executive mentor

Thu 23 January 2020
Most companies are interested in increasing the engagement level of their employees, improving retention, and growing the productivity levels and likelihood of collaboration of their teams and implementing mentor programs is garnering popularity as a catalyst for these outcomes.

The next steps is to think about how to best match participants in this mentor program together. This is a commonly overlooked aspect to mentor programs but has a critical impact on the success of the program.

Without a proven system for matching people together for mentorship, your mentor program is not likely to succeed.

Why is the match so important?

Mentorship is a relationship-based activity between two people. If the two people matched in a mentor relationship are not compatible, forcing the relationship to work is going to create resentment among both parties.

This would be like being put into an arranged marriage by your parents with somebody you hate but as opposed to having parents (who will always be your parents and you can’t get rid of) who put you together, you have your company…which you can leave…creating the opposite effect of what a mentor program was meant to accomplish.

Common Pitfalls

1.       Matching people based on years of experience
2.       Matching people based on status in the company
3.       Matching people based on area of expertise

These are great secondary factors for matching people together for mentorship, but if they are the sole basis for matching people, our research has indicated that these relationships have an 18% likelihood of lasting 6 months and being considered both productive and quality by both participants.

Why?

None of these factors consider who the individual is. Mentorship is a relationship-based activity. One’s years of experience, status in the company, or area of expertise say nothing about who an individual is. All it says is what they have accomplished.

If your mentor program matching methodology in only about what somebody has accomplished, your only incentive to both participants is the transactional outcome of achieving that experience, gaining that status, or learning that skill and once that outcome has happened the relationship is over…or if the outcome doesn’t happen within the expected time frame of both participants the relationship fizzle’s out because the participants didn’t get what they were looking for.

Work Orientation is critical to matching people for successful mentor relationships.

Work Orientation is how you view your work. Some people view their work as a job, while some view their work as a career, while others view their work as a calling. Work Orientation is fluid, meaning it can change throughout your life. There is also not a right or wrong Work Orientation.

When Work Orientation is aligned for matching people together for a mentoring relationship, the likelihood that the relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality goes from 18% to 72%. 

The point: what motivates people at work has a huge impact on the advice they give in a workplace mentor program and the insight they want to learn.

If you are interested in learning your Work Orientation, go to https://ambition-in-motion.com/ and complete the 1-minute Work Orientation Assessment and your report will be sent to you.

Wed 24 June 2020
I recently joined an executive peer mentoring initiative led by Ambition In Motion (https://ambition-in-motion.com). A big part of the reason is that my coaching practice, (www.coachfortomorrow.com) is continuing to expand in leadership development, career development and management, and career transition. I’m now also part of another new initiative, Culture Fit 20/20 (https://culturefit2020.com), and I’m extremely interested in views from an HR executive’s desk on employee well-being, engagement, training and development.
 
What intrigues me about the mentoring focus is how the AIM team did a “work orientation” assessment as a key basis for pairing me with another leader, Geoff McCuen. We’ve been introduced, met again, and have discovered that we’re really closely aligned in our outlook on life and career. We each share a sense that the calling or purpose behind what we do as a career or job, is critical. So we’re both excited to be speaking together, and affirming of AIM’s process in connecting the two of us. A part of this was the power of story – the types of questions we asked each other nudged us to be open and authentic. As part of articulating the “why” behind what I do, I found myself remembering key people and conversations en-route to my deciding on coaching as my next career.
 
Another facet of this is the notion of “peer mentoring”. Most of us probably equate a mentor as a more senior, more skilled, more experienced sage, giving the benefit of his or her experience and wisdom to a younger, developing professional. Our thinking is shaped by centuries of tradition (the development of novice-apprentice-journeyman from the guilds of the middle ages) to the more recent Jedi Master-Padawan apprentice from the Star Wars franchise. I remember realizing with a shock years ago that I was no longer the “new guy” at IBM but had become one of the “veterans”.
 
But why not “peer” mentoring? One way to look at this could be “networking on steroids”. Or, think of this quote from the book of Proverbs - “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Each of us can both add value and perspective to another, and learn from the other.
 
Looking forward to our next conversations!
Mon 29 June 2020
When I first started Ambition In Motion, I held this belief that I always needed to present myself as the paradigm of answers and solutions for the people on my team. My logic was that if I don’t know the answers, how can they feel confident working for a company with a leader who is unsure of themselves? 

Beyond my team, I noticed that I was putting on this face that everything was awesome to everyone: my fiancé, my family, my friends, and especially people I networked with. 

I eventually became really stressed out. I was holding all of these things inside and internally preparing excuses for questions like: Why isn’t the business where you thought it would be a few months ago? Why aren’t you still pursuing that plan? How come you are still working a bartending/serving job on nights and weekends to pay for your bills if the business is doing great?

I wasn’t always this bottled up. My brand was predicated on this underdog approach I took to building the business where I embraced showing vulnerability. But after a few years of running the business, my perception of how I should present myself to everyone else changed. I thought I had to be more like this archetypal “business executive” that we see all the time in pop culture (or real life!).

I fortunately had a mentor. He is also the leader of his company and he went through something very similar. He had a tough period where he needed to raise his sales growth and decrease his operational costs or else his company wouldn’t survive. Instead of keeping these issues to himself, he took a different path and shared freely what he needed to do and what the stakes were with the people around him. The stakes weren’t on specific people but rather the entire company: the company might not be able to exist if they can’t pull together to hit these goals. 

His vulnerability became a rallying cry. As opposed to jumping ship or having doubts about his leadership (which I truly thought would happen), they rallied around him and felt empowered because he gave them ownership of the problem at hand. This helped them feel like a team working together. 

Hearing this story from my mentor realigned my perspective, and it shapes my view on leadership and vulnerability to this day.

But as the notion goes: “the teacher appears when the student is ready.”

I am involved in entrepreneurial meet-up groups, have a coach, and read books that guide me, but it wasn’t until I had an executive mentor that it finally clicked for me.

