Today we present a recent interview with Katharine Halpin conducted by Dr. Lois Zachary of Leadership Development Services. Click on the hyperlinks under each interview question to listen to the live response to each question.
Dr. Lois Zachary: Why are personal connections in the workplace so important?
Katharine Halpin: I believe that people can foster close personal connections with each other by having mutual respect, trust, the ability to speak authentically, honestly and forthrightly. If we have those kinds of connections, then whatever business challenges arise – and the business challenges will inevitably arise every day – we’ll be able to work through those challenges productively and effectively and in a very timely manner.
Dr. Lois Zachary: How can you go about doing that effectively?
Katharine Halpin: We have to remember that every interaction either builds trust or tears down trust. And so we have to prepare for every interaction – whether it means that we send an email, meet one on one, or meet in a small group. Even if we’re going to bump into somebody in the hall, we need to be prepared so that we can give those people the right context and most importantly so that we can be coming from the right perspective. If you’re going to send an email, it’s important to think about how that email’s going to be received by that other person. You have be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you write the email to ensure that it’s going to be received in the most productive manner.
Dr. Lois Zachary: So preparation is important but you also write a lot about and talk a lot about authenticity. How does authenticity get played out in connections, and to what degree is it important in the workplace?
Katharine Halpin: My definition of authenticity means the degree to which you are willing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability means being willing to take personal responsibility for the results regardless of the outcome – not just when they’re successful, but most importantly, when they’re not. And, then you need to be willing to admit to your own opportunities for growth. I don’t like to think in terms of weaknesses, but we all have opportunities for growth. So when we can own those and share those freely, and really make light of them – for example “Oh, I just had the volume turned up too high on my gift of enthusiasm, perhaps…”
Dr. Lois Zachary: In the workplace, there’s a risk in being vulnerable. How do we bridge that gap?
Katharine Halpin: I think it begins first with connections. It’s almost like a chicken and egg: which comes first? We have to have the connections, the trust, and the mutual respect, to enable us to feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Without the connections, our colleagues won’t feel safe with us.
Dr. Lois Zachary: How do you see context enhancing connection and communication in the workplace today?
Katharine Halpin: What I do is help leaders them look at things from a bigger context. They often have a context such as “Joe is an idiot.” Or, “Bob is an idiot.” And I try to help them think about Bob’s history and Joe’s history. I ask them “what’s the bigger game that we’re playing here?” I try to get them outside the myopic, small-minded/small perspective and get into a mindset or context of playing a bigger game. What are we most committed to here? What is the big game that we’re trying to create around this organization or this team? And that often helps people get out of their own way and get out of the blame game. When they start to see how they can take responsibility for the role that they’ve played they can begin the process of creating much more effective results.
Dr. Lois Zachary: As you know, connection is a really important piece of mentoring. Some of these same attributes you are talking about – authenticity, connection, vulnerability, and context – play out in mentoring relationships. Why do you think they might be so important?
Katharine Halpin: I’ve been in a variety of mentoring relationships over my almost-40-year career, and I see that the ones that were the richest, the ones that were the most powerful and most productive of course for both mentor and mentee, were those where we had all those things. If I was simply assigned a mentor in an organization, or if I took on a mentor for myself and we didn’t spend that time building that connection, then the mentoring was often flat. It was out of context. It was not nearly as useful as it could have been if we had taken time to build those connections.
Dr. Lois Zachary: It’s often hard for a mentee to find a voice, to feel safe, to be able to be vulnerable, and also to find a voice in order to move into that bigger picture future. Do you have any thoughts about how both a mentor and mentee might work at that?
Katharine Halpin: I think that’s a function of time, – both time together and then time to prepare. Once you have time together, you can start to build that connection where you’ll have the safety. And then, when you take the time to prepare. Say you’re going to have a 45-minute mentoring session later this week or early next week. I would want to take time over a period of days – 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 20 minutes − to start to formulate my objectives for that mentoring situation, that opportunity, the things that I’m trying to get a better grasp on right now, and start to formulate the questions. I don’t think any of us can find our voice easily in the moment. And the more mindful we can be when we go into those situations the better. When we’ve taken the time to prepare then I think the more easily we can find our voice and express our own needs and our own goals and our own objectives. And have that give and take. You want a mentoring relationship to have a give and take. “Well, that doesn’t resonate for me, but this would resonate with me.” Or, “This approach would work more effectively for me. I can’t see myself trying that, but I can see myself trying this.”
Dr. Lois Zachary: A final question for you. What’s the best piece of mentoring advice you’ve ever received?
Katharine Halpin: The best piece was early in my career when I was still an accountant, before I was a CPA. I was mentored by a partner, at that time, one of the big eight accounting firms. He said to me, “Katharine, you’re not really an accountant. You’re really a social worker.” And I wasn’t in a space where I was able to hear that. But he was right on the money. It took me another twenty years of struggling as a CPA and as a management consultant to really find my voice and to be able to do this kind of work that’s more intimate and more focused as a facilitator and as a coach.