Mentoring Basics: Part 4

There is an unspoken code of behavior that exists in mentoring relationships. Unfortunately, since it’s unspoken, both participants in the mentoring relationship, unknowingly and unintentionally, may end up doing the ‘wrong thing.’ All individuals come to a new relationship with different styles of communication, different points of view and different expectations. Working in a new relationship with someone very different from you is a skill. As with any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets. At the very minimum, relationship skills required for mentoring include, showing kindness, practicing patience and flexibility, and conveying a sense of appreciation for the individual’s accomplishments.

To give full credit where it’s due, the previous paragraph was pulled from the website of the National Society of Professional Engineers.  In researching for this post, I came across their webpage on mentoring relationships and the words were perfect for how I wanted to introduce this week’s topic:  Dos and Don’ts of the Mentoring Relationship.

We are in the final stretch now, past relationship initiation and on in to the meat of the relationship.  Quite honestly though, this portion of the relationship is defined by you (the mentor).  Mentorships are just like any other relationship, they’re all different.  And you are going to have to find what works best for you with each mentee.  The best that I can do at this point is provide you with some basic tools for your locker that may help along the way.

As I mentioned, in doing some research – scouring the internet – I came across several recurring themes for successful mentorships.  I’ve distilled them down in to a list of 10 DOs and 10 DON’Ts for Mentors to help on your journey.

DO

  • Be Honest.  As a mentor, you should first and foremost be honest.  This doesn’t give you a license to be overly abrupt, insincere, or brutally forthcoming.  You need to lift your mentee up. It also doesn’t mean that you have to overly sugar coat or be Pollyanna-ish in your delivery.  You are in a rare position to provide an honest and balanced perspective to help your mentee grow and develop.
  • Be Respectful.   Build your relationship on the foundation of mutual respect.  As the mentor, you should set the example.  Respect your mentee; who they are, what they believe, their experiences, and their opinions.
  • Listen.  Do more than just hear the words your mentee says.  Listen and understand what they are communicating.  If you don’t understand, ask questions.  Listening intently allows you to understand so that you can better serve them, but also shows that you are interested and care.  Be in the moment and focus on them.  Remove any unnecessary distractions (e.g., blackberry, email, etc.) from the environment.
  • Encourage and Motivate.  You should lift your mentee up throughout the mentorship.  You are their “go to” for support and encouragement. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest (see above); you should.   However, your words, tone, and support should strengthen and inspire them.  Find ways to motivate them to positive action.
  • Appreciate and Celebrate.  Thank your mentee for their efforts and appreciate them as they take steps towards their goals.  Celebrate the wins, regardless of the size.
  • Guide and Suggest.  Don’t give them all the answers straight away.  Guide them down the path, but let them learn along the way.  Try suggesting action rather than telling them how to do it (e.g., “Have you thought about…?”).  Better yet, ask open-ended questions that allow them to figure out the answer.  They will learn much more.
  • Build Trust.  Throughout your mentorship, you should maintain a relationship built on trust.  You both have to trust each other with the information you share.  Don’t do anything that would make them feel that their trust has been misplaced.  Keep information that your mentee share’s with you confidential and to yourself.
  • Introduce.  Help expand your mentee’s network.  Introduce them to people that they don’t know; especially those outside of their own network and work area.
  • Offer Perspective.  Provide a different or alternate perspective of events or situations. When appropriate, play the devil’s advocate.   Help them see the broader picture.
  • Be Professional.  I saw this tenet in almost every “mentoring tips” site that I visited; therefore I will emphasize the importance by making it the final DO.  Make sure to keep your relationship professional.  Becoming too good of friends can blur your objectivity and judgment, which will make it difficult to be effective.  You also don’t want to cross any other lines that may damage your reputation, integrity, or career.   Keep it professional.

