Mentoring Basics: Part 3(a)

The time has come!  It’s time to start a mentoring relationship with a mentee.  This is a critical step in the mentor/mentee relationship process.  It sets the tone for all that is to come.

But how do you start?  What do you need to do as a potential mentor?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we defined mentoring and discussed some of the different types of mentorship.  This should serve as a base for you to make decisions from in this next stage.

As discussed in Part 2, the key factor of TIME should be addressed first and foremost.  How much time do you have to devote to the development of another?    If you agree to a mentorship, but don’t have the time you’ll likely do a serious disservice to yourself and to your mentee.  The impacts of a poor decision are many; starting with your reputation as a mentor.

In addition to understanding how much time you have to commit, having good self-awareness and knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is very important for would-be mentors so that when the “will you be my mentor” question comes (and it will come) you are prepared to assess and answer.

In writing this portion of the article, I found that there was lots of rich information to share, but when I put it all together it was rather long.  So, in the interest of not creating the longest blog post ever, I have decided to break Part 3 in to three separate posts.  This will make the overall series longer, but I think will make it much easier to digest.

Three Basic Steps

Starting a mentoring relationship has three basic steps that should be considered.  This isn’t a “be all and end all” list, but definitely is a great start as you are examining a potential relationship.  These steps can be broken down as follows:

  • Relationship Initiation
  • Honest Assessment
  • Setting Expectations

In this post, we will tackle Step 1: Relationship Initiation.

Relationship Initiation

A mentoring relationship can start a variety of ways.  You may be assigned an official mentee through a formal program, you may ask someone to be your mentee, or more often than not, someone is going to ask you to be their mentor.

If someone asked you that question right now, how would you answer? 

Hopefully you won’t default to that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.  And I also hope that you won’t respond with an immediate ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Think about this for a second.  Someone (most likely junior to you) has mustered their courage to tell you that they admire you as a leader and are asking you to develop them all the while knowing that you may reject them at any second.  And no one likes to be rejected.

So, HOW you answer this question is just as important as the mentorship itself and must be handled delicately and with thought.

Many novice would-be mentors think that they have to provide an immediate answer, but this simply isn’t the case.  A thoughtful answer is much better received than a hasty one.

My response here is typically not ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It usually is, “If you don’t mind, let me ask you a couple questions before I answer.”  Then I proceed to ask questions similar to the following:

  • What are you looking for in a mentor?
  • What do you hope to accomplish/learn?
  • Why me?

Why ask the questions?  It pauses the need for an immediate response, changes the dynamics a bit, gives me time to think and assess, and allows me to draw out more information from which I can make an informed decision.

If I don’t know the person very well, I may also ask them to tell me more about who they are, their situation, and their goals/aspirations.

The art of listening is critical here.  Listen for what their true need is.  It may require follow on questions to get to the root issue, instead of what may be presented initially.  Use open ended questions.  Don’t be afraid to dig here, because it will set the foundation for your decision and for the mentorship.  Plus, it gives you an opportunity to determine how forthcoming and receptive to suggestion your potential mentee really is.

This line of questioning works more for situations where someone wants to establish a mentoring relationship (official or casual); as compared to someone that just has an infrequent development or perspective question.  Although, listening and asking good clarifying questions may be important in the latter too.

Gaining clarification of what the potential mentee is really looking for is critical so that you can properly assess whether or not you would be a suitable mentor.

Even if you know immediately that you don’t want to mentor this person, taking the time to ask the questions shows thoughtfulness and consideration.  Even if the answer is ultimately ‘no’, the feeling of rejection may be mitigated somewhat because you have been thoughtful and you have acknowledged them and their need.

But don’t make your decision just yet!  Now that you have the information, you need to assess it.

Honest assessment will be the focus of the next post.

Enjoy!

~Jason

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Spread a Little Joy

It has been said that true happiness can only be attained by first helping others find peace. With a seemingly endless parade of problems coming at us from all sides, it can be easy to focus on our own issues and not on others.  The fact is though; we live in an entwined society and even something as simple as moods are contagious and interconnected.  By simply helping others find happiness we may find that we are not only able to improve the lives of others, but that we find our own joy in helping others that lifts our mood as well.

