quick introduction or a full keynote speech, integrate familiar stories into the presentation. Why? Because you know yourself better than anyone else does, which should make you more comfortable. This fact alone should give you a small dose of confidence that you know what will be coming out of your mouth next.

Although the majority of references in this book involve public speaking, many of the road blocks to successful speaking are not about the speaking portion of communication at all. We can all improve our ability to formulate a thought and then express it; however, a large hurdle people run into is confidence. How can you gain confidence? Having someone tell you that you need to increase your confidence is like having someone tell you to relax when you are tense. It’s not easy, but there are specific steps we can take to become more confident.

Confidence can be gained through preparation, practice, and repetition. The fact that you are familiar with the material you are about to present should be a powerful boost. Every time you do some form of public speaking, a little bit of discomfort or anxiety goes away. Look for small wins. You may not notice the gains immediately, and the discomfort may not go away completely, but you will start to realize that you are improving. If you want proof, simply videotape yourself for a week. Give a short prepared speech (length is not relevant). Tape the presentation each day for a week. I can promise you that you will see improvements that will bring a smile to your face. Imagine taking that feeling over weeks and months and years. Find ways to knock down your personal barriers one step at a time, and turn your uncomfortable situations into manageable situations that will result in greater confidence.

Not everyone is scrambling to jump behind a lectern (unless it’s to hide) or command a stage to extend a message. Have you ever run into someone in the hall at work? Have you ever been interviewed? Have you ever been in a business presentation where you were asked a question and needed a quick response? Everyday situations surround us where, if we had confidence in ourselves, we could turn our fear into success. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid public communication. Your success is often directly aligned with your ability to confidently present yourself.

It is obviously a fact that we are surrounded with everyday interactions that can change the perceptions we have about ourselves, and the perceptions other people have about us. Imagine taking action on your desire to improve your confidence; you can do anything you set your sights on. You can be the person, communicator, and leader you want to be. Your improved confidence and skills can translate into promotions, better interpersonal relationships, or just about any other goals you’ve set.

As someone constantly on the go with work and life, I have often felt I didn’t have the time to address my public speaking shortcomings. I was too busy in the daily grind to lift my head up enough to see that if I improved my communication skills and confidence, I could improve other things like my leadership and time-management skills. For example, when I managed a team of about fifteen people, I constantly found myself answering the same questions over and over, or repeating myself. I learned to confidently convey messages and expectations that were clear, concise, and actionable. Guess what? I found myself saving time by not repeating myself, and more importantly, started to see people taking the actions to be autonomous because they started to believe in themselves. I began to believe that I had the ability to inspire others.

Improving yourself is not as hard as you think. The fact that you want to improve is a huge step. I chose to join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a proven method to improve communication and leadership skills with approximately 270,000 members in 13,000 clubs worldwide. Their mission statement reads:

“The mission of a Toastmasters club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every individual member has the opportunity to develop oral communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.”

Joining Toastmasters is not a prerequisite or the only way to improve public-speaking skills, but it is a methodical approach to self-paced learning in an encouraging environment.

Before you start your journey, have a goal in mind. Obviously this goal will evolve, but you need a starting point. When you reach this goal, set another, slightly higher goal. For example, if you simply want to confidently read a story to kids in the library, then keep working towards it. You can start reading in front of a mirror to yourself. Once you are comfortable, ask family and friends to listen to you. After you are comfortable with them, then you can go to the library, ready to read to the kids. You are surrounded with opportunities; you simply have to cross the threshold.

Crossing the threshold to take action is hard only if you are holding yourself back. I worked with an individual to improve her confidence level in order to be able to lead her team of twenty people in a daily morning meeting. When I suggested joining Toastmasters, she said she’d been thinking about it for a long time. The next natural question was, “Why not join now?” I heard the same excuses and comments I hear far too often: I don’t have the time, I need to work it into my schedule, or I have it on my to-do list. That to-do list is not getting any shorter, nor is it getting enough action. I gently pressed on to say that the improvement happens only when the person is ready to take the action to improve. Her completed Toastmasters application was on my desk a couple of hours later. She is now on her way to becoming more successful.

These practical tips are intended to be a reference guide for you. This book isn’t about staying ahead of the curve with what’s hot (I like to call it flavor-of-the-day business jargon), or creating and using buzz words. This is about the fundamental tools of public speaking. The tools referenced will remain timeless.

I would be naïve to say that communications have not advanced. We have evolved to different communication channels, from rotary phones to “smart phones” where we can “tweet” our own message to hundreds, thousands, or millions of people at once, to webinars as a way of public speaking. What will remain constant, however, is the need to communicate our messages clearly and confidently. No matter what the means of communication are, we still need the critical skills.

Public speaking is a learned skill that can and should be developed, refined, and honed. I do not believe that some people have it and some people don’t. Everyone can pick up these skills. As with most things, the more you do it, the more comfortable and successful you will be. Public speaking is a learned skill that needs nurturing.

