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Mentoring is more challenging than ever

Most professionals still are working remotely and will be for the foreseeable future. This makes mentoring relationships more challenging. You can have phone calls or Zoom calls with a mentor or accountability partner, but mentoring relationships grow from forging a relationship based on knowing each other. Getting to know each other is harder to do by phone or Zoom unless that close relationship already existed. Even then, it’s not as good as being able to spend time together in person.

All of this makes beginning new mentoring relationships more challenging because it’s easier to build the relationship and trust through meeting in person, which then can be supplemented by phone calls or other manners of communication. This doesn’t mean solid new mentoring relationships can’t happen without meeting in person, it just means it is harder.

Imagine you switch jobs now. You are coming into a new company. Maybe it even has a formal mentoring program to help integrate new employees into the company and its culture. It’s much more difficult when you are sitting in your home office than if you are at the company’s actual office.

This is because the basis of the mentor mentee relationship is trust. Trust may be assumed at first, but it really is earned over time. The better the level of trust, the more both parties to a mentoring relationship gain. If you are in a mentoring relationship and it isn’t helping your professional growth, it may not be a good fit or maybe it has run its course. Your hope should be that by participating in such a relationship, you both evolve in many ways that benefit you in the long run.

So, depending on where you are professionally or in life, it always is a good time seek out a mentoring relationship. It will help if you are doing so now to acknowledge it may be more difficult or take longer to forge the bond that really allows such relationships to grow and flourish. But I challenge you to do so and look to play an important role in another’s story.

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Be relentless about continuous improvement

This is part of my firm’s culture. We have a fundamental that says: Be a lifetime learner and continually invest in your own education, both formally and informally. Be curious and never stop improving your legal, technical, and personal skills. Embrace change. Look for a better way.

No matter your role, you are constantly learning and change is constant. You should strive to learn and adapt to and embrace change. Part of this is realizing and accepting that you don’t know everything, there always is more to learn, and that change is happening whether you want it to or not.

William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” He is right because there is no way to fill up your brain with too much learning or new information. There always is room for more. On Wikipedia, lifelong learning is defined as “is the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”

Note that lifetime learning is voluntary and requires self-motivation. When we were younger and in school, the motivators were teachers and parents. As adults, we may have similar figures in our lives pushing us to continuously improve, but many people don’t. This is why being a lifetime learner requires self-motivation. You should challenge yourself to always be learning. In our world it could be learning about a change in the law or maybe you want to learn to paint. Whatever it is you should follow the muse because it will improve the quality of your professional or personal life.

Another part of this fundamental includes embracing change. As Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” This is true and your attitude towards change makes a difference. When change happens you either are influencing the change or not. If not, you likely will feel out of control and like you are being dragged along by the change. To avoid this, you need to be pro-active. This may require you to acknowledge your fears and take action anyway. It is okay to be scared of change, but don’t let that stop you. If it does, change will happen anyway, but without you being in the driver’s seat.

Someone named David Mann explains it well in a few minute video: https://youtu.be/Vae0Cm_VFI8. He explains that change happens and you can see it as a disruption or an opportunity. I urge you to view change as an opportunity. It could be an opportunity to learn or to improve yourself or your surroundings. Many times you don’t know where the change is going to lead you, but wherever it is will be better if you are pro-active and face it head on.

As we head into a new year, it’s a great time to be pro-active about the change you want to drive in your life. Instead of making a resolution and hoping you follow through, you should make smart goals related to whatever you want to learn or change. The point is to take control of your evolution, because with change being constant, so is your evolution as a person. Be the driver of your life, not the passenger.

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Show gratitude always

We are a few days out from Thanksgiving. In thinking about writing about being thankful or gratitude, I thought back to a post from last November. I can’t say it better, so here is my annual blog for the week of Thanksgiving.

This is a good time of year to think of gratitude generally and what you are thankful for specifically. At the same time, it’s a great time of year to spread good feelings, which you can do by letting others know when you appreciate something they have done for you.

Those of you who have younger children (or older ones…) know that you end up reminding them to say “thank you” all of the time. That is because thanking someone or showing gratitude is a learned behavior. If it came naturally or from observing others we wouldn’t have to teach children to do so.

Hopefully you remember to thank people as appropriate in your daily life. In my day, this can be thanking someone holding the door for me when I get to my office, for holding the elevator for me, or for making a pot of hot water so I can have tea and get that needed caffeine injection upon arriving for work. Many of these situations are universal to all of us, but I notice when I hold a door for someone and they walk through without saying anything.

Of course, if you go through your day looking for when people should be thanking you, you likely will be disappointed. Instead, I think about how I want to come across to others, as well as ways I don’t want to come across to others.

We all have bad days, but most days we should recognize when thanking someone is proper and appropriate. Plus, it has the added bonus of making you or the other person feel good, making it a great way to go through life.

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Dream Focused

I have an old t-shirt from a concert I attended years ago. On the back it says “dream focused.” I hadn’t worn it in a while, but happened to pull it out this week. At the same time, I received an email from a friend who said I need to write about the power of dreaming. Coincidence? I say inspiration!