As leaders, it is important to spread joy.  It’s a great exercise in servant leadership.  People are looking to you for inspiration.  Often times we may not be able to solve others’ personal problems, but we can definitely help improve the situation, at least for the moment.  I believe that most people genuinely want to be happy.  And happy people are both productive and enjoyable to be around, which makes a better workplace.  

So, as a leader, are you spreading joy?

Here are five simple ways that you can spread joy in the workplace.

  1. Go out of your way to spontaneously do something nice for someone.  Hold the door or elevator for someone.  When you see someone carrying a heavy load, help them.  Help someone clean up after a meeting.  Randomly pay for someone’s lunch at the checkout or pick up their lunch dishes for them.
  2. Leave a note.  Express your thanks or write something inspiring on a sticky note, thank you note, sheet of copy paper, or white board. A hand written note means much more than an email, text, or IM (especially today).  I have one former direct report that also leaves a card for a free ice cream cone in her notes.  Yum!
  3. Purposefully praise someone in front of others.  Go out of your way to say something nice to someone in front of their peers, colleagues, direct reports, boss, or even better…their family.  When you see someone with their spouse or kids, say something great about them.  For example, “You know your mom is awesome, right!?”  “Your husband is one outstanding guy!”
  4. Acknowledge someone.  Say hello.  Wave.  Slap a high five.  Shake a hand.  Give that “what’s up” head nod.  Wink.  Do whatever you do (as long as it isn’t creepy), but acknowledge others.  Most people want to be acknowledged in a positive manner.
  5. Smile!  Smiles are contagious!  Give a cheesy grin.  Laugh.  Giggle.  Chuckle.  Smile….and others will smile with you.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you are new to this and this isn’t your normal operating mode, I challenge you to do one of the above deliberately at least twice a day.  You can spread it out; once in the morning and once in the afternoon to start.  The fact is though; the more you do it, the more it becomes natural, and the more it becomes natural, the more people you positively effect in the course of your day.

So, are you up to the challenge?  What else can you do to spread joy in the workplace?

Enjoy!

~Jason

Mentoring Basics: Part 2

Mentoring is such a great topic.   Most people genuinely want to be mentored, cultivated, and grown.  Unfortunately, would-be and well-intentioned mentors aren’t always equipped with the right tools in their locker to be a successful mentor.  And when this is the case, the mentoring relationship is rarely successful and people are left disappointed.

Mentors have to work at this aspect of their lives just as much as they work at any other that they want to be successful in.

That is why we’re exploring mentoring from the mentor’s perspective in this five-part series of posts on Mentoring Basics.  In the last post (Part 1), we defined mentoring.  In this post, we are going to talk about putting structure around your mentoring relationships.

Before we jump off in to discussing mentoring structures, I want to pause and discuss one key factor that you should examine closely before you decide to become a mentor.

KEY FACTOR:  TIME

When approaching mentoring as the mentor, one of the most important factors is TIME.  How much time do you have to give?  How much time do you want to spend?  You don’t want to sell your mentees short and you don’t want to do yourself a disservice if it is more time than you can afford at the moment.  Be honest with yourself here.  Many of us “want” to donate and invest more time in others, but you have to be realistic.  If you need to reprioritize your time to spend more time mentoring, then do so.  But don’t commit to it if you don’t have it.

MENTORING TYPES

There are several different ways to classify mentoring relationships.  There is no one right way.   Personally, I have lots of different types of mentors.  Some are official, where we meet regularly and discuss pre-determined development topics.  Others are more casual where I may drop in and “bounce something off of them”.  Some educate and counsel me while in a group setting.  And others are a lunch date every so often to catch up and hear about their business.

One of the first considerations you need to determine as the mentor is how you want to approach mentoring.  Do you want to be more one-on-one?  Or do you want to take the “one-to-many” approach?  Each provides a means to an end and has its own benefits, but each has very different requirements on the part of the mentor.