Selfishly, my issue with entrepreneurial meet-up groups was that I didn’t get to talk about me enough and learn enough insights on my situation. For fairness, we split the time focusing on our respective businesses evenly, but I found myself only having the mental and emotional capacity to resonate with one other executive’s situation beyond my own. 

Having a coach is great for their guidance, leading me to think about different factors, but they aren’t necessarily able to relate to the current problems I am facing with managing a team and expectations in my own way. 

Books are excellent as well but they have to hit me at the right time. If I am not ready to accept and embrace that knowledge, I may not know how to fully take advantage of what I am learning.

As the leader of my company, I am not the paradigm of what a vulnerable leader looks like. However, I have gained a deeper and more intentional focus on being vulnerable with everyone and I can thank my mentor for that. Whether it’s personal life or business, I can already feel the improvements from taking this perspective to vulnerability. The connection between me and my team already feels closer. They have a better pulse on what I am thinking and feeling, and I feel like I have a better understanding of what my team is thinking and feeling as they have felt comfortable reciprocating my vulnerability. It can be tough to break through our shell and show vulnerability, but the initial investment pays dividends. 

Wed 8 July 2020
Successful companies hold candid conversations, explore areas of innovation, and refine strategy on a regular cadence. Why not you?

In the last month, have you asked yourself: Who you are and what you have? What you do? Who do you help? How you help? How they know you and how you deliver? How you interact? Who helps you? What you get? And what you give? If yes, that is great! If not, it is a great time to start!

Let’s focus on: Who you are? This core area encompasses three topics: interests, personality, and personal skills and abilities. 

Your engagement and overall satisfaction, whether at home or at work, is directly linked to your interest in the things you do. This is slightly different than one’s passion as it is focused more on a micro level. 

Your personality is undoubtedly the staple of: Who you are? However, this is far greater than the typical responses of: I’m an introvert. I enjoy being around others. Your personality in essence is a combination of DNA + life experiences. It represents your strengths, your weakness, your blind spots, your preferred work and life environments, and your competencies.

Your skills and abilities are shaped by life (or learned) experiences. Further, this area is the most flexible of the three (3) areas. Skills can be learned, lost, or refined. Abilities, on the other hand, are less elastic. Think about numerical reasoning or critical reading and writing. Certainly one can improve in those areas but those themes, and others, are often embedded intrinsically. 

You will notice that: Who you are and what you have? is the first in a series of important questions to fully understand yourself and provides a trajectory towards personal optimization. 

It is critical to start this journey with a sound, valued partner – a mentor or one who can hold the mirror and ask targeted questions as you reflect. Mentors come in all different ‘sizes and shapes.’ Colleagues. Family members. Book authors. Business partners. Ambition In Motion's Horizontal Mentoring program offers a new, fresh approach to the mentor-mentee relationship. Rather than the traditional top-down approach, Ambition In Motion’s methodology is based on the science of work orientation allowing for deep, horizontal relationships to form. Think about an engineer paired with a marketing manager or a customer service representative matched with an IT analyst. Imagine how these interesting combinations could jolt your insight not only within your organization but within yourself. 
Tue 30 June 2020
Although I was very excited to begin this program, I can say that there was a certain degree of skepticism and apprehension when it came to meeting my Peer-Mentor for our first 1-on-1 session.   Not only are we from two different organizations, and two different work environments, but honestly from two different fields.  My career has largely been focused on Training/Development, with a strong tie to the HR field, while my Peer-Mentor has had a long career in HR Management.

To say that our initial meeting/work session was a success would be an understatement.  We were able to connect on multiple topics and the communication was very fluid and relaxed.  I truly believe that we will both value significantly from this networking opportunity and I look forward to our next few sessions.
Mon 13 July 2020
As a leader, your goal is to empower your people to operate optimally and enjoy the work they are doing. One key skill for achieving that goal is the ability to promote active listening and communication among your team

In the past, managers tried to get their teams to listen by micromanaging, providing constant reminders, and having frequent check-ins. All of these nit-picky activities cost time and energy for everyone involved.

As it turns out, it really doesn’t pay off. Instead, they ended up with a culture of mindless rule-following and stymied innovation. Those cultures are predicated on “what has always been done in the past.”

In these scenarios, leaders stress out because they perceive their teams’ lack of performance as a lack of listening, both to leadership and to each other. However, what happens, in reality, is that the culture of “do what I say” creates employees that are trained to not speak openly about problems and solutions with the team when the boss doesn’t allow it. It’s not that they can’t think on their own; they choose not to for fear of rejection or repercussions. 

How can you tell if you are building this type of repressive team culture?

Ask yourself, how often do your people challenge your ideas? Do they ever question you face-to-face?

If the answer is minimally or never, you are building a culture that stymies listening and communication, and subsequently, leads to loss of innovative thinking on your team. 

If this sounds like your team, fear not! You are not stuck in this position forever! You can start making progress today on improving your team’s cohesion, listening skills, and innovation. 

Humans are social animals by nature. That makes us perceptive, and we react to what we are sensing from the people we are around, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it. 

We can learn from other highly social animals as well. For example, a few weeks ago my dog Sunni was recently attacked by another dog. 

After getting attacked, my fiancé, understandably, was nervous taking Sunni to the dog park. While my fiancé wanted Sunni to play and exercise at the park, Sunni seemed too anxious and refused to get more than a few feet away from her. Sunni could sense her nerves and blatantly disobeyed her requests for Sunni to go and play. Even though Sunni could probably tell my fiancé was saying to go play, she picked up on her owner’s anxiety and chose to ignore the commands and stay close.

The point is that just like Sunni picks up on her owner’s feelings and responds accordingly, your people will pick up on your feelings and respond to those, even if what you are saying is different.

Unfortunately, you can’t just order your people to “come up with innovative ideas” or ask them to start questioning your decisions. Feelings and body language are much more powerful than words. If your people don’t sense you are being authentic when you ask to have a more open, inclusive, innovative, and attentive culture, the message will fall on deaf ears.