Dreaming is powerful. Whether as a child or now, dreaming can take you to another place, or place you on a path towards a goal. It involves curiosity. It also can be hard to do in the daily grind of life where we spend little time without someone or something (think cell phone, tablet, computer) in front of our face. When this happens the time to dream is lost.

I think that some of the best ideas or plans I come up with alone or with my wife happen when we are out of town. We generally are disconnected and have time to think of things not involving work, kids, or other daily concerns; our minds are free.

Once you free your mind, you may well find your body following. It could be to a new job or to start a business. It could be to change how you parent or deal with a troubled family member.

It’s a matter of being able to step back and have perspective. Of course this can happen while you are slogging through your everyday life, but it’s less likely. It also doesn’t mean you need to go out of the country or do a cave in the woods. You can create the space needed to dream and let your mind be free from routine in your home or hometown, but then you have to be intentional to do so.

Maybe you need to go on a hike but not listen to a podcast or listen to background music you won’t pay specific attention to (I used to do this with long jams by the Grateful Dead or Phish, but that’s another story). The idea is to create the space for your mind to drift and thoughts to come and go until you latch onto something that intrigues you.

Dreaming is important and powerful, and opens you up to opportunity. So dream big and then focus on how you move towards your dream coming true.

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Clean up your own mess

If you spill, don’t just stand there, because you need to clean it up. Don’t expect or wait for others to clean up for you. This correlates with taking responsibility when you create a mess; don’t blame others for issues you cause or expect them to clean them up for you.

This was brought home to me this morning by a mess I made. I was in a hospital waiting room and spilled a large cup of tea. As the puddle of caffeine spread across the floor, causing many people to lift their feet up onto seats, I was, of course, horrified. I jumped up and started looking for paper towels to start cleaning up. A nurse told me not to worry about it. She had called maintenance, but I did find some paper towels and cleaned up as much as I could by the time the maintenance person showed up.

I had the choice to clean up my own mess or not. I had back up with the maintenance person coming, but, to me, it doesn’t feel right sitting by in such a situation. I certainly made the maintenance person’s job easier even though she may not have noticed. But this was about me doing what I think is right.

In business, we all cause messes that need to be cleaned up. I believe in taking the same approach and cleaning up what I can. It doesn’t mean you don’t let others help you, but it sure shows better to your team if they know you don’t expect them to do so without your help.

Of course, messes in our business and personal lives can be much messier than the spill I caused. This means it will take more effort and time to clean them up. The more effort you put into doing so, the better. It will help you resolve the mess as much as possible and reflect well on you at the same time.

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Follow through is a double edged sword

People are fast to commit, but then what? Some do exactly what they say they will. They email or call the next day. Others don’t.

This leads to two quick thoughts: (1) some people are organized and follow up and (2) some people are disorganized and don’t. I think there is a third thought that has to be acknowledged: many people say they will follow up when they have no intention of doing so. It’s the flip side to people making offers or telling people to follow up with them when they don’t mean it.

I have been thinking about this and have come up with my own rules for making offers and following up. If you took the time to think through these ideas you may like the idea of having similar rules, or not. My rules are:

1. Only make genuine and intentional offers.

2. Don’t say you will follow up or show interest unless your response is genuine.

3. If you make an offer and the person doesn’t follow up, note it and move forward without them.

4. If someone makes you an offer, follow up.

If you are challenged by organization, use tools such as calendar reminders or organization apps on your phone to prompt you to follow up.

The point is to be intentional in your actions. It also is to be genuine. It will save you and others time, which is our most valuable commodity.

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Don’t be a poor winner or loser

Despite the participation medals or trophies our kids get for seemingly every activity or sport, in most everything in life there are winners and losers. This obviously includes in business. The baseline is easily a business surviving versus a business failing. If you speak with someone whose business is going to fail, they don’t want a pat on the back or to be told “good try.” They wanted to win.

Of course we all lose. When you lose, how do you react? Do you get upset? Do you blame others? Or do you take responsibility for your part in the loss, if any? I ask because I am used to seeing people make excuses.

Conversely, how do you act when you win? Do you gloat? Do you put down whoever lost? Or are you complementary to the person who lost?

In what I do there are winners and losers all of the time. It could relate to a motion being considered by a court or at trial. No attorney can win them all. And there can be real excuses because we are hemmed in by the facts in each case and the law that applies. The excuses I have heard over the years for these types of losses are many, such as “the judge made a mistake” or “the jury just didn’t like my client,” etc. The list goes on and on.

When I have lost I chalk it up to experience and try to look back on what I can learn. I also try to be a graceful loser, where it makes sense and is appropriate. When I communicate a loss to a client, such as when a court issues a ruling months after a hearing or trial, I make sure to do it in person or on the phone, and not by email or text. I don’t make excuses. Doing so never helps the situation and is not how I would want to come across.

When I win, I am, of course, happy. Who isn’t? But I also maintain a professional decorum with any opposing attorney or party. I save the celebration for my client and the attorneys I have worked with on my side of the case.

Knowing how to win and lose is important. It contributes to how people view you and your reputation in your community. Next time you win, or lose, think what you want your reputation to be and let it guide you to acting accordingly.

