Perception

When I think through meetings – how did it go, I ask myself – the perception can be negative. Sometimes our memories are influenced by how we are feeling, and feelings aren’t directly tied to reality. For example, if I go into a meeting not feeling great about myself or my talents, I might remember the meeting as being less successful. And if I go into a meeting feeling like the queen of my subject matter, I may leave the meeting overestimating the quality of my performance.

My mentor taught me a little trick. Write down exactly what happened, but none of the feeling-infused perceptions. Break down the event into its truths and occurrences, every detail of what people said, what they did, and the outcomes of the meeting. For example:

“My manager hated my idea.” – NO
“My manager told me the idea could not be implemented.” – YES

In the above example, I can’t make the first statement. I don’t really know how my manager felt unless he or she specifically said, “I hate your idea.” The more truthful statement will be what was actually said or what action was actually taken.

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Descriptors of Expertise

My mentor sent me an article from T+D called “Our Inexpert Judgment of Expertise” by Catherine Lombardozzi. There are 18 determinants of expertise, according to Lombardozzi: six are objective and twelve are subjective.

Objective:

  1. Has qualifications required
  2. Has education necessary
  3. Has been trained in his area of expertise
  4. Has knowledge about her field
  5. Has knowledge specific to his field
  6. Conducts research related to her field

Subjective:

  1. Is self-assured
  2. Is charismatic
  3. Has self-confidence
  4. Can deduce things easily from work-related situations
  5. Can assess whether a work-related situation is important
  6. Is intuitive in her job
  7. Is an expert who is outgoing
  8. Is capable of improving herself
  9. Is able to judge what things are important
  10. Has the drive to become what she is capable of becoming in her field
  11. Is ambitious about her work
  12. Can talk her way through any work-related situation

According to Lombardozzi it is not only important to have the expertise, but to project those subjective factors that underscore the perception of expertise. She notes that self-assured people may give the impression that they have more expertise than they do. This is important to consider “when making selection decisions or assessing performance.” I see this often in my field, that perceptions drive selection and assessment at times over the actual objective descriptors. It goes both ways. Some favor the outgoing individuals, whose confidence affects the perception, and some favor the quiet, introverted, even antisocial individuals, who seem even more like innovative geniuses because of the quiet lives they live.

The point is to be wise in our judgments of expertise. I think I have focused my vision for myself as a thought leader a little too much on the subjective side; I want to make sure I have all the objective descriptors.

Being Succinct

My mentor shared with me excerpts from the book Quiet Leadership. The book shares some helpful quotes about being succinct:

“When there is a gap between one’s real and declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
– George Orwell

“Sincere words are not embellished; embellished words are not sincere.”
– Lao-tzu

The book lists two reasons for being succinct:

  1. Focusing on being succinct makes the speaker get clearer about their core message, before they speak.
  2. Being succinct provides the listener with a chance to process bite-sized pieces of information, rather than having to digest several minutes of ideas at once.

Actions and Decisions Outside of Work

From my mentor:

“On the weekends I read your mentoring blog.

Suggestion: Going forward capture actions/decisions you make that might be outside your usual as they relate to your goals and future self. Example, the decision not to travel so that you remain true to your goals and your balance (despite what family/friends or others might prefer).

It is your blog so of course your decision…

Your favorite mentor”

Continually Learning

My mentor shared the article “Career Coach: What are you doing to keep learning?”  This article basically talks about the importance of continuous learning – it doesn’t stop with getting a degree. The article lists benefits to those who make learning an ongoing priority in their lives:

  • Being able to keep current with trends and developments in an industry.
  • Building a knowledge base to identify problems and generate solutions.
  • Being more resilient to market changes and fluctuations (i.e., being more marketable, especially during recessions).
  • Stimulating the mind to keep inspired and excited.
  • Enhancing self-confidence about a topic or issue.

I have experienced all of these benefits. I would add that continuous learning also helps us develop new ways of thinking about problems and solutions. Learning more in subjects outside our field of expertise helps us relate to and communicate with others more effectively and gives us not only a knowledge base, but new mindsets for different approaches to problems and ideas.