One-on-One Mentoring

One-on-One mentoring is very personal.  It’s an opportunity to talk specifically about the development need of a single mentee and develop a very precise plan of action to target areas of opportunity.  The focus is very narrow as you are only dealing person, which allows you to “go deeper” in to their needs, but also means that you will be more personally invested.

One-on-One mentoring is:

  • Very targeted mentoring of skill or knowledge.
  • Confidential and unbiased support for the mentee.
  • Usually instructive based upon the needs of the mentee and the lesson that the mentor wants to teach.
  • A rich investment of time in one person.
  • More personal to the mentor and mentee.  Successes and failures are more readily felt.
  • Provides a single perspective back to the mentee.

Group Mentoring

Group mentoring is a “one-to-many approach” that goes by a variety of names (e.g., mentoring ring, mentoring circle, etc.).  There are several ways to conduct group mentoring.  There is no “one ” way to do it.  You can bring people with a similar need together to develop on that need.  Or you can bring people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together to create a multi-perspective environment where issues are discussed.  It really depends upon what you want to accomplish. With this approach, I often see mentors spending a great deal of time on preparing group lessons and “pre-reads” for group discussion.

Group mentoring is:

  • More general mentoring of skill or knowledge.
  • Confidential and unbiased support of a group of mentees.  How forthcoming people are in a group though depends upon the level of trust of the group and environment that the mentor creates.
  • Provides general instruction on topics that apply to many.  However, usually involves the mentor playing more of a facilitator role amongst the group to elicit conversation about the topic and to keep everyone engaged.
  • Maximizes mentor’s time investment and reach.
  • Less personal.
  • Provides multiple perspectives back to each mentee due to group involvement.

So, at this point we are at a cross-roads.  Which type is more appealing to you as a mentor?  Do you see yourself as a group mentor?  Or an individual mentor?  Or both?  If you are new at this, then I suggest that you start with one-on-one relationships.  This will help you gain experience and develop your personal style as a mentor, before taking on multiple mentees at once.

For the sake of the length of this post, we will focus the remainder of our attention on one-on-one mentorship as this type is more prevalent.  We’ll reserve a deep dive on group mentorship for a future post.

One-on-One Methods

How you go about one-on-one mentoring can take many forms.  Official.  Unofficial.  One time.  30 seconds here and there.  Long durations.  Grow a skill.  Share a story.  Help with a problem.  So on and so forth.  “How” you go about mentoring is often determined once you know the “who”, “what” they want to accomplish, and “why” they are asking you (which we’ll discuss in the next segment of this series).

The following are three ways to look at one-on-one mentoring:

  • Infrequent – Be the ‘go to’ for people that have a single quick question or issue that they need help with.  This often sounds like, “Hey…Can I bounce something off of you really quick?” or “Have you ever experienced…?”  The expectation here is isolated one time help and not a continuous mentoring relationship.
  • Casual (aka “unofficial”) – This is probably the most frequent of relationships classified as “mentorships”.  I have far more “unofficial” mentees than I do official mentees.  These relationships are usually loose in structure, sporadic in meeting frequency, and come and go based upon need.  I have found this style very useful as it allows me to invest time in others in a very casual, but effective manner.
  • Official – This relationship is typically the most demanding.  It requires structure, regular frequency of meetings, agreed upon goals, and then action towards meeting the goals.  The time investment here is usually greater.  This is a committed mentoring relationship.  At work, this relationship often falls under a company mentoring program.

This doesn’t define all the ways that one-on-one mentoring can take place, but buckets the majority fairly well.  If you’re interested, there are many free mentoring resources out there that further define relationship types.

Think about your mentoring relationships where you are the mentor OR the mentee.  How would you classify your relationships?

It’s important that you have this base level of understanding about mentoring types and methods, so that you can clearly define in your own mind how you would like to go about mentoring.  This is especially important so that you are prepared when someone asks you out of the blue, “Will you be my mentor?”