 

DON’T

  • Assume They Know.  Never assume that mentee’s know information, how to act, what to do, or anything else for that matter.  This doesn’t mean to treat them like a child, but it does mean that you shouldn’t make assumptions.  So, ask them if they know.  If they answer with an unconvincing, “Yeah, I know”, have them explain it to you or tell you what they know.  Example:  “Do you understand our ethics policy?  Tell me what you know about it.” 
  • Be Inconsistent.  Don’t be erratic.  There is enough inconsistency in our environment; they don’t need it from you too. They need you to be a stable factor in their life.   Be consistent in the way that you act, hold meetings, and provide direction. Be punctual.  Do what you say you are going to do.  Expect the same out of them.
  • Be Vague. Don’t be ambiguous or veiled with direction.  You want them to learn for themselves, but you don’t want them to see you as wishy-washy, indecisive, or unclear either.  There is a balance to be struck between providing clear direction (when appropriate) and guiding them down the path so that they learn for themselves.
  • Expect a Clone.  Don’t think that they are going to turn out just like you, act like you, react like you, or process information like you.  Let them be them.  It’s okay – you don’t want a mini-me anyway.  You want them to meet the fullness of their potential, not yours.
  • Act on Their Behalf.  Don’t represent them without their knowledge or explicit permission.  Enough said.
  • Be Over Protective.  Don’t shield them from every pain and failure.  You have to let them experience and learn.  Help guide them, but don’t shelter them.  Be there to pick them up and dust them off.  Then motivate them to get back in the game.
  • Be Overly Judgmental.  Don’t judge their beliefs, their values, or experiences.  They are who they are.  Your role may require you to examine their professional behavior, skills and abilities and then make determinations, but don’t mistake that for free reign to criticize everything about them.  When you do need to comment on potentially sensitive areas, do so with caution and care.
  • Talk Negatively.  Don’t talk negatively about other people.  If they do, listen to them and ask them questions to understand further and/or to guide them out of their negativity. 
  • Be Their Supervisor.   You are NOT their supervisor.  So, don’t act like it. 
  • Set a Bad Example.  Uphold the highest standard of integrity and ethics.  Be a role model. Don’t curse.  Don’t talk badly. Don’t gossip.  Don’t complain. Be someone they look up to; not another person at that water cooler. Set a positive example.

 

This list is definitely not all-inclusive, but provides a good base for you to build from.  If you are interested in more tips, you can always search “mentoring tips” or “mentoring dos and don’ts” on the internet.

If you have some additional DOs or DON’Ts that you’ve found valuable and would like to share, please leave a comment on the post so that everyone can benefit from your experience.

In the next post, we will wrap up our series on Mentoring Basics with a discussion about how to handle some of the tough conversations.

Enjoy!

~Jason

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Inspire With Why

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.

In my down time, I really enjoy listening to people that inspire me with intriguing ideas.  TED.com is one of those places where I can always seem to find great inspiring content.

The other night, I came across a presentation by Simon Sinek (author, educator) titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  I found his comments to not only be logical and profound, but applicable to inspiring any audience (e.g., direct reports, team members, customers, etc.).

Sinek believes that if you explain and share why you do something, there is greater loyalty, buy-in, and inspiration as compared to simply communicating what you do.

My favorite statement in the presentation was, “There are leaders and there are those that lead.  Leaders hold a position of power and authority, but those that lead inspire us……we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to.”

The video is 18 minutes long.  I encourage you to listen to the entire presentation as he does a great job communicating his message.  I believe it will change the way that you think about communicating as a leader.

It did for me.

Mentoring Basics: Part 3(c)

We’re past the halfway mark in exploring Mentoring Basics.  This post is the third of three posts on “how to start a mentoring relationship”.

If you’re new to this series, you can start at the beginning by clicking here.

As we’ve discussed in the last two posts, starting a mentoring relationship correctly is nearly as important as the mentorship itself.  And you as the mentor are in the position to ensure it gets started correctly.

In Mentoring Basics: 3(a) we discussed the importance of asking good questions to understand the what’s and why’s behind the potential mentee’s motivations.

In Mentoring Basics: 3(b) we talked about the importance of honestly assessing the answers to the questions and ensuring they line up with where you are and who you are as a mentor.

Asking the questions and assessing the answers should put you in a place where you can make a decision about whether to say ‘yes or no’ to the relationship.