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Luck v. Skill

I really like the podcast How I Built This, on which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs about the businesses they have built. At the end of most of the interviews he asks each entrepreneur how much of their success they attribute to luck and how much they attribute to skill. The answers can be interesting, but it always makes me apply the same question to my business and those of my clients. Since first listening to that podcast in the last few years I have been known to pose the same question to my clients and professional contacts.

For me, and for most of the people I have asked, I believe it’s a combination of both. I include timing as part of luck, because most times there is nothing you can pin a chance meeting or conversation on.

An example is when, many years ago, I interviewed at a law firm where a partner there asked me for references. In addition to asking for the usual type of references we generally know will say how great we are – otherwise why would we be using those people as references? – they asked for an adverse reference. I never had been asked that question and thought of an attorney who had been very complementary after being adverse to me in my first trial. The end result was that the formerly adverse attorney, after giving me a great adverse reference, asked me to come work at the firm where she was then employed. I accepted that offer.

If Law Firm A hadn’t asked for an adverse reference I never would have had the opportunity with Law Firm B. Additionally, the timing of this occurring was at a point in time when Law Firm B was interested in hiring someone with my background and skills.

Without those skills, the serendipitous timing wouldn’t have mattered. My skills allowed the opportunity to advance to a job offer and to succeed in that new position.

The point is that business and life are an amazing combination of luck and skill. You need to take the time to hone your skills in you chosen line of work. As you move forward you need to be open to luck and timing. This could be a job opportunity like I had, or a chance connection with a new client with really interesting work for you to do.

If any of you have a great story on the intersection of luck and skill, I would like to hear about it.

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Show Appreciation

We previously established that your success rests on the shoulders of all who have lifted you up through your journey. This includes all who assisted you, taught you, mentored you, the person who told you how to navigate the corporate bureaucracy, told who you needed to know, who introduced you to who you needed to know. You get the idea. People like this exist throughout your career. The names and faces change, but without them you do not go as far or experience as much success.

Remember to thank these people. Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you did sometimes. It never is too late. Never. Most people are not helping you seeking your thanks and appreciation. But showing appreciation is abut you and who you are. Make sure those who were there for you know how you feel, that you appreciate what they have done for you. I know one woman who still thanks a mentor from years and years ago in writing once a year and every time they speak. That is how its done!

It is up to you to choose how to show appreciation. Know your audience. Some people will appreciate a handwritten note or letter. Others will appreciate a text or email, though these really are too informal for the types of people and assistance I am talking about. I think you should err on the side of caution and make your thanks take a form more formal than you think it needs to be. You can never go wrong when you do so.

Sometimes you will want to include a gift. If you think you might need to, you need to. Make it something thoughtful. A book you like (and think the person will too). A bottle of wine. Flowers. If you are not sure, ask someone who knows the person’s interests. If you don’t know someone who does, again err on the side of caution and use what you know about them to make the best choice you can. But try not to over do it. It is not about the cost, but the thought.

The one thing you don’t want to do is forgot to thank those you should. When you do, they will remember. They will mention it to others, which in turn will enhance your reputation as one who cares and appreciates others, thereby continuing to lift you higher on their shoulders. And while you are being lifted on their shoulders, they are being lifted by those who have helped them, completing the circle that results in a pyramid of people lifting each other up continuously through time. This kind of appreciation and courtesy is what helps make your world the type of environment in which you want to live.

 

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Why you need to learn about BYOD

Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “What is BYOD and why do I need to learn about it?” The answer is because it is 2015 and each of us is carrying around a computer in the form of a phone in our pocket or purse, not to mention all of the iPads, Surfaces, laptops, etc. So what exactly is BYOD?

BYOD is the acronym for “bring your own device”, which refers to employees who bring their own computing devices into their workplace. This is an issue for a lot of reasons, and is important to both employers and employees. The issues include whether personal devices can connect to an employer’s secure network, an employer’s confidential information or trade secrets leaving the workplace on a device or whether employees’ devices are subject to search by the employer, let alone being remotely wiped (erased) to prevent sensitive information from potentially being lost or used improperly. If you are an employer, do you know what type of devices your employees bring to work and how they are using them? If you are an employee, do you know whether your employer has a BYOD policy, what it says and what your rights and obligations are under that policy?

Because of these issues, BYOD policies by employers are becoming quite common. Employers need to decide whether to implement a BYOD policy and their options in setting the terms of such a policy. Employees need to understand their rights and the rights of their employer under those policies. The options on how to deal with these issues vary, and what makes sense depends on the type and size of a business.

If you haven’t heard of BYOD before now, you will continue to hear about it in the future. And you will want to know about it no matter what side of the equation you are on to understand your rights, responsibilities and obligations.

So, for the first time in this blog, I have what I will refer to as a shameless self-promotion: My partner Laura Rogal and I will be speaking on BYOD issues at the Apple Store, Biltmore (https://www.apple.com/retail/biltmore/) at 8:00 a.m. on October 28, 2015. And please feel free to forward this invitation (BYOD Event 10-28-15) to anyone you think may be interested.

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