In the next part of the series, we will get in to how to tackle that question and how to start a mentoring relationship.

Enjoy!

~Jason

What Do You Think? #1

 

I saw this posted on the Harvard Business Review Discussion Group on LinkedIn and thought it was a very profound question.   

CFO asks his CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave the company?”

CEO answers, ‘What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

What do you think? 

Leave a comment and give us your perspective.

I am NOT afraid!

Fear.  It gets the best of us some times.

There are so many things to be afraid of.  Bad relationships, rejection, “the dark”, flying, heights, illness and death to name just a few.

For me?  SPIDERS!  Yeesh….I do not like spiders.   They creep me out.

But what about at the workplace?  What are you afraid of?

Public speaking?  Your boss?  A co-worker?  Competition?  Public humiliation?  Getting fired?

Or perhaps the greatest fear of many people: failure.

Again…..there are plenty of things to be afraid of.  However, they all have something in common.

Do you know what that is?

They all require COURAGE to get over the fear.  Whether I am merely living with a fear or trying to outright overcome a fear, it all requires courage to do so.

Today, I want us to focus here.  On COURAGE.

Leaders should be courageous!  It is a key skill.  It is a key differentiator.  Leaders need to be courageous in the day-to-day situations they face AND they need to be courageous in how they approach their business.

Have you heard the term “courageous leadership”?

When I hear this term, it’s often spoken of in reverence.  It’s almost like someone is whispering it in awe or surprise.  “She showed courageous leadership.”  “He led with courage.”  It’s also something that I hear far too infrequently.  I don’t hear it every day or even every week.

This is odd to me.  If courage is a key skill of leaders, why aren’t there more displays of courage?

Courage in Day to Day Situations

You know what this looks like.  You’ve seen it before.

Most of us immediately think of  “ethical courage”; doing the right thing in the face of adversity.  This also has a strong link to integrity, which is paramount for leaders.

However, situational courage takes on many forms.  Do you have the courage to:

  • Tell a direct report that they are underperforming?
  • Tell a peer that they were a bit harsh with one of their employees?
  • Tell your boss that they are wrong?
  • Tell a vendor or business partner that they are going to lose their account?
  • Seek forgiveness and admit that you were wrong?
  • Champion an associate that you believe in that’s on the verge of being fired?
  • Go against the grain and the many?
  • Swim upstream?

These situations all require courage to take an action.  To do what you know is right.  Not what is popular, but what is right.  What is best for the associate.  What is best for the business.

In addition to courage, they require the skill to read the situation, make a judgment, determine an action, and follow through.  It often requires common sense and finesse, especially when dealing with controversial and unpopular topics.

Do you show courage in your daily actions?

Courage As an Approach to Business

Courage is not always situational.  It is not always the snap judgment that needs to be made in a split second.  It can be a very deliberate way to approach the way you do business.

I read a white paper by Keith Carver who talked at length about deliberate courage as a way of business.  In his paper, he quotes a Harvard Business Review written by Kathleen Reardon titled “Courage as a Skill.”  She said:

“…courage is rarely impulsive. Nor does it emerge from nowhere. In business, courage is really a special kind of calculated risk-taking. People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success – and avoid career suicide – through careful deliberation and preparation.”

What Carver loved about this quote  was that it captures courage as a skill—one that encompasses risk-taking, decision-making, and experience.  He went on to say that courage is essential to business excellence in execution; crucial to ensure a thriving, high performance culture.

The question you should be asking yourself is “How do I apply courage in my business?”  Carver outlined five ways:

  • Exploring the unknown. It’s unsettling for many to navigate uncharted territory. But stepping out of the box, the silo, the rhythm or the status quo is a necessary discomfort to realize the next big idea.
  • Trusting one’s ‘gut.’ A leader’s intuition and instincts are honed by years of experience. Sometimes trusting them is a necessary leap of faith.
  • Nurturing the creative. Also potentially scary: removing boundaries, enabling time to think provocatively, and the breathing room needed to uncover a great idea together.
  • Taking measured risks. This calculation is often built on years of experience, but ultimately leaders must be able to pull the trigger and commit to an uncertain plan with potential but no promises.
  • Contingency planning. When the measured risk falls short, then what? Is there another direction to take, or a lesson to be learned. Courageous leaders think it through.
Do you show courage in the way you approach your business?
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Final Thoughts on Courage

Gus Lee, who wrote Courage:  The Backbone of Leadership said, “[A leader] without courage is a captive of fear who cannot lead others across the river (the challenge).
 