Now, we’re going to talk about HOW to deliver that decision and set expectations in the relationship.

Delivering the Decision

We’ll start with the NO.  This is a delicate conversation as a leader.  No one likes rejection.  And as a leader, you should feel that you have an obligation to lift others up and improve their situation; even if the answer is no.

First, let’s cover where you say it. I suggest finding a place away from others where you two can talk in a more private setting.  This is a tough message and you want to mitigate any potential embarrassment.

Second, let’s talk about what you say.  I would begin by thanking them for considering you.  It should be very humbling for someone to seek you out as a mentor.  Acknowledge and appreciate them for that.  From there, my suggestion is to be very honest.  Since the answer is ‘no’, then tell them why.  Don’t have the time to commit?  Then say so. Don’t think you’re the right fit?  Then say so.  Don’t leave them wondering.

I also suggest that you are very clear in the words you use.  If you aren’t clear with what you say, it may leave room for vague interpretation and them not understanding it’s a ‘no’.  This is similar to nicely ‘ripping the Band-Aid off’.  They should leave the conversation knowing that the answer is ‘no’.

Finally, let’s look at how you say it.  I’m sure that you’ve heard before that HOW you say something is just as important as WHAT you say.  This is one of those situations that this is definitely true. Again, no one likes rejection.  So, the tone and manner in which you convey the message becomes critical.  Be aware of your body language and focus on delivering the message.  Try to find a way to keep the conversation upbeat.

One way to do this is by helping them succeed.  If you say ‘no’, how can you help them find a ‘yes’?  Can you suggest another mentor?  Introduce them?  Suggest another method for them to learn what they want to learn?  Perhaps it’s to not enter in to a formal mentorship, but instead to provide intermittent support, an occasional lunch, and/or be there to ‘bounce things off of’.

Now let’s discuss the YES.  Obviously, this is a much easier discussion.  However, it’s more than just saying yes.  Delivering this answer is similar to the ‘no’.  You should do it in the right place, with the right words, in the right manner.  The big takeaway here is to ensure that the mentee knows it isn’t just “yes and away we go”, but it’s “yes and let’s set some expectations.”

Setting Parameters

Establishing expectations and boundaries is very important at the beginning of a relationship.  The key here is to be very honest with them about your expectations and how you want this relationship to work.

There’s a multitude of potential boundaries and fence posts in a mentoring relationship, but here are some big ones:

  • Set the expectation of key characteristics, for example:
    • openness
    • honesty
    • good work ethic
    • timeliness, punctuality
    • humility
    • reception of feedback
  • Let them know how you operate as a mentor.  What are they in store for?
  • Set the goals of the mentorship and expected outcomes.
  • Set expectations around frequency of meetings or changes to meetings.
  • Set expectations around any additional work you may be giving them (e.g., assignments, accompaniment on work trips, etc.).
  • Be honest that you may have some conversations with their supervisor (if this is the case).
  • Let them know if you are going to need any personal documents (e.g., past evaluations, etc.).
  • Set a time limit on the mentorship.

Again, this is not a complete list, but includes many key expectations that should be discussed or at least considered.

One of the most important expectations that is rarely discussed, is the time limit.  This is one that I personally have failed at many times.  Mainly because I never knew how important it was.  If you don’t set or agree upon a time limit in the beginning, it means that you’re left with an awkward or ambiguous situation in the end where things just tend to dwindle off.  Learn from my past mistakes here, it is better to set this in the beginning than try to deal with it later.

Some of the more successful mentorships that I have been involved with as a mentee have been where a time limit was set.  Specifically, besides eliminating the awkwardness at the end, it told me that I had a specified amount of time to accomplish what I was setting out to do.  And a good mentor will help keep the mentee on track.

If you don’t know how long you should structure a mentorship for, I suggest looking in the 6 month to 1-year range.  It’s long enough to get some big things accomplished, but not too short that you are creating a burden of time on yourself or the mentee.

Getting Off to a Great Start

Between the last three posts, you should have a better understanding of the three key steps in starting a mentoring relationship.

