Real Life Learning

Category: reflection

Mentoring a Win Win

Four months ago in the middle of a really full intense period of work I was asked by another member of Otley Cycle Club  to be her mentor to support her to develop her own training business.  I wondered how I would find the time and agreed to do in exchange for tea and cake and on an informal basis because I really liked her and wanted to help. At the time my main focus was about what I could offer as a mentor and whether I would have the time and relevant insights to support someone else. I did not really see it as something that would benefit me.

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Mentoring Session One

After just two mentoring sessions I have realised that this is far from another burden.  A’s business is only a year old, mine is 10 years old. A is excited by all the diversity of the freelance role, she is enjoying the breadth of experience she is getting. I see her getting inspired by seeing one of my tweets from my work in Vienna to go and chase opportunities to deliver her training abroad via the UK Trades and Investment team (UKTI). She has all this energy and passion to just have a go, explore opportunities and find ways of marketing her products to others. It makes me realise how much I too still value these aspects of running my own business. Inevitably after 10 years you become a lot more ground down by the realities of navigating a business through the recession into recovery, you start to take for granted some of the aspects of owning a business that are so great. I sometimes take for granted all the learning I get from my international assignments and focus instead of how tiring it can be to manage the logistics of working abroad including missing luggage, cancelled flights and airport foods. Another insight has been comparing our home offices, this has made me realise that 10 years on mine is due for a makeover .  I could use that as a metaphor to describe the whole impact on me of mentoring someone who is a very different stage of their business development. You become immune to your surroundings and situation and hearing another perspective is such a valuable learning tool. When I have developed mentoring programmes I have often said “of course you as a mentor get benefits from this too”  as this great video which A was involved in but I am not sure I really understood what those benefits are. What I am learning is if you want to get something from being a mentor:

  1. Choose who you work with – I genuinely enjoy spending time with A so when the mentoring appointment pops up on my diary reminder I find myself looking forward to the appointment. Liking the person you are mentoring just makes the whole thing so much easier.
  2. Focus on Listening First – this is so easy with A, she talks me through all the latest projects she is involved in and I find it is so much better for me to pick out the themes at the end and not to force an agenda on the conversation.
  3. Share Experiences not Solutions – I avoid telling A what she should do but I do share my experiences of similar concerns and how I have dealt with this. One experience was about planning work and holidays into the diary so that you take time away from the business. I shared an experience of my worst holiday/work conflict  and my learning from this. A took that away and develop a solution that she felt would help her avoid the same problem.
  4.  Make Your Own Action Plans – usually the focus is on what actions the person who is being mentored will take but as a change why not think about what you are going to do. I have made a note of a number of actions I intend to take, including to stop moaning about the demands of international work and embrace the experience again!

So if someone asks you to consider mentoring them and you like them, say yes. The time you invest will be returned to you with profit!

When do we know it is time to learn new tricks?

In some of the recent commentary about the sacking of Martin O’Neil from Sunderland Football Club a theme seemed to be that the methods he had always successfully used were no longer working and did not have the same impact.

This has made me reflect on how easy it is as we get older and more experienced in our careers to continue using the skills that worked before. Most professionals will find a method that works in most situations and we are employed for our experience in the past of successfully using that method.

But what happens when it no longer works as well? Do we notice the change? Do we blame circumstances in our context for the lack of result or do we take a big step back and review whether we need to completely overhaul our approach?

This weekend I was at the MOL CIPD tutor conference and another tutor asked me what I thought about Smart Boards. I was fairly negative about their usefulness but the real answer is that I don’t know much about them!  I have never needed to get to grips with them. My old and familiar methods work well, and most of my corporate clients do not have rooms equipped with anything smarter than a projector and a flip-chart. This is a classic example where we can deny that we might need to learn new tricks!

Tips for Refreshing Your Skills

  1.  Be honest about your own evaluation of your practice. Ask yourself if you are getting the same good results as you got a year/a decade ago and be open to exploring the answer.
  2. Do a review of other people in your profession and find out what they are doing and identify any tips from this.
  3. Watch out for all those things you automatically dismiss and revisit those reactions with an open mind. I did a course on Twitter two years ago after dismissing Twitter as unnecessary to my profession, it was a revelation to me. I can see I am going to need to do a similar U Turn on Whiteboards!
  4. Try to make small differences in your existing practices, they might not work but you will find the experience of designing, implementing and reflecting on these changes will make you more consciously competent.
  5. Spend time with children. My nephew is 9 and provides me with valuable insights on the future generation of learners.

What other tips can you add to the top five? How do you keep on top of your skills and keep learning new tricks to future proof your career?

Linked In Learning

Using Linked In for Learning

 I joined Linked In about four years ago and have found it a helpful way of developing my social network in the business world. I have also found it a really valuable learning tool and I am often surprised how under used it is by the managers I work with as a way of increasing their knowledge and skills.

The most obvious learning from Linked In is how it can work as a social networking tool. It is not as “in your face” personal as Facebook and the connections that you generate will be work orientated connections and you are unlikely to be updating with information about professional contacts’ drinking habits!  For people who are nervous about on line communities I think it is a good entry point application.

I have blogged previously about using group forums for questions http://bellthompson.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/the-power-of-learning-in-on-line-communities/.