Your people can tell when you are stressed out, and your stress doesn’t make them work any faster or better. In fact, it is likely to make them worse because, as a leader, your stress is shared with the team. Your people may not respond or act the way you want them to because their fear of stressing you out even more, all of which creates a feedback loop chock full of stressed-out bosses, unproductive employees, communication barriers…which unsurprisingly makes you more stressed.

The best remedy for this is vulnerability

Share with them what is on your mind and what concerns you may have. Nine times out of ten, fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of the known. When you keep it to yourself, and your people sense you are stressed, they will come up with their own thoughts on what might be stressing you out, which is its own novel source of stress.  

When you make your concerns and stressors known, you invite others to empathize with you and help you rally around the problem at hand. 

If you are vulnerable with your people, they are much more likely to reciprocate and be open with you. Your understanding of their challenges will help you build empathy for their work. 

Eventually, your people will build a greater understanding of why you are saying what you are saying and more willing to ask you questions if they are confused. Empathetic, effective communication is the key to building a strong team, and vulnerability will help you build trust and listening skills all across your team.

Wed 15 July 2020
How does one define leadership? In many ways it is a concept that is difficult to define. Difficult to understand. Difficult to execute. And difficult to replicate. Consider how many books, articles, seminars, and case studies have been offered over the decades – not to mention the ability to earn a PhD in Leadership! As such, leadership comes in many models often formed by personal experiences and successes and failures of others.

At the fundamental level, at least in business, leadership can be defined as simply making better decisions than your competition. How does one develop this capability? An executive noted, “Make a lot of bad decisions that don’t kill you.” It is true that one’s experience is, in many cases, a result of trial and error and observation of others. Unfortunately, experience alone is no panacea; thus, a leader must be aware of their blind spots and recognition – or lack thereof – becomes more critical as one moves up the corporate ladder.

Blind spots represent an unrecognized weakness or hazard that has the potential to undercut a leader’s success. Blind spots can be found on numerous levels: how you view yourself and your impact on others, the strengths and weaknesses of your team and organization, and the forces operating in the markets in which you compete. Fortunately, blind spots can be identified and managed if one looks for them. Given such, carefully select valued sounding boards who push you, question you, and assist you in recognizing the areas that may undermine your success and that of your organization. 

Programs such as those offered by Ambition In Motion can illuminate leadership blind spots. This is vital as blind spots are not just cases of failing to see ourselves or our actions accurately. They are evident in the way we view our teams, organizations, and markets. 

Executives and senior leaders, get started today: https://rb.gy/5luuqj 



Wed 12 August 2020
Over the course of my career, there has been an increasing focus on making work “easier”.  This initiative has taken many forms over the years, ranging from process improvements and documentation, to streamlining meetings, to improved electronic platforms, etc.  As I began to get involved with the Ambition in Motion program, my personal workload began to increase as well, and more than ever the need for an “easy” application was essential.

 I can comfortably say that this program is very easy, with a clearly defined structure, easy to follow instructions, and continued touchpoints and follow-up from the program administrators.  In addition to the regular Mentorship sessions, there as many other opportunities for personal growth.  I can honestly say that the most difficult portion of this program is personally finding the time to take full advantage of what is offered.  I am very excited to see how this continues to grow and evolve.



Mon 17 August 2020
I am in a mentoring relationship with another CEO who has been having some people issues at this company. The focus of our most recent conversation was how to handle these types of situations without harming company culture and morale.

The issue he is focused on right now is with his controller (or lead accountant). His controller is a really nice guy, everybody loves him, and from a company culture perspective, he brings positivity to the workplace. But, he just isn’t getting his work done on time, and he is often a bottle-neck for the entire company. 

My CEO mentor recognizes this and doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to fire him because people genuinely like him and he has positive attributes that make the work environment rewarding. But he can’t let the whole company be hamstrung because of one person’s delayed work.

3 weeks earlier, this CEO mentor of mine had a similar issue with a couple of his salespeople. They were nice employees and people liked them, but they also weren’t getting the job done. In that situation, the CEO essentially gave his salespeople an ultimatum: “If you don’t increase your performance, we are going to have to move in a different direction.”

The result…both salespeople took his suggestion, moved in a different direction, and left with a sour taste in their mouth of their working experience.

It didn’t stop there either. Additional costs for the company and my CEO mentor were significant because he now needed to recruit, hire, and train 2 new salespeople, all the while losing out on the sales from the 2 former employees. This all set him back on accomplishing other business goals that he set his company.

The CEO decided that he wanted a different outcome with his controller. My mentor realized that the ideal outcome would be to transition him to a different role without the employee taking this as a personal affront.

Neither he nor I knew if that could be possible, but my CEO mentor knew there had to be a different, and better, strategy than the “my way or the highway” approach.

One thing that he brought up to me in our conversation was Marshall Rosenberg’s idea of Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication is a series of steps that help de-escalate a potentially contentious situation by stating the facts, removing emotional generalizations (e.g. because I hate when you do that, or because it wasn’t fair for me), and provides a clear, tangible next step that is ideally reasonable and accepted.

The steps to nonviolent communication are: observation, feeling, need, and request.

Observation is an unequivocal fact that can’t be disagreed with. When conveying the observation, there shouldn’t be a positive or negative tone in the voice of the person stating the observation. It is merely a statement of fact.

Feeling is the feeling that the person initiating Nonviolent Communication is feeling. This is ONLY THE FEELING. Anything else that comes with the feeling is irrelevant. Feelings include: mad, sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Avoid insults and anything that starts with “I think”. Also, it can be easy to fall into the trap of mistaking insults for feelings (e.g., “You do this on purpose to be a jerk”). 

Need is a need that everyone can agree to. A need is not “I need you to do xyz things”. A need is a higher level notion that is aspirational and is something that EVERYONE can work towards. It holds the person conveying Nonviolent Communication, the person receiving it, and anyone else involved accountable to this need. An example could include “my need is a work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.” Most people can agree that they would consider this a need for their work environment. 