  • Relationship Initiation – asking questions to understand what and why
  • Honest Assessment – understanding and assessing the information you’ve received and how it works with your personal situation
  • Setting Expectations – setting parameters to ensure a productive relationship.

These steps are good tools to put in to your Leader’s Locker that should help set you up for a successful mentoring relationship.  What happens next is the follow through during the course of the relationship.

In the next post, we’ll talk through some key mentoring “do’s and don’ts”.

Enjoy!

~Jason

Do You Get Stuff Done?

Earlier in my career I had the privilege of leading the Emergency Management Department for Walmart Stores, Inc.  My entry in to this role was definitely trial-by-fire and as a young leader at that level, I certainly learned a lot very quickly.

In the first 18 months, we dealt with 7 land-falling hurricanes (including hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the SE Asia Tsunami, and the emergence of Avian Flu (strain H1N1) among many other crises.

We were a developing and growing team and these experiences helped define and shape who we were and how we did business.

Emerging from this first 18 months, we defined a list of 10 key success factors that made us very effective at our jobs.

Numbers 1 through 9 covered important practices like Establishing Priorities, Relationship Building, Effective Communication, Flexibility and Empowerment.  While these were all very important success factors, without Number 10 they meant nothing.

It is Number 10 that I want to focus on in this post.

NUMBER 10

Key success factor Number 10 is Execution.

Execution is the act of carrying something into effect or to completion; achievement.  In plain speak, it’s getting stuff done.

Execution is a key success factor for leaders. 

Back to my example in Emergency Management:  We could plan for disasters all day long.  We could train and practice to our heart’s content.  We could build great relationships with state and federal governments.  However, if we didn’t “do” when the crisis bell rung and take care of our associates, get our operations back up and running, and support our communities, then we wouldn’t have accomplished a thing.  And all the time we spent planning, practicing and building relationships would have been nothing but a waste.

This tenet translates into every job that I’ve been in and at every level.  It could be executing a technology strategy.  It could be launching a new product.  It could be executing a training plan.  The ability to execute is core to leadership.  Leaders lead people to get stuff done.

As a leader, you may execute through others or you may be required to roll up your sleeves and get some of the “dirty work” done yourself.  Regardless, you need to be engaged in ensuring that whatever it is that is supposed to be done is getting done properly.

Depending upon where you lie in the organizational structure, you may think, “I have people that can manage the execution.”  I say this is a slippery slope.  As a leader, you should be in the detail of what is going on.  Yes, you may have a manager, senior manager, or director getting things done for you, but you should be well “in the know” of what is going on and guiding the ship.

Now, every company is different and has different styles of doing things, but my experience is that the more successful leaders are those that are into the details of their business and ensure that things get done.

What does the CEO think?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to listen to my CEO talk about this topic.  He stated affirmatively that “Retail is Detail” (since I work for a retailer) and said that he focuses a great deal of his time on the details of the business.  In fact, he spends about half of his time in what he would call the tactics of the business; talking to customers, talking to suppliers, looking at merchandise, visiting competition, etc.

This was very intriguing to hear as the mantra we tend to hear as we move up in the company is to become MORE strategic and LESS tactical.  He was quick to point out that our culture is about execution and that’s what makes us who we are as a company.  Personally, I would add that it makes us agile.  He went on to say that as a leader, it is important to be strategic, but it’s MORE important to have the ability to execute and get results.

He said that we should be known as the person that “rolls up their sleeves and gets in to the details” and more importantly, gets stuff done.

As I look around, I see some very successful Directors, VPs, and SVPs that can recite with amazing detail and accuracy the performance results of programs, products, stores, markets, and the company overall.  They know the details of their business.  But more importantly, they do something with those details.  As an example, I see them make early morning phone calls to underperforming markets to ascertain why and/or encourage them to do better.  They drive their business.  They execute.  They get results. And they are very good at it.

Are they strategic?  Yes.  But the balance of time that they spend “doing” versus “contemplating and building strategy” weighs more towards the “getting stuff done” side.