The Linked In Questions element is worth emphasising. The great thing about Linked In is that you can ask a question to any of the groups you are a member of, you can ask a question just to your own network or you can broadcast a question to the whole of the Linked In membership. It is this variety of options which I think makes Linked In such a valuable tool for learning. If you want to get replies which are more personal in nature then sending a question to your own network will often generate some really insightful comments. You can choose whether you want to send it to all of your connections or just choose the connections you think may be able to contribute some useful information.

The benefits of asking a question to everyone on Linked In will be the range of responses you will get . I find these responses help me to think about the question in a wider manner and can help prevent “silo thinking” that can so easily happen when we get locked into our own little world of reference points. The insights which others may share can challenge the thinking you originally had on the topic. This happened to me when I was asking some questions about customer service with non native speaking customers.

Joining groups in Linked In can also be a good way about learning about current themes within your professional and interest groups. There are thousand of groups and one way of finding relevant groups is to explore the groups that your connections are already members of; this may also help you to find areas in common.

The other areas where Linked In can help individual learning is through the recommended book link. You can sign up for this free application and it means that you can recommend books you are reading to others and can get the insight of others on books you are interested in reading.

I would be interested in hearing from others about how you use Linked In to help  your own learning?

Learning in Ukraine

Last week I was in Ukraine running a leadership programme for software engineers. The programme I ran was based on a programme I had run for the company in the UK and so one of the challenges was adapting this programme for a younger, less experienced group of leaders and where English would be the second language. The common challenge would be that they were a group of intelligent engineers who were now taking on a leadership role and would be leading teams of talented intelligent engineers so it was important that the materials I used were not too basic or designed for simple instruction giving styles of management.

 As I wrote and rewrote the materials I realised how often we use idioms when explaining concepts in English. I also realised that my standard handouts were not always clearly written in the best grammar! It took me many hours to get each handout to an acceptable standard and even them my client in the UK was able to identify further improvements to the grammar and sentence structure so that we could ensure clarity of understanding!

 Working with the group was a wonderful experience, from the beginning the group were willing to get involved and to communicate with each other. They valued the participative nature of the workshop. It would seem that their previous experience of training was based on listening to a talk given by an expert so my approach, which is much more facilitative, was totally unexpected. It was the first time I have returned to my room at lunchtime to find participants excitedly showing other colleagues their work on the walls of the room.

 One of the challenges for me when facilitating the groups was that when they worked on activities they would naturally communicate with each other in Russian. This meant that I missed overhearing some of the discussions which they were having. It did make me aware how much we pick up through non verbal communication, I could usually assess if a group needed help before I asked them. I also wished I had learnt more Russian, my basic phrases were helpful in navigating the city but more words would have increased my ability to pick up concerns early on in the process.

 At the end of each day I made sure that we reviewed the tools we had used during the day. This was an interesting experience as it gave me some insight into the tools that they felt they could apply, and not just what I thought I had “taught”. Using visual imagery was a tool which they felt that they could use to influence their teams and I was impressed about how they were able to use visual images to express a vision for team meetings.

 There was a real sense of sadness when we finished the training and a marked reluctance to leave the room; this was a contrast to some sessions in the UK where there is a speedy walk to the door as soon as you have completed the workshop closing statement!

 Lots of my friends and contacts have been very curious about the experience of actually working in Ukraine. I was based in the east of the country and I had very little knowledge of the country before going out there and had never worked or visited further East than Prague. I realised how many stereotypes I had absorbed without realising it and how I expected the people and the place to be very different to the UK. In fact what I observed on this limited visit was a lot of similarity and some differences.

 The emerging nature of the nation grappling with its infrastructural investment was clearly evident; the roads are in a bad condition in the city. The walking experience was much better than in some more “developed” cities. The walk back to my hotel was along a major duel carriageway, something I would avoid in the UK but it was really pleasant due to the wide nature of the pavement which was tree lined on both sides. The park was full of life and was a hub of activity with all different generations represented. Again the amount of trees was beyond my expectations; somehow I expected a more Soviet style grey uniform.

 

Another useful insight came one evening over dinner. I was talking with two of my Ukrainian colleagues about the need for courage in the business world. I often use the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes” to illustrate this point. My colleagues had not heard of the tale of the Emperor but when I explained it some more they knew it as “The King’s Clothes” and their story involved a rather stupid western King, I realised that our story involves a rather stupid Eastern Emperor, and this realisation that it was the same but different was a good insight into our joint understanding.

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Learning Technologist – Finding TED

I discovered TED about 2 years ago and it is an amazing source for people who want to learn about leadership. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is an invite only event where some of the world’s most influential people give talks on a variety of themes.

The first level I use TED for is to recommend particular topics to individuals who are exploring different leadership skills. A current example is the talk by John Wooden talking about coaching. He is reflecting on a life time of coaching in the sports environment and there are some great insights which could be relevant to a manager wanting to be a more effective coach.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/498

The second level is to look at a variety of speakers on TED and identify what they do to make their presentations effective and how they influence the audience. What techniques do they use? How do they seek to influence their peers to their viewpoint at the conference. An example is the talk by Captain Charles Moore about the impact of waste on the oceans. He is not the most entertaining of speakers but he has some great examples of how he has influenced people to think about the impact of waste on oceans.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/470

The talks on TED are about 20 minutes so it is realistic for individuals to make the time to watch one, reflect on it and then report back in the next learning session about their insights.

The third way to use the TED site is to browse through the site and see the themes which are emerging as core issues for our times, this can be a helpful way of identifying current and maybe future trends. I use this when working with leadership teams on innovation and creativity, just asking them to click and browse and report back findings can be the basis of a really interesting session.

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