Not all chapters in this book will be relevant to your speaking evolution at the same time. However, as you grow with your skills and ability, different chapters will meet your needs and timing. The information will show you how and what to do to make a difference personally and professionally. The tips are easy to follow and easy to implement. Exercising your public-speaking abilities will stimulate your whole being until these abilities become locked into your inner core. Despite what you may have heard, public speaking shouldn’t be scarier than death. Public speaking is a skill waiting to be harnessed before your death. Congratulations. You are about to start your journey to success.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com

Post from Transformation Tom: Get a Mentor- Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - March 2, 2012 - News
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Get a Mentor

Professional development comes from a lot of places. One place is from an individual you trust who can tell it to you straight. The trust and respect components in a mutually strong relationship can do wonders for your personal and professional growth. The process requires some strength on your part: You need to take the time with your mentor seriously enough to take the actions suggested by that mentor. Additionally, you must now invest more time in making a difference in your own career. Some people see this invested time as not important enough to make the commitment. Mentor relationships are not intended to just go through the motions. Although not all mentor relationships work out, I’ve rarely seen a situation in which something wasn’t learned, even if it was a small lesson.

I’ve had multiple mentors throughout my career. The definition and intentions of a mentor are far and wide. How two people find each other is also an inconsistent variable. A mentor can be part of a formal work program that matches two people up based on skill, tenure, and ability. A mentor can be someone you look up to, admire, and respect. A mentor can also be someone you seek out for knowledge you currently do not possess, but want to gain. In all cases, a mentor relationship is special because you are being given a third party’s perspective—one that is often completely different from your own thinking.

I started what I like to call a rotating mentor program for myself in 2008, which is continues to be an active part of my ongoing development today. This self-directed program was a proactive approach to building my network and relationships. I often base my selection criteria on a need I have at the time, or on a particular business expectation. I have found the advantage of variety has been something I seek out in order to broaden my own business acumen.

Mentor relationships can be formal, meaning designated meeting times and dates, or informal, meaning you connect through an already-established relationship based on a specific need. You might be surprised at the number of times you need a sounding board or simply objective advice from someone who does not have any vested interest in the game. The objectivity of a mentor gives you stability and sensibility to think straight, while keeping emotions in check.

Informal mentors are always good to have in your arsenal of tools. They are people you have worked with over time, in whose advice and suggestions you have a significant amount of confidence. Informal mentors are people to whom you can simply pick up the phone and say, “Please help me.” The great thing about informal mentors is that typically the person is someone with whom you can release pent-up frustration or gather ideas immediately. I have built up relationships with many people throughout my organization. The people I go to most often know my capabilities and many times know just what to say, at just the right time. I have had many problems in the past related to my own stubbornness, thinking I could do everything on my own. The use of mentors is a continuous reminder that two heads are often better than one.

Mentors have become a key to my ongoing success. My number of connections continues to grow. It is not the number that it is as important as the variety of go-to people. As time goes on in my professional life, people have moved on from a direct working relationship to other areas of the company, while others have left the company. People no longer with your company are a great asset in a mentoring capacity. Whether you strike up a formal or informal relationship is not relevant. The objectivity of people you are seeking advice from means they most likely do not have the same emotional connection to the situation that you do, but still have enough familiarity with the business to provide meaningful guidance to assist you in whatever way you may need.

As someone who is involved in a mentor relationship, you need to put into it what you want to get out of it. I have known many mentor relationships that are simply two people catching up at a designated time and date. The instances when I have learned the most from mentors have been with the ones who have pressed me to stretch myself by giving me assignments and tasks for the next meeting. They often saw my ability and capacity well beyond my own expectations for myself. I was often being taught when I didn’t even realize it.

These successful mentors also forced me to come up with the questions that drove the relationship. If you are in a mentor relationship, ask yourself the questions, “Why?” and, “What do you want to get out of it?” The answers will always vary based on the individual; however, there is always an answer. If you are unsure, use the questions to start the flow of the conversation with the mentor. The added value to the future meetings will begin to take hold. Someone has become your mentor for a reason. It is fair to ask tough questions of him or her and take advantage of the time together to gain from the knowledge, inspiration, and experience he or she can share. The challenge of solving difficult questions together will only build a deeper bond.

Finally, be patient as mentor relationships evolve. You may not always find the perfect match. The differences in opinions, styles, and knowledge that may be causing the strain in the relationship may also be the gap in learning you are seeking. You should take advantage of the situation, whether it is learning to deal with a different style or personality, or dealing with someone who has different expectations of the relationship. This should get you energized to learn to adapt, be patient, and make the most out of the relationship before you give up. Obviously, there is no prescription for the best time and definition of success between a mentor and student. Success may not be known until years from now, when you say, “I remember when my mentor (insert name here) told me that story about…”

I have also been in mentor relationships in which my mentor didn’t do a lot. He or she multitasked during our time together and was not interested, or seemed preoccupied. You may say to yourself, “I would never be like that as a mentor if I was in a similar situation.” You do not always have to have bells and whistles going off telling you this is the time to learn. If you remain active and engaged enough, and pay attention to what is going on around you, you will learn from these observations, so that when you are the mentor you will be fully invested. You may need to sever a mentor relationship that is not working, but you are still walking away stronger than you were before.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com