Request is a specific, tangible, ideally measurable request that is reasonably achievable. If it is vague, it will be difficult to know if it was achieved and if it is unreasonable, it will create resentment. A bad example of a request would be “my request is that you never interrupt me again.” This is a bad example because it requests for somebody to change actions instantaneously and without margin for error. An employee might develop some minor habit of inadvertently interrupting you but not realize it frustrates you so much. So, when you finally decide to bring it up to them and ask (order!) them to never do it again, you are presenting an unrealistic request and not seeking to understand the person. A better request would be:

“My request is that when we have a conversation, you try practicing reflective listening, meaning that when we have a conversation, you take a pause after I am done speaking to reflect on what I just said before jumping in with what you are going to say. I recognize that this might take time to practice and implement, but my request is that you give it a chance and are intentional about practicing it in conversations.”

You could potentially add in a specific number of times that would be acceptable for that person to interrupt you to be measurable, but that may sound condescending for this situation. The key difference is that the request is much more likely to be adopted than the original bad example. By practicing Nonviolent Communication and working with the person, you are working together to find the best solution for all parties.

So, my CEO mentor decided to apply Nonviolent Communication to his situation with his controller to see if it might be able to achieve his desired goal of getting him to work on a different task while showing him respect and maintaining his dignity.

His observation: The accounting work that was due on June 20th came in on July 1st. This has happened each of the past 3 months, and we have had several conversations about the importance of timely accounting work over the past 3 months.

His feelings: He feels frustrated and anxious. 

His need: A work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.

His request: “Would you be open to helping onboard a new controller over the next 3 weeks, and then transitioning your work to the marketing department afterwards?”

The result…his controller was open to it! The CEO mentor of mine may not have perfectly implemented the keys to Nonviolent Communication, but he did them well enough to achieve his desired goal. This part is important: you won’t get it perfect on your first try. But practice makes perfect, and even imperfect execution can help you solve your people problems. 

His controller, now marketing assistant, helped onboard the new controller, and because he was so well-liked by others at the company, his transition to marketing was smooth. So far, he is getting his work done on time and finding a greater passion for his work in marketing compared to accounting.

As business leaders, we may scoff at the idea of showing emotion at work and sharing our feelings. And if we do, they may come out as massive generalizations that can be hurtful and negative to culture. In this example, this CEO mentor of mine showed emotion, vulnerability, and subsequently leadership and was able to accomplish his goals and his company goals. 

Thu 20 August 2020
As a business leader, you are expected to be many things, but being a mind reader is not in your job description. You are not expected to know what is going on with your people at all times of the day and what’s going on in their heads from day-to-day.

But you are expected to have at least some sense of what your people are going through and how they are generally feeling about it. When you are out of touch and out of sync with your team, you risk losing your best people and not having any clue as to why or how you could have fixed things.

You may think to yourself “I know what is going on with my team and don’t need any help with this.”

The data suggests that this is most likely not true.

My team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentor programs for companies and organizations to help improve their team’s communication. One of the key findings we have discovered is that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees or departments at work – this issue affects everyone, including senior leaders and managers, and there are even greater reports of communication barriers from disengaged employees.

The point is this: if you are a senior leader at a company or a business owner, look around at the people you work with. Which of them do you think are engaged versus disengaged? The answer may surprise you.

If you think everyone is engaged, the chances are that you are mistaken (unless it is a one-person business). If you know people are disengaged and do nothing about increasing engagement, why risk letting those disengaged feelings grow stronger?

The data from Gallup clearly shows that disengaged employees are half as productive compared to engaged employees. That’s doubling your losses on lost time. Shoot, even if you increase engagement by a small amount, that could lead to a 20% increase in productivity from those that are disengaged.

This article is not meant to point out how blind you are in terms of your people. But it is meant to open your eyes a little bit and showcase one low-cost high-reward action you can begin doing today that will help you avoid your best people leaving.

And by the way, I am not immune to these mistakes either. I had to learn these lessons the hard way.

To showcase this, I will share the story of the first full-time hire I made. The first full-time hire I made was a brilliant developer who was getting his PhD in complex systems. He was the president of the technology entrepreneurship club at his university, and he and I had a prior relationship before I hired him. He also came highly recommended by multiple professors and previous employers. In short, he was a fantastic addition to the team. 

He also told me that he was leaving his PhD program because he didn’t like his advisor and wanted to join a startup (like Ambition In Motion).

The hire seemed like a perfect fit and when we first started, we made some incredible progress on our technology.  

Things were going smoothly until about 6 months in. I was noticing that he was getting less work done, so I asked him about it. He acknowledged my request and said that he would improve and so I took his word at face value instead of digging deeper. 

What he didn’t tell me was that he didn’t actually end up leaving his PhD program. He had a change of heart and didn’t want to let me down by telling me. So he held it back thinking that he could manage both at the same time.  

Eventually, we had a discussion and he told me. Fortunately, he recommended a friend that was helping with the code and we brought him on to pick up my original developer’s lost production.

My issue was that I had no idea what was going on with my lead developer. I initially felt betrayed; it just hurt a bit knowing that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing this big decision with me. If you are a seasoned executive, you might think that it was naive of me to not require a formal letter indicating he had left his PhD program. That might have alleviated that issue, but it also would have completely warped the trust we were developing at the beginning of the relationship. And more likely than not, another issue would have come up down the line and a similar result would have occurred.

I eventually realized it was my fault. Not that I didn’t ask my original developer for a formal letter declaring he was fully on-board, but that I never asked about him and what was going on with his world. And because I didn’t ask about him, we had fewer opportunities for him to dig deeper with me. We can point fingers and try to allocate responsibility all we want, but we can only control our own actions here and I should have done more.

After facilitating thousands of mentoring relationships, I have learned that the key to building trust is vulnerability and I believe that this holds true in work relationships as well.

When I was onboarding this new developer, I decided to do something different. At the end of all of our weekly one-on-one meetings, I schedule 10 minutes for vulnerability where both of us share something that is making us feel vulnerable that week. 

The result: we have been working together for over 2.5 years and have an incredible relationship. As a startup, we have made huge pivots, performed massive rewrites on our code, adapted our business model, and overall have really gone through some stressful situations. But, in the end, I still feel extremely in-tune with what is going on with his world and I think he feels extremely in-tune with what is going on with mine. Oh, and on a quick final note, we’ve never met in-person. 