Getting over a fear doesn’t have to be a lonely journey.  Smart leaders know their fears, understand their fears, and look for ways to overcome their fears.  This may include having the courage to ask others for help.  There are a number of people that can be your strength; mentors, supervisors, colleagues, pastors, counselors, spouses, friends, etc.  If your fear is great, don’t go at it alone.
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So what are you afraid of?  Do you have a fear that is holding you hostage?  Do you have the courage to overcome it?  
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Do you apply courage in daily situations and in your business approach?
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How are you perceived as a leader?  Are you characterized as showing courageous leadership?  Or do you fall short?
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If you do fall short or are a captive of fear, repeat after me:
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“I am NOT afraid.”
“I will overcome my fears.  They will not hold me captive.”
“I will be courageous in my daily decisions.”
“I will be courageous in how I run my business.”
“I will lead with courage.”
“I am NOT afraid!”

.

Enjoy!

~Jason

When a Great Leader Leaves

Change.  It’s inevitable.  It requires us to adapt the way we think and the way we do things.

One of the most recent big changes to my world has been the departure of some great leaders.  So, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to talk about how we (as leaders) need to act when a great leader leaves.

Losing a great leader has a number of impacts, regardless of the reason that they left.  It can rock the very foundation of what people know to be true of the environment in which they function.  Much similar to a ship that is suddenly without their captain at the helm of their vessel.

A great leader is an inspirational force that drives the organization forward.  A great leader provides structure, consistency, and calm.  A great leader is beloved. 

As I’ve listened to those around me talk about the recent departures, I hear many different sentiments; from worry, to excitement, to panic, to confusion, to wonder. 

So what happens when a great leader leaves?  We change.  We adapt.  We overcome.

But what’s required of us as leaders when our leader leaves?  What’s our role?

There are some basics that are critical to ensuring that we ultimately adapt and overcome as an organization.  And you will be a key instrument in ensuring that this happens.

  • Be Calm.  It’s important that during a transition, especially when a leader leaves unexpectedly, you need to be seen as calm (regardless of how you may really feel).  Impacted associates will immediately turn and look at you (as a leader) for how they should respond.  Should we be worried?  Should we be scared?  Should we be angry?  They will take their cue from you.  You set the tone.  If you are calm and confident, it will create a calming effect on your associates and peers.  If you are emotionally out of control and erratic, you can actually make the situation worse.

 

  • Provide reassurance.  One thing that great leaders often do is develop a structure that is capable of running without them.  They do this through organizational alignment, development of direct reports, establishing clear direction and strategy, etc.  These are the bedrocks that you can immediately rely upon to help move you forward during sudden change. 

Reassure your team that they know their roles and they have tasks in front of them that still need to be accomplished.  Focusing on the task at hand, often times helps people get past the panic and worry about the unknown future.  The simple notion that “we are in control” in and of itself is reassuring.

Get past the why.  While “why” will be a question asked by many, the fact is, the answer doesn’t change the current situation.  We may never fully know why.  So instead of expending our energy here, it’s important that we and our teams focus our energy where it is more productive.  Your team will likely need your guidance and direction to get there.

 

  • Be Present.  This is time for you to be present amongst your team.  Going back to the first two points, being visible to your associates (and peers) is critical to create that calming effect and to provide reassurance.  Being present also means that you are able to listen and see how your associates are responding to the situation.  Some may require more nurturing than others, but having a good pulse of how your team or the organization is handling the change will help you make the right decisions to move each individual associate and the team forward.