Visualizing Success

These fun images represent the balance of mentoring and being mentored – it takes effort on both are parts – and a big push of guidance from one to launch the other! These slides are created by my mentor from stick figures I drew a while ago. It shows the process of defining a vision for myself. As I modify and add to what this vision is, I am launched upward by the guidance of my mentor. Click on any of these images to view the full-size slides.

Me and my mentor on a seesaw

I define goals, my mentor helps

Having goals and a mentor launches me upward :)

Anxiety and Passion

You have credibility; don’t lose it.

My mentor and I talked about my presentation skills again (I was on a panel discussion recently and asked him to watch the video and give me feedback). I repeated myself too many times. So the goal is to be succinct and concise. The audience will only give me a small amount of time, space, and attention. I repeat myself for two reasons:

  • Anxiety: There are two types of anxiety: situational (it’s scary to be a on a panel – who knows what they’ll ask you and if you’ll be prepared?) and internal (am I good enough, smart enough, fast enough, eloquent enough to be on this or any panel?).
  • Passion: I am excited about the subject matter and reiterate points I find to be important. My mentor said, “people repeat themselves because they want to drive the point home.”

The anxiety can be overcome with the result of a calm and deliberate presentation. I will have to prepare more, relax more, think more, give myself time, and eat lunch regularly. My mentor said,

“We’re not going for 100% stress free. If we did, we would die. You need stress to stay on your toes. You want managed stress.

According to my mentor, the passion I have for my field of expertise is a benefit. I have such a high degree of energy and passion that it’s contagious. Don’t stop it. He said,

“Harness the passion so it becomes more powerful.”

This applies to presentations because in addition to not repeating myself, I will want to stop where the passion is greatest. Once I’ve given a great presentation, I should stop there and “put a period at the end of the sentence.” I shouldn’t go on, eventually losing the once-piqued interest of my audience. The expert has credibility, but he or she can lose credibility if anxiety and unharnessed passion get in the way.

Awareness

My mentor once said,

“Awareness – the first step toward transition to change.”

He said months later,

“Take note periodically today about how you are being in the moment. Is it how you want to be? If so, take note. If not, take note. Awareness is intentional.”

This morning on my commute I realized I felt very anxious about the work I have to do. I have projects, but beyond projects I have goals and I feel inundated with all the expectations I have set for myself. My anxiety comes across when I speak (I speak more quickly, perhaps less intentionally, and I don’t feel my thoughts are as organized as they should be). My energy level is reduced. I cannot manage interruptions as effectively. I need to reduce my anxiety: partly in focusing more on balance, partly in the unreasonable expectations I have set for myself.

Introduction

I have been working on my professional and personal growth for some time. It is important to me that I constantly strive to do better and be better. I found someone who is very talented at coaching who has agreed to be my coach/mentor. We meet every two weeks. I realized that I’ve read a lot about coaching and mentoring – many people blog about coaching as a subject, and how to coach, but I don’t think there are many out there documenting what it is like to be coached. So this blog is an experiment in documenting my experiences in being coached. I hope it serves to help others who are looking to be guided in their professional and personal development, and I also hope it serves coaches to see the impact and influence coaching has on the coached. 

I have had to think hard about whether I should call this coaching or mentoring because they are different. Coaching is focused on performance in many ways, and is specific in guiding someone toward success in their field. Mentoring is focused on life path, which may go beyond the specific career field. So I call this blog ‘Being Mentored’ and will call it mentoring, especially since I feel that my mentor is guiding me in more than my professional development, even though much of the focus is coaching within the professional context. I hope he’s ok with the name… yikes! In this blog, however, I will still use both words. In the first few entries I probably won’t use them correctly, but it will be refined as I move along. 

In our first meeting my mentor asked that I promise to mentor in the same way I have been mentored; to be mindful of my experience so I can do the same for someone else. We also discussed why it is that I want to be mentored. He guided me to the conclusion that I need to have a vision for myself: not what I want to do better, but WHO I want to be. What does that vision look like? What does this person look like, act like?