I schedule these vulnerability exercises with everyone on my team during our one on one meetings, and so far, I haven’t had anyone quit since I started doing them (knock on wood!). However, I have had many hard conversations with people on my team and helped brainstorm solutions for tough problems so my team can live the life they want to live while also getting the work they need to get done accomplished. 

Prior to scheduling these vulnerability exercises, I rarely had these kinds of hard conversations. And that led to everyone on my team pretty much just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. That works right up until they quit and I was left questioning what went wrong.

I am not saying I know everything about managing people, but I can definitely say that scheduling time for vulnerability in one on one meetings has had a massive impact on retention and productivity of my team. 

You may think to yourself that this can’t scale. And for you, it can’t. But if you integrate this technique across your whole team during their own meetings, it absolutely can. You can facilitate horizontal mentoring relationships between your employees and they can practice this technique in their one on one meetings. However, for this to happen, you must set the tone at the top and be willing to be vulnerable yourself.

Overall, if you want to avoid your best people leaving, be vulnerable with them and encourage them to be vulnerable with you. If you don’t know what’s going on with your team, you are missing opportunities to build deep, meaningful, and productive relationships.

Sun 3 January 2021
Exactly how much confidence should you have in your own leadership abilities? This may seem like an odd question, but try entertaining it for the moment.

Now think of a leader whom you respect. How do you think they would rate their own leadership abilities? 

On a scale of 1-100, where do you think a leader you respect would put her/his leadership abilities?

I find this question fascinating because there is no perfect answer.

If you rate yourself too high, you may seem naïve; how could any great leader believe they have achieved the pinnacle of leadership?

A popular example of this could be the interview with LeBron James from ESPN. As he is retelling the story of him winning the NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he pauses in the middle and proclaims himself the greatest basketball player ever. 

But, merely the act of proclaiming yourself as the best at anything beg the question: you certainly are great, but are you really the greatest of all time?  

On the other hand, if somebody rates themselves too low it can cause one to question their competence.

Examples of this are common. It could be any person who doesn’t take the shot because they are afraid to miss and have “wasted” their time.

So with those edge-cases in mind, what do you think is the optimal score?

Fortunately, we at Ambition In Motion have started to study this area in our Executive Horizontal Mentorship program. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

One measure is a 360-Degree Assessment where we compare self-ratings to how your colleague’s rate your performance across several categories. We asked executives and their colleagues to rate each executive’s leadership abilities and their ability to set proper expectations:

70% of executives rated themselves LOWER at these skills than the ratings from their colleagues. 

On a scale of 1-100, the average executive self-ratings for their own leadership abilities were 59.7/100.

Compared to other components of the 360-Degree Assessment (people management, innovation, communication skills, and financial management), leadership ability had the lowest self-reported score by far, and the most instances of executives rating themselves worse than their colleagues’ perceptions of their leadership abilities.

While I have written another article on my perspective on why these numbers are so low for the executives in our program, for this article, I want to focus on the before and after snapshot of what changed after having an Executive Horizontal Mentor.

After 6 months, the average executive in our program gave themselves a score of 75/100 for their leadership abilities. That’s a 15.3% increase per person over the span of 6 months!

How could this outcome happen? Below are 3 observations from the executives in our program after interviewing them.

The type of executive interested in Horizontal Mentorship

I have spoken with hundreds of executives about participating in our Executive Horizontal Mentorship program. The majority of those conversations don’t end up with them signing up for the program. Whether it be that they don’t have the time, or don’t believe in investing money into a relationship like this, or they already have colleagues they go to for guidance, etc. 

But, the type of executive interested in Horizontal Mentorship realizes they have a gap between where they are and where they want to be. If they didn’t have this gap, the reasons listed above would be more than enough to say no. But instead, they choose to say yes because they are at a position in life where they can be vulnerable. They are vulnerable enough to recognize they want help and humble enough to know that their personal status quo simply isn’t cutting it anymore.

Having this executive mentor, if anything else, gives them the confidence to make decisions that they might not have made previously. The executive mentor helps fill that gap and gives them the confidence to know that they are heading in the right direction.

Which leads to the next point…

The power of learning what you don’t know

One of the biggest insights an executive seeks from a Horizontal Mentor is a new, outside perspective. As leaders, we often get used to the routine of being surrounded by a silo of people that we have grown comfortable with.

Leaders in our Executive Horizontal Mentorship program recognized that the only way for them to grow as a leader is by learning to be okay with being uncomfortable. They recognize that their current network gives them consistent feedback and the only way for them to grow is to get out of their comfort zone and build new, deep, intentional mentor relationships.

Before joining the program, their consciousness of this fact played a role in their low self-score. The knowledge they gained, learning how to know what you don’t know, gave them the confidence and insight to know they are moving in a positive direction.

But part of that learning comes with being challenged, which leads to the next point…

The value of objectivity

Objectivity is the single most important contributor to an executive making big strides in their leadership ability. Having a fellow executive who can share insights and a perspective built from experience will save you immeasurable time and frustration, because they may have gone through similar experiences and can share their wisdom.

Being challenged is part of receiving that objectivity. It isn’t comfortable at first, and it is easy to get defensive immediately. But, after reflection and contemplation, these insights and passed-on knowledge can be the most powerful tools for leaders to improve their abilities. 

Mentors make leaders better by mining the vulnerability and humility they share and turning that into knowledge, confidence, and grit. The process isn’t easy – the more uncomfortable you are the more painful it is – but with pain comes growth. 

Tue 16 February 2021
One of the lessons that I’m continually being taught is the value of reflection and retrieval.  Our last two sessions certainly reinforced this lesson.

Reflection:  Making time to deliberately review an event, a day, a week, etc.  Reflection is more than just recounting the details or the chronology, but it involves evaluation and analysis.  What went wrong?  Why?  Could it have been prevented?  Could it have been anticipated?

More often than we might like to admit, we can learn far more when things don’t go the way we planned, or even if they completely fail, than if they had gone perfectly. 