 

  • Take Stock.  Determine quickly what obligations the departed leader had on their plate and ensure that they are covered.  Don’t let things fall through the cracks.  Similar to sending a calming, reassuring message to the team, this tenet also helps send a calming message to customers, stakeholders, and partners that “we’ve got this”.

One of the greatest examples I can pull as a reference to one of the recent departures is how a group of Senior Directors rallied quickly to determine what responsibilities needed to be met, what meetings needed to be attended, and what customers needed to be communicated with.  They did a great job of splitting up these responsibilities and ensuring that the gaps were filled. 

It’s also important to work with the departed leader’s supervisor and your peers to determine the path forward.

 

  • Step Up!  This is the time for you to Lean Forward as a leader.  Decisions need to be made, things need to get done.  While some decisions may wait for a new leader to be appointed or hired, the fact is that it may be some time before this person is named.  This is not the time to be timid and passive. This is the time to show ‘what you’re made of’ and that your leaders were right in putting you in the role that you are in.  So, STEP UP!

As always, this list is not all inclusive, but the people that I see achieve success during times of change like this are the ones that cover these five foundational elements (at a minimum).

No one wants to see a great leader leave, but all we can do is appreciate them for their contribution, the time that they spent with us, and be a good steward of the legacy that they have left behind.

So, the question is, when faced with this type of change, will you step up and rise to the challenge?

Enjoy!

~Jason

Mentoring Basics: Part 1

Mentoring is such a great topic. There is no greater personal legacy than that which you invest in others.

Mentors show the way.

Mentoring is universal and can be done just about anywhere; at work, at home, at school, at church, with a child, with a student, with a team, with a co-worker, and the list goes on.

There’s nothing like seeing people that you have invested time and effort in go on to do great things.

Personally, I don’t think I have always been a good mentor.

In fact, in hindsight, I can think of former mentees that I could have done so much more for, but quite honestly at that point in time I didn’t have a lot of experience in mentoring and/or didn’t have the tools in my locker to be a good mentor. Even today, I know that I have a long way to go to reach the level of some of the great leaders that inspire and mentor me, but I am better than I was yesterday and I learn every day.  Mentoring is just as much about the mentor learning how to grow others as it is about the mentee learning from the mentor.

For the purpose of this series of posts on Mentoring Basics, I am going to approach the topic from the “role of the mentor”, but I think the lessons have equal application for mentees as well. I am also going to approach it from a business standpoint, but again, I think the lessons have equal application in mentoring relationships outside of the workplace.

Throughout this series on, we are going to talk about mentoring basics, including:

  • How to put structure around your mentoring relationships
  • How to start a mentoring relationship
  • Key mentor Do’s and Don’ts
  • How to handle some of the tough conversations

A great place to start this conversation is around defining what mentoring is in the first place and how it differs from management.  In doing a little research, I found the following, which I thought was a good explanation from www.management-mentors.com.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced person and a less experienced person for the primary purpose of helping the one with less experience develop and/or reach their goals.  The mentor provides wisdom, guidance, advice and counseling as a mentee advances in their life, career or education.

What is the difference between a manager and a mentor?

While many managers demonstrate mentoring behavior on an informal basis, it is very different from having a structured mentorship. There is a qualitative difference between a manager-associate relationship and a mentor-mentee relationship.

Managerial Role

The manager-associate relationship focuses on achieving the objectives of the department and the company. The manager assigns tasks, evaluates the outcome, conducts performance reviews, and recommends possible salary increases and promotions.

Because managers hold significant power over associates’ work lives, most associates demonstrate only their strengths and hide their weaknesses in the work environment.

Mentoring Role

The mentor-mentee relationship focuses on developing the mentee professionally and personally. As such, the mentor does not evaluate the mentee with respect to his or her current job, does not conduct performance reviews of the mentee, and does not provide input about salary increases and promotions.

This creates a safe learning environment, where the mentee feels free to discuss issues openly and honestly, without worrying about negative consequences on the job.