Does this mean you don’t have to be strategic as a leader?  No.  You need to be smart about how you get things done, which is why there needs to be balance.  “Doing” without strategy (or thought) often leads to less than desirable results, unachieved potential, or flailing.  It’s the balance of time that you put in to it though.  Back to the CEO and the successful folks mentioned above, they spend some time on strategy, but then spend the majority of time on executing and getting things accomplished.

Remember, if you didn’t execute, you didn’t do anything.

So, what are you known for?  Rolling up your sleeves and getting results?  Do you get stuff done?

Mentoring Basics: Part 3(b)

In our last post on Mentoring Basics, we examined the first of three steps in ‘how to start a mentoring relationship’. Critical here, was gathering information that would help us as potential mentors make a decision to mentor or not to mentor someone.

Now, we’re going to take that information and dive in to the analysis and decision making step, which we’ve termed Honest Assessment.

If you’re joining us at this mid-point in the series, you can start at the beginning by clicking here.

Honesty is critical. Not only in the way that you approach the mentoring of another person, but also in your assessment of the whether or not you are the right person to mentor an individual. Just because someone asks you to be their mentor doesn’t mean that you are the right person for the job.

It is very important that you examine the information you have collected carefully and run it through your honest assessment filter to make a good determination.

Let me give you a work place example.

Sue asks Adam to be her mentor. Adam asks Sue, “what would you like to learn?” Sue tells Adam that she thinks Adam is really strong in merchandising skills and would like to learn that from him. Adam knows deep down that his merchandising skills really aren’t that strong.

Should Adam agree to the mentorship based on Sue’s expressed need? Or should he decline and refer Sue to someone else that may possess the knowledge, skill and experience that she is looking for? Personally, I would say that the latter would be more appropriate in this situation.

We all like it when people look up to us for some reason or another, but if that admiration is based upon misperception is it really us that they admire? Or is it some alternate universe version of us that only exists in their mind? Should you burst the perception bubble? Human nature may be telling you no. I say this is a bridge that you will have to cross personally.

You may be thinking if there is no harm is there a foul? Perhaps there isn’t, but I encourage you to “burst the bubble” if the situation involves someone asking you to teach them a skill that they will be basing future action upon and you clearly don’t have the expertise to lead them down the right path.

So, how do you conduct an Honest Assessment? Here are seven things to consider:

  • Do I have enough information? If not, go back and ask clarifying questions. Don’t be afraid to seek out information from others too (e.g., other former mentors, their supervisor, etc.).
  • Are the goals realistic? This is a tricky one. You have to make a judgment as to whether or not the needs and goals are attainable by this individual in the time frame that they expect to reach them. If they aren’t, then this doesn’t mean that the mentorship shouldn’t occur, it just means that you may need to reset the expectations of the goals and time lines (which we will cover some in the next post). However, if they are dead set on achieving that specific goal (and you don’t think it’s realistic), you may have to say no.
  • Does this person display a desire and capacity to learn? This is an important question, because if the mentee’s heart and mind isn’t in it then the mentorship may be a waste of time. The important thing here is attitude and aptitude.
  • Do I have the knowledge, skills, or experiences to help them achieve their goal? The above example of Sue and Adam fits right in to this question. Do you honestly have what it takes to develop someone in a given area?
  • Is this a mutually beneficial relationship? Mentoring is reciprocal and you should be getting as much from it as you are giving.
  • Am I compatible with this person? This is more important than you may think. While we don’t want a bunch of ‘mini-me’s’ running around and you should consider people that are different than you as mentees, there is the fact of whether or not you will get along, which speaks to how receptive they will be of your input. If you think the relationship is going to be abrasive or adversarial, then you may want to pass.
  • Do I have enough time and energy to devote to this person? Now that you have the information, you should be able to determine if you have the time to devote to this specific individual. This isn’t all about the mentee either, this is about you, your priorities, your workload, your energy level, etc. We’ve talked a lot about “time” as a factor, and that’s because this is one of the greatest fatal flaws of mentorships that often dooms them to failure. So make sure you are honest with yourself about what you can “give”.