Retrieval:  The ability to recall both specifics and related information from a past event.   One of the challenges in the field of education and training is not just how to cram information into a person’s head, but teaching them how to retrieve them quickly and correctly when needed.   Sometimes the ability of retrieval can mean the difference between life and death.  The military uses repetition and drills to create muscle memory so that some actions don’t even require concentrated thought.  They become more of a reaction than a decision – but “time to think” (or retrieve) isn’t a luxury you often have in combat.

So how does retrieval connect with reflection?  If you only take the time to reflect after an event you can glean a lot of useful information.  Some of which you may be able to put to good use right away.  But if you don’t learn how to retrieve those lessons later, when they are needed, they have greatly diminished value.  

I’ve heard many people say how much they “hate” quizzes and tests.  I think it’s because we don’t do a good job explaining to students what the test is trying to do – if we did, they would study very differently.  Tests don’t measure what you “know” or what you crammed into some small crevice of your brain.  They measure what you can retrieve.  

Now let me try to bring this all together.  In our last two Peer Mentoring sessions, we had the opportunity to revisit some of our past goals and discuss which ones were successfully accomplished and which ones taught us something.  

None of the stories we shared were new to either one of us.  But in the process of retrieving these stories and telling them again, I was reminded of past lessons learned, maybe even almost forgotten.  It helped me to remember how important it is to revisit our own past, success, and lessons, so that when the “next time” comes around we can quickly retrieve the knowledge to help us be more successful.


Tue 7 June 2022
Todd is an executive for a high-growth tech startup that has 400 employees. His biggest challenge in optimizing his team’s performance is the ever-changing nature of the business.
Todd’s CEO and board regularly come to him with changes to the company’s operations. Sure, he is involved in many of these decisions, but often by the time the conversation gets to him, the CEO and board have already made up their mind and changes are already in the works and he has to catch up. 
The challenge is that his team has been spending the past 3 months working on a completely different plan and now, much of that work has to be scrapped for this new plan.
As a mastermind group, the Ambition in Motion team asked Todd questions to clarify his situation and then we provided some suggestions.
One of the big suggestions was getting ahead of the trends so that he and his team could be a part of the change management process as opposed to having the change happen to them. 
This requires better data collection and access to user feedback information as well as the freedom to begin experimenting with new ideas as the new information comes in.
The other big factor in all of this is properly setting expectations both for his team and for his board and CEO as the ideas he and his team come up with may not work, but at least it gives them a lens into what they are trying and gives them an opportunity to experiment.
Ultimately, the ability to set expectations both for your team and for your leadership is critical to having work where the expectations meet reality and people are excited to come to work. When people feel unclear about their role or the changes happening at work and they feel powerless over them, stress ensues and people leave or worse, become actively disengaged.
Oftentimes, this confusion of beginning a new role with a lack of understanding, training, or data, occurs most frequently amongst new managers beginning the role as a leader of a new team. 

Why is data important in an ever-changing workplace?
 Data in a workplace is absolutely essential. Data includes performance reviews, employee values, wants, and needs, as well as information about what previous employees implemented and how it impacted their teams. 
 The amount of data connected to an organization today is on an unprecedented scale and impossible to process manually; this is why it is important to invest in an effective data management system.
This is why data is seen as one of the most important assets of an organization; it is the foundation of information and the basis on which people make decisions. Hence it would follow that if the data is accurate, complete, organized, and consistent, it will contribute to the growth of the organization. 
Most importantly, the right data alongside proper training is what will lead a new manager thoroughly into the position of effectively leading a new team. 
These are some of the additional and undeniable benefits of effective data and how it can effectively improve a rapidly changing workplace.

1. Increases productivity
If data can be accessed easily, especially in large organizations, your company will be more organized and productive. It reduces the time that people spend looking for information and instead ensures that they can do their job efficiently. 
Employees will also be able to understand and communicate information to others. Furthermore, it makes it easy to access past correspondence and prevent miscommunication due to messages lost in transit.
For new managers, being able to access and identify information about past performance can boost effective leadership faster than having no data at all.

2. Smooth operations
A seamless operating system is every business’ dream and data management can make that a reality. It is one of the determining factors in ensuring the success of an organization; if one takes too long to respond to their customers or to the changing trends around them, they run the risk of falling behind. Heightening the data within performance reviews will allow for quick transitions of productivity for teams. 
A good data management system will ensure that you respond to the world accordingly and stay ahead of the competition.

3. Cost-effective
If you have a good system in place, you will spend less money trying to fix problems that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. 
 Most importantly, improperly training new managers will lead to a decrease in productivity and ineffective leadership, which will ultimately lose time and money for the company. 

4. Better decision making
When everything's in its place, and everyone knows where to look for it, the quality of your decisions improves drastically. By nature, people have different ways of processing information, but a centralized system ensures a framework to plan, organize and delegate.
Additionally, a good system will ensure good feedback, which in turn will lead to necessary updates to the process that will only benefit your company in the long run.

Get ahead of the struggles that come with change; engage in the best management practices 
Performance review data must deliver meaningful results.
After you’ve properly trained your new managers, it’s your company’s job to provide your new managers with meaningful performance reviews to analyze. Meaningful reviews include honest feedback from employees; a product that your new manager can use to effectively lead their new team. 
 Traditional performance reviews lack meaning. Charts measure trends, but trends don’t tell a new manager how to make a difference, and how to best lead their new team and minimize the learning curve of new managers becoming effective leaders.
 So why do managers need more than just data to effectively lead their team? 
 There’s simply no training for a new position in analyzing charts. 
 What do the charts mean? Sometimes trends are low, and sometimes they are high. But that doesn’t tell you what the employees were thinking or experiencing when they filed these performance reviews. 
 Charts and reports are not training. 
 However, putting effort into detailed and trustworthy performance management with coaching will enhance training for new employees in new positions as well as guide your company in tackling the changes that occur within a workplace, and quickly making effective leadership decisions. 


Sun 21 August 2022
Gallup has extensively researched the relationship between employee engagement and company profitability, and they showed that engaged employees are 22% more profitable than disengaged employees. 