The roles of manager and mentor are fundamentally different. That’s why structured mentoring programs never pair mentors with their direct reports.

This is a basic contrast, but does provide some boundaries on the roles of managers and mentors.

In the next part of the series, we’ll look at how to put some structure around the mentoring relationship.

Enjoy!

~Jason

Make a Joyful Noise!

Ever wonder why happy people are happy?  Why is it they always have a smile on their face?  Even when the chips are down, they seem to bounce back quicker than others.  What is it that makes them so happy?

I am sure that there are lots of reasons.  However, I believe that genuinely happy people (and I mean the people that are happy a good portion of the time) have a FOCUS.

Somewhere in their mind, they are focused on something that makes them happy.  It’s their ‘happy place’ that they go to often that brings them joy.  Perhaps not as bizarre as depicted in the movie Happy Gilmore, but something or someone that they focus on.  It could be their faith.  Or a loved one.  Or, it could be an activity like fishing, painting, or monster truck driving.  Regardless, it’s usually something that is deeply meaningful to that individual that helps put and keep their mind in a positive place.  What’s your happy focus?

For me?  It’s music. Music permeates my soul.  There is always a song playing in my heart and in my head.  And it wants to come out.  So, I am always whistling, humming, drumming, tapping, or even outright singing.  Whether out loud or in my head, the beat is always going.

Music makes me happy.  It lifts my spirits.  And it puts a smile on my face.

Quick caveat:  You can have more than one happy focus.  My faith and my family are also critical focus points in my life that make me smile!  You’ll see why though I chose to talk about music in just a second.

Steamboat Willie, (c) Disney, 1928

I love this picture to the left.  It’s an image that I remember seeing ever since I was little.  In this particular Disney scene, Steamboat Willie is whistling a toon, rocking back and forth, and steering the boat (doing his job).  While only a cartoon, it is a great depiction of what being a happy person looks like at work (although I try to wear a shirt).

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t down days or that I don’t have to focus seriously on the task at hand, but it does mean that when I need it, it’s always there for me to help boost my mood upwards.

The other great thing about having this focus is that when you’re happy and other people can see it in you, it’s contagious.

I’m sure that you’ve heard that ‘a smile is contagious’.   I’ve found this is also true with music.  Music is mainly an outward expression.  Most people I’ve met like some form of music.  And if they hear me humming or whistling or tapping, it isn’t long before I hear them doing the same.  And then I see them smile too.

The other day at work, I was riding down in the elevator and was humming some ditty.  There was another guy on the elevator.  I smiled and said hello as I got on board, but we didn’t say much else during the ride and when we got to the first floor, the door opened and we parted ways.  I went on to the cafeteria to get some food and while I was standing in line I heard someone humming behind me.  I turned around and two people back was the guy that was in the elevator with me.  He nodded and smiled at me as we had that mental connection and understanding that he was continuing on where I had left off.  I nodded and smiled back.  Happiness (and music) is contagious.

At Walmart, respect for the individual is a cultural tenet.  And one of the greatest ways that I know to show my respect for another is to acknowledge their presence in a warm and friendly way.  This means greeting them with a smile, a wave, a wink, or a hello.  When I am happy, this is really really easy to do.  And because I strive to be a cultural ambassador, staying happy and keeping my spirits up is important.

Why is happiness important for leaders? Well, if our function is to inspire, motivate, stimulate, move, and encourage others, then we should be someone that others want to be around.  People generally want to be around happy people – they aren’t emotionally draining like unhappy people.  And they tend to lift the mood of others.  So, it should stand to reason that good leaders should be happy people.  Are you considered a happy person?  How do you show it?

The next time you see me humming in the halls or tapping my fingers during a meeting, you know that I’ve got a song playing and beat grooving in my head.  And where there’s music, there is certainly a smile to follow.

So, my challenge to you is to find your happy focus.  If it’s music like mine, then MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE!  It doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not.  If it makes you happy and makes you smile, then don’t hold it back!  It’s contagious!

Enjoy!

~Jason

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