Notice how all of these questions are “yes or no”? This should make it easy to assess. If you answer “no” to any of them, then you need to take a really close look at this potential relationship. If you dig further for answers and still get a “no” then you are probably leaning towards a “no” for the mentorship in general.

Now, the application for this rigorous of an examination may lend itself more towards the “official” or even “casual” style of mentoring relationships. Note that if you come up with a “no” for the relationship, that still may mean that you can contribute to this person’s development by answering questions from time to time, being an “ear” or allowing them to bounce an idea off of you.

You may be looking at all of this information and analysis and think, “Good grief, it’s just a mentorship. Do I have to go through all of these steps?” The answer is yes. Why? Because mentorships should be taken seriously. They are an investment in one of our most precious resources: time.

The time that it actually takes you to conduct the assessment may vary. Skilled mentors may have this process down pat and can go through all the steps within minutes. More complex situations may require further analysis. Regardless, take the time you need to make the right decision. It’s okay to tell them, “let me think about it” and give yourself the time you need think and assess. Just make sure you don’t leave them hanging too long.

Now that you have all the information you need and you’ve assessed the situation, you should be prepared to make an informed decision.

HOW you deliver that decision and the next step (setting parameters) will be covered in the next post! Stay tuned!

Enjoy!

~Jason

Learning the Power of Language

Do you want to be a good leader? Then learn to be an effective communicator.

We could fill up many blogs full of posts about how important good communication skills are to being a good leader. And while we may explore some of the other areas of communication in later posts, I’d like to focus our attention on learning the power of language.

So what does this all mean? Why is language important? How does this apply to leadership?

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter

Language is a systemic means of communication by the use of sounds and symbols. It’s the primary vessel of engaging, leading, and interacting with others.

So how do you become a more effective communicator? Here are three tips:

  • Master your primary language.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Learn to say ‘hello’ in multiple languages.

Master Your Primary Language

You may be thinking to yourself, “What are you talking about? I speak English just fine. What do I need to learn?”

There is plenty to learn. Rare are those that are true masters of their language. To master your own primary language means to have a command and understanding of the language well beyond the basics. You need not only understand the meaning of the words, but how and when to use and apply them appropriately.

This is especially true in the work place. In more casual settings (with friends and family), people tend to overlook and forgive poor grammar, spelling, word use, and lack of formality. In the work place, people tend to be less forgiving. Especially in today’s society where documents (including email, texts, and IMs) are legally discoverable, every word used means something, and people tend to be less forgiving if you speak or write incorrectly.

In the last few years, my personal observation has been that devolution of my primary language (English) in the work place has occurred. What is causing this? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Too much reliance on spell check, which leads to misspellings or improper word use.
  • Bleeding over of casual language (e.g., text/IM language) in to formal business communication.
  • Improper word usage, because people are just trying to sound smart.

Now, it may be appropriate at times to use more casual language at work (e.g., on the company IM system or in a more trendy work environment). However, the key is knowing when to use the proper level of formality in a given situation (e.g., contracts – more formal; IM – less formal).

Why is this important to us as leaders? Using the right words properly (written or oral) conveys confidence, poise and intelligence. This doesn’t mean that you need to spout off 5 and 6 syllable words in every sentence. Good leaders know their audience and speak so that their audience can understand them and relate to them. Good communication skills allow leaders to communicate their thoughts effectively, efficiently, and in a way that inspires confidence and trust.

How can you improve your mastery of your primary language? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Identify those areas that you may be challenged (e.g., written communication, verbal communication) and work to refine and improve those areas.
  • Have people proof your communications (e.g., documents, emails, etc.). Learn from what they say.
  • Expand your vocabulary. This doesn’t mean you have to use all the big words you know, just know more words and how to use them.
  • Try not to rely on spell/grammar check. Try to spell correctly the first time. But use spell check before you send written communications.
  • When you speak in front of others (whether one on one or in front of a group) seek feedback afterwards to ensure you were clear.
  • Practice extemporaneous or impromptu speaking. This helps your brain and mouth work better together and faster.
  • Practice being succinct in your speech. Ask someone to ask you questions and have them tell you if you provided enough or not enough information.
  • Learn to speak without verbal pauses (um, uh, like, ah)
  • Read. A lot. The more you consume, the more you know, the easier it is to speak.