The tides of the economy seem to be shifting, making this a time when it is even more critical to focus on culture and employee engagement. Many companies, especially private equity-backed firms, have responded by laying off employees rather than investing in them. I was curious to know, “Why are private equity-backed firms more prone to layoffs in a down economy compared to private or public companies?”

I reached out to my network to learn more. I interviewed multiple employees, leaders, and professionals working for private equity, and their consistent answer was that “They are seeking an exit – at any and all costs and that part of achieving an exit is showing numbers that your costs are down and revenues are up.”

Ryan, a former VP of Operations, was recently laid off from a private equity-backed firm. He proposed some ways for the company to consolidate its overlapping expenses. They loved the idea so much that after consolidating those expenses they consolidated him…and replaced him with a junior middle manager to take his role at a fraction of his salary. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for eradicating inefficiencies and driving profitability. 

But can the short-term focus of achieving an exit coexist with a thriving company’s long-term goals, especially when these goals require an engaged employee base with a great culture?

I would imagine that most private equity professionals land somewhere on this scale from unapologetic to compassionate. The unapologetic professionals don’t care about the people because revenue growth reigns supreme. On the opposite side, compassionate professionals care about building a sustainable business and invest accordingly. In between these two sides, many professionals will say all the right things but their actions will reveal whether their true focus is sales and reducing costs to show short-term metrics.

Another focus of my interviews was on the reputational cost. I was curious to know if there was any reputational risk for offloading a company that looks great on paper but is a dumpster fire internally. I'm envisioning a prospective investor checking something like a Carfax to find out if they are working with somebody that has a history of leaving others to hold the bag.

Unfortunately, I haven’t received any great responses so far. 

And until we have a way for companies to assess the reputational risk of how private equity firms treat their acquired companies' employees, there is nothing to stop these private equity firms from propagating bad cultures to dump onto somebody else’s plate.

The issue with all these scenarios is harm done to the people at these companies. Hundreds of thousands of professionals work for private equity-backed firms, not realizing how little security they have in their role or the value they have in the minds of the owners. 

Or worse, many professionals end up working for a company and feeling trapped because of economic worries or personal constraints. These workers end up miserable, and the whiplash effects from ownership changes only exacerbate these effects. Imagine starting with an executive team that cares about you (e.g. the founders), and suddenly you find out that the new private equity owners want 120% more revenue but for 30% less pay. These paradigm changes wipe away years of work building company culture and leave a hollowed-out company in their wake.

Research has shown how powerful investing in culture and engagement can be for profitability. But until we have a way to hold private equity firms accountable based on their reputation for either building great companies, inside and on paper, or mirage companies, great on paper but awful inside, it will be difficult for private equity and company culture goals to align.

Wed 31 August 2022
Effective leaders set clear expectations for their teams and align them with company objectives. This article is for new managers focused on becoming excellent leaders.
Stepping into a leadership position for the first time can be daunting, even if you feel prepared to handle your new responsibilities. Going from focusing primarily on your own work quality to overseeing an entire team’s output can feel overwhelming. 
However, effectively leading your team and experiencing success can be extremely rewarding. 
At a recent conference, a speaker mentioned that the average professional became a manager by age 25, but doesn’t receive their first leadership training until age 35. That creates 10 years of potentially bad habits to form before receiving guidance on what new managers can do to be effective in their roles.
Managers plan and coordinate tasks in a work team so that everyone does their job properly. Leaders focus on providing direction. They inspire their team to reach further and strive to maintain that level of motivation.
Each function is crucial for a company’s overall productivity although some view them as separate jobs, one can’t work without the other. The best managers are generally the best leaders. 
Few people can master both jobs, but when they do, they are able to generate great results out of engaged work teams. As a result of this train of thought, great companies see both functions as one job.
 
  1. Join an executive mastermind group 
Have you ever been faced with a new project and searched Google or YouTube to learn how to do it? Don’t you wish you had a direct resource for solving business problems? 
Many organizations recognize this need and have implemented mentorship programs to support new or rising employees. 
A mentorship program can help identify and groom high-potentials for management positions. 
Ambition in Motion is an Executive Mastermind group for servant leaders or leaders that believe the best way to lead is in service of the employees that report to them.   
This allows the use of both group and individual mentoring and group coaching and guidance as being in a leadership role can be a lonely place so having other leaders that can relate to and guide you as you work through your challenges is critical. You can be assigned to an executive mentor, personalized to your needs, interests, and field of work to guide you through any situation that may arise at your workplace. 
The executive mastermind groups also provide managers with a sounding board for problem-solving in the workplace and have been shown to increase job performance.
 
2. Participate in management training
As workforce demands keep getting more complex, management-level personnel need to adapt to the talent available. In the modern workplace, managers need to be active leaders in order to bring the best out of their teams. 
The relationship between a manager and their team can be complex to navigate. There’s more to it than telling everyone what to do; in fact, that management approach is highly discouraged. 
One great tool for management training is AIM Insights where a team of highly trained professionals will guide you through personalized training and professional development for your field of management. 
Guiding managers with 1:1's with their direct reports is a core component of AIM Insights and one of the biggest benefits the tool provides are guides to managers on how to have an effective 1:1 and what questions to ask each direct report based on each direct report's circumstances. 
It is crucial that managers and their direct reports are on the same page, and AIM Insights closes the perception gap between what a manager thinks of their direct reports and what they think of themselves.
 
3. Conflict resolution skills 
Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, working or personal. Resolving conflict is a learned skill and one that can be taught, developed, and refined. 
A study by Purdue University found that students who have hands-on learning experiences gain a deeper understanding of the concepts that are being taught. Attending a conflict resolution workshop can provide you with experience in a controlled environment so that you can better handle difficult and uncomfortable situations, and work towards a positive resolution.
 
4. Team building activities 
According to cmoe.com, Seventy-five percent of employees rate teamwork and collaboration as very important. 
Yet, 86 percent of employees and executives blamed a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the reason for workplace failings. 
A good leader recognizes that they are only as good as the people that surround them. Instituting team-building activities allows teams time to bond together as well as provides an opportunity for them to decompress from their jobs for a few minutes.
 
