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Katharine Interviews One of Her Mentors about the Important Topic of Mentoring

Today we present a recent interview conducted by Katharine Halpin with Dr. Lois Zachary of Leadership Development Services. Click on the hyperlinks under each interview question to listen to the live response to each question.

I’m very pleased this morning to be interviewing Dr. Lois Zachary. Dr. Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in both leadership and mentoring. She is the Director of The Center for Mentoring Excellence. She’s an internationally-recognized mentoring expert and has been cited as one of the top minds in leadership today. She’s published over a half dozen books and publications as well as over a hundred articles. And, she’s created a comprehensive set of resources for promoting the practice of individual and organizational mentoring excellence. This June, Jossey-Bass launches the publication of five pocket toolkits on mentoring excellence.

Katharine Halpin: Lois, tell us more about this whole field of adult development in learning and how it contributes to this practice of mentoring.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Many years ago, I was asked to develop a mentoring program. I went in to a corporation as a consultant, and I found that there were all kinds of different mentoring practices going on in the name of mentoring. Much of practice was very pediatric. And yet, here we had adults who were engaged in adult learning. What we’ve come to know about adult learning since that time (25 years later) has increased exponentially. So, we know more than ever before in terms of the depth and breadth of mentoring.

All that knowledge has come to inform and change the paradigm by which we practice mentoring. Now we look at mentoring as a relationship in which the mentee is an active learner, the mentor is a facilitator of learning. We have more than one on one mentoring: we have group mentoring, reverse mentoring, and much of our mentoring today is done virtually, even in face to face relationship. And instead the focus being on knowledge transfer, what we’re really talking about today is critical reflection and practice and application as a way of moving mentoring forward.

Listen to Question 1 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: In October of 2011, you came out with a revised edition of The Mentor’s Guide, your book that was initially published in the year 2000. I’m wondering why a second edition was needed.

Dr. Lois Zachary: That’s a great question. In the 12 years between when I wrote and published the first edition, our knowledge of adult learning has shifted, and it continues to shift with all this expansion in cognitive science. Technology has added a whole new component to mentoring. We have also come to understand the critical role of context. “We bring who we are to what we do.” So, it affects how we come to mentoring.

Mentoring is about learning, and it’s about relationship. You have to have all of those pieces. Context is the conditions, the circumstances that contribute to how we connect, interact, and learn with one another. And, there isn’t a mentoring a relationship that is not embedded in context. It is so important to understand context, because it determines how we perceive things, what we see as being possible, and what’s achievable.

Listen to Question 2 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Yes, I can totally agree with that. So now why is the context of connection so essential in a mentoring relationship?

Dr. Lois Zachary: They add a layer of complexity to the relationship, and they also offer new ways to create and enhance our mentoring relationship. Let me tell you what I mean by that. First of all, it affects how we get together. So much of mentoring is taking place wholly or partially virtually. Understanding what’s going on in somebody else’s world, whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, is really important.

What’s also important is that a mentor may be at a different phase, age, or stage than a mentee. And we make assumptions based on our own experience and reality, and that might not be the same for our mentoring partners. It’s really important to check out our assumptions and to be clear about the context, and try and walk in the shoes of your mentoring partner.

Listen to Question 3 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: You have to be sensitive to the context that they’re coming from, their cultural or intergenerational issues. Now, in your new book, which by the way I understand is an even bigger best-seller than your prior book, you outline a new four-phase cycle for the mentoring relationship. Tell us about that cycle.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, it’s not so much that it’s new. I’ve added a full full section on to it. And, I received feedback from other folks on the names of the phases. So, I renamed a couple of the subtitles of each of the phases. But the important thing to understand is that mentoring goes through phases. You get ready, and that is, you prepare for it, you prepare yourself, you prepare the relationship, and then you establish agreements and negotiate that with your mentoring partner. What are your ground rules? What are your agreements around confidentiality? What are the goals you’re going to focus on?

Then you spend most of your time in what I call the enabling growth/facilitating learning phase. (That’s the third phase of it.) And that’s the time of the highest highs. That’s the time when you might come up against some mentoring challenges. You want to keep your mentoring fresh. You want to keep it vibrant.

The fourth phase is what I call the coming to closure phase, where you look back and you move forward. A moment ago, we talked about critical reflection. So, this phase is a good example of it. In the closure phase you look back at where you’ve been, and you move forward, and in the process you think about how you can leverage your learning and move forward.

Listen to Question 4 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: In your new book, why is there so much focus on conversation?

Dr. Lois Zachary: Conversation is how we come together. It keeps the lines of communication and connection open. It helps engage the mentee as an active partner or an author of his or her own learning. It needs to be front and center throughout a relationship or else mentoring becomes a transaction.

Conversation is something that people don’t readily think about; they take it for granted. As result, what they often do is shortchange themselves and engage in a series of transactions instead. So, if you think about the best conversation you ever had and what the key elements were and keep those key elements front and center in your mentoring relationship, you are going to strengthen your mentoring relationship and enhance your learning.

Listen to Question 5 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Now, in your four-phase cycle, you talk about the second stage as one of negotiating and establishing those agreements and those ground rules. Why have a conversation so early in the relationship about accountability for each partner?

Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, that really builds the foundation. The agreements and ground rules that grow out of it define the work of the relationship, and they become a touchstone for staying on track. They are actually an accountability mechanism. With accountability, you can move your work forward faster.

Listen to Question 6 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: Of course. So even in a mentoring relationship, we can move our work faster by focusing on those ground rules and those agreements. Tell us more about your five mentoring pocket tools, because you know everybody’s attention span is so short nowadays. I imagine these pocket tools would be very powerful.

Dr. Lois Zachary: What we hear from the people who have used them is that they take them out and review them prior to a mentoring meeting. They serve as a reminder, a refresher of what you need to do to stay on track. They include strategies, concrete actions that people can take, and also include a checklist so that you can make sure that you are on track. They serve as a pocket accountability mechanism.

Listen to Question 7 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: I love that. And that’s the key, as you said earlier, to critical reflection, practice, and application. The application is the key. If we don’t apply what we learned, and we don’t apply these tools, then it’s all for naught. But those pocket tools give us a chance to be more mindful in the moment right before we go into the meeting.

Dr. Lois Zachary: Absolutely. And we’re very excited that Jossey-Bass has chosen to publish them. We have published themselves for many, many years, and Jossey-Bass has seen them as a companion to the other mentoring books that they’ve published for us.

Listen to Question 8 Podcast

Katharine Halpin: That’s great. If our listeners would like to reach Dr. Lois Zachary, I want to share a couple of ways. Her latest book, The Mentor’s Guide, is her best-selling book that you can purchase on Amazon.

You can also find Lois on Twitter @LoisZachary. Her two websites are www.LeadershipDevelopmentServices.com and www.CenterForMentoringExcellence.com.

Achieving Results through Personal Connection

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.

Listen to Question 1 Podcast

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.

Listen to Question 2 Podcast

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…”

Listen to Question 3 Podcast

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.

Listen to Question 4 Podcast

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.

Listen to Question 5 Podcast

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.

Listen to Question 6 Podcast

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.”

Listen to Question 7 Podcast

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.

Listen to Question 8 Podcast