You can find many more methods online if you search. The key is to work to improve the way in which you master your primary language to become a more effective communicator.

Learn a Foreign Language

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” -Nelson Mandela

I am a firm believer that speaking in another’s native tongue opens many doors that may otherwise be shut.

Recently, a friend and colleague of mine accepted a senior job in a state government agency. The first piece of advice that I gave him (and the one I hope he follows the most) was to learn Spanish. He serves a population that is highly Hispanic. While I am sure he will be successful, he will be even more successful if he can speak to his constituents in their native tongue. It will endear him to them. It will open many doors.

When I talk to people about other languages, I hear a variety of reasons as to why they don’t know another language ranging from “I’ve forgotten what I learned in high school” to “I just don’t have time to learn.” The fact is, in our multi-cultural, rapidly shrinking world the likelihood of you encountering others that primarily speak another language is very high. And your ability to communicate with them may be critical to your success. You are never too old, too young or too busy to learn another language.

The beauty of learning another language is that you are often not just learning the technical language itself, but you are learning about the cultures that utilize that language, which broadens your perspective and understanding of others.

As a businessperson, speaking, reading, and writing another language (or two, or three) may open many doors of opportunity. Perhaps more trips abroad, an expat assignment, a promotional opportunity or a new job altogether. Often times it is the extras (like language skill) that make the difference between the person that gets the job and the one who doesn’t. I’ve never been in an interview setting or personnel review where language was considered a negative quality.

Working for a multi-national company, I know that I have personally had many opportunities to use my language skills in the work place, both locally and in other countries.

As a leader, the ability to communicate in another language only broadens the dimensions of your leadership skill.

There are many sources to learn from. As an example:

  • Find a friend at work and ask them to teach you
  • Take a college class or local community class
  • Check to see if your workplace offers courses
  • Self-paced courses like Rosetta Stone
  • Podcasts (typically free on iTunes or similar providers)

Then once you learn, practice. Find someone to talk to at work or in the community. Stay brushed up and continue to deepen your knowledge of the language.

Learn to Say ‘Hello’ in Multiple Languages

Hello. Such a simple word, but spoken differently around the globe. This is one of my favorite tips because I find it personally useful and gratifying.

In my travels, I have found that people often appreciate it when you make an attempt to speak in their native language; even if it’s only ‘hello’.

When I used to travel more globally with my company, I made it a point to memorize the words for hello, goodbye, yes, no, and thank you. This was enough to get me by whether in the Czech Republic, Brazil, Germany or China. Similar to ‘learning a foreign language’, it often endeared me to people rather quickly because I was making an attempt.

So why is this important? If you are able to endear yourself to people, you’ll find that barriers are lowered and people are more likely to communicate with you. From a leadership (and business) perspective, this allows you to lead more effectively.

There are tons of great translation resources and applications today (even on your smart phone) that can help you learn these words. However, I usually keep a website saved in my favorites like Freelang.net that give me the full list of ‘hellos’.

One suggestion that I will make is to really try to learn the proper intonation of the word. This really helps with credibility. If you do it right, you may get back a “Ohhh…that sounds really good” from the person you are talking to, which then leads to a much more friendly conversation afterwards.

One of my favorite uses of the ‘multi-language hello’ is at our annual shareholders meeting. Associates from all over the globe come to this event and you can recognize them easily because they are usually all dressed in team shirts and have their country flags with them. I am quick to yell out a “Hola! Bienvenidos!” or “Ohayho Gozaimasu!” or “Bom Dia!” or “Nǐ Hăo!” as they walk by and immediately I get the same in return along with a big smile, hand shake, high five, or sometimes even a hug.

It takes relatively no time at all to learn a few ‘hellos’ and you’ll have them in your locker for when they are needed (and make many friends along the way).

As you can see, there is power in language. So, what can you do to become a more effective communicator?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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