5. Value feedback culture 
In order to grow as a leader and the organization as a whole, you need to address the value of good and honest feedback. You give timely feedback to your team members and you should ask for that same feedback about your performance. 
That continuous exchange of feedback helps your entire team grow as a unit as well.
You can improve through others’ insights into your work. Honest feedback is fundamental for employee engagement and that should be one of your main priorities as a leader. 
AIM Insights focuses on providing leaders with the right tools and methods to gather feedback and build more engaged teams.
 
Bad leadership habits every manager should avoid 
Oftentimes, people believe that greatness happens when you are waiting for inspiration to hit you so that you can proceed to take action. 
In reality, a sturdy toolset consists of many processes involving brainstorming, collaboration, and trial and error. Much like conflict resolution, you can refine your methods and learn from yourself, your team, and other professionals. 
Constantly growing your leadership skills is essential, but paying close attention to your leadership failures is crucial to your growth as a leader. 
These are important habits to avoid: 
 
  1. Providing only negative feedback: Managers can fall into the trap of providing feedback only during performance reviews or when problems arise. Feedback is essential to an employee’s professional development. However, the feedback includes praise for specific tasks, not just criticism. When employees experience a carousel of negative – and only negative – feedback, they can become discouraged and thus disengage from their work.
  2. Micromanaging staff: While you must oversee your team’s workflow and help staff handle roadblocks, you shouldn’t try to control them completely. It’s essential to trust your team to complete tasks as a whole and respect each individual’s work style. Forcing your workers to perform tasks counter to their typical methods can cause a significant drop in productivity as they adjust. As long as the end result is the same, give your staff room for creativity.
  3. Not requesting feedback: Poor managers rarely solicit or address questions, feedback, and concerns. Good managers offer the floor to team members so they can freely express their questions and concerns. This will often clear up misunderstandings and create a more collaborative space. Keep in mind if one team member has a question, others may need the same guidance.
  4. Shutting themselves off from new ideas: Closed-minded managers won’t accept criticism or new ideas. They become a roadblock keeping the team from performing at its best. Each team member has their own perspective on the creative process and is uniquely suited to recognize inefficiencies within their workflow. Listen to your team’s input, and use their perspectives to enact positive change.
  5. Avoiding tricky conversations: Good managers must tackle challenging situations that affect the team’s productivity head-on. Avoiding these situations lets the problem fester and can cause employee engagement to drop significantly. 
Thu 5 January 2023
A manager is a key part of the workplace in almost every company. These individuals help delegate tasks, deal with interpersonal issues, and often determine the goals of the team. However, a manager can often serve as more than just a taskmaster. Managers often boast a wealth of experience which can be passed on to their direct reports. 

               The Oxford Review referred to mentorship as “knowledge management.” Such a description couldn’t be more apt. Sharing information between both manager and direct reports can be a challenge, which can be rectified with a few different actions. 

How to be a Mentoring Manager

1)               Learn to ask good questions- good teachers and mentors don’t necessarily always give the answers to their students. Asking effective questions can lead a mentee to a solution without being spoon-fed the answer. It will allow them to become more solution oriented rather than dependent on you.
2)               Limit how much time you have available to your direct reports- This might seem counterintuitive, but an open-door policy will never be beneficial in an operations aspect for your company. This will not only leave you overwhelmed, but not allow your direct reports to be self-sufficient. However, scheduling time to meet with your direct reports can be very beneficial as well, since it can give them a feeling of loyalty and being noticed.
3)               Be smart with delegation- a good manager should recognize what tasks to give their direct reports, and what tasks they should take responsibility for by themselves. In addition to this, great managers understand to never give a direct report a task that they would avoid themselves. 
4)               Understand growth- at the end of the day, while a manager will no doubt want to retain as many members of their team as they can, they need to realize that not every direct report will want to remain a direct report for perpetuity. Foster their growth whenever possible, and they will reward you with better quality work, as well as more loyalty. And if they so choose to leave, that’s okay. More individuals will come later down the line. 
5)               Assume responsibility for your direct reports- If they do something well, acknowledge them. If they don’t necessarily do something well, help them see how they did something incorrectly, and then don’t leave them out to dry. Take responsibility as well.
6)               Grow personally as a worker as well- Every bit of knowledge you have as a manager can and should be passed down to your direct reports. 

How does a manager appeal to all age groups?

Great managers will often prove to be the best facilitators and mentors within their organization. Different age groups can all have vastly different interests and methods, but with the right helmsman, they can come together and work with high degrees of success. Here are some ideas on how to properly manage this workplace

1)     Hold regular 1:1s and foster the prioritization of communication within your workplace. For the first time ever, four generations are in the workforce at the same time. Each of these generations have different expectations and methods to use. This can easily lead to conflict when colleagues are unaware of these differences and try to work by themselves or cooperatively. Employees need to be able to communicate these differences in a healthy manner and choose how to approach a task. 
2)     Recognizing different peoples work orientations is a vital skill to be an effective manager. Just because someone has more experience doesn’t mean that they want to be a project lead, nor does it mean that they have the necessary skills and personality. Put individuals in positions that they want to be in and will succeed in, rather than positions that they have potential to be in. While learning is a part of a direct report’s job, it should be at their own pace, rather than being thrown into the metaphorical deep end of a pool and being told to swim.  
3)     Identify that different generations perceive respect differently. Regardless of who they are, no member of a team deserves to feel obsolete or disrespected within the workplace. Fostering a workforce with a wide sense of understanding and mutual respect is critical. The Platinum Rule can be enforced throughout the workplace as well. The more common Golden Rule explains to treat others as (you) would want to be treated, but this is deficient. A generation Z worker may not like to be treated in the same way that a Boomer would. The Platinum Rule says to treat others as they would like to be treated. This creates a better team dynamic and a respectful environment. 

While the workforce may be expanding to a scale unimagined before, this can be a good thing for your team. Proper communication and management can allow a team, regardless of age barriers, or any other times of barriers, to be a much more successful team.  

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