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Water Cooler

Information and insight about your career and the workplace at large
May 2005

News and Views

Experts say there is a critical difference between what managers and employees believe influences promotions. Employees say it takes the right credentials and the right mentor. Managers say it's leadership skills (which includes risk taking) and a strong work ethic. To keep your career on track, develop your leadership skills (see Toolbox, below, for some advice). At the same time, promote your potential for leadership and career excellence: (1) When you bring a problem to your boss's attention, bring a solution as well. (2) Let your boss know about your successes. (3) Get noticed by undertaking activities that will benefit your company and your customers, by creating relationships with those "higher up," and by being a "good news" person. (4) Realize that it's not necessarily what you do but who knows about it that counts. More tips

How to form a mentoring relationship: "The issue is not forming a strong personal relationship. That's fine if it comes, but the way to form a mentor relationship is to network off your performance. You don't want to be beholden to the mentor and have him control your life—because if something happens to him, you have problems. Choose mentors whom you admire and want to emulate. Look up and down in an organization for a mentor. Examine who seems to know what they're doing, who shows good judgment. Power is nice and it's useful, but in a mentor relationship, judgment is more important than power."— Am-Ex's Ken Chenault Details

Try out your dream job: Vocation Vacations offers one- to three-day work adventures with an expert. You can experiment with being an architect, baker and/or chocolatier, cattle rancher, caterer, cheesemaker, dog daycare owner, golf instructor, TV producer, vintner, and more. Packages include sessions with a career coach. More


More from AmEx's chairman and CEO: To keep your career from self-destructing, develop your leadership skills. "There has always been a focus on the rational aspects of leadership and the intelligence required of leadership. I think it's absolutely essential. But what I have seen in companies throughout my career is that if you are not clear on who you are, on what it is you stand for, and if you don't have strong values, you are going to run your career off a cliff." Chenault says six character traits are essential to being a leader: integrity, courage, being a team player, execution skills, helping others succeed, and being proactive. More

Unfortunate but true: though most workers care about doing a good job, some prefer laziness to leadership. This attitude makes it really hard on team morale. Here's how to deal.

NEW: WaterCooler Professional—The Miniseries

In 2005, "Making It Work for You" evolves to "WC Professional," a miniseries of action steps to being your own mentor. Follow this 12-month plan and by January of 2006, you'll have taken a big step towards being your own best advocate in the workplace.

May: Enhance your leadership potential by enhancing your political capital.

Politics is real and present in every workplace. The good news is that even if you weren't "born savvy," you can learn useful skills that will help you become more politically astute.

The connection between politics and leadership? Both are about influence, getting things done when you're not necessarily in charge, and power, which is more than just a person's position on the organizational chart.

Mary Foley, author of the Bodacious book series, says that the higher up you go, the more things get accomplished by virtue of relationships. It's folly to believe that good work alone will get you recognition. "My supervisors assumed I was going to perform well unless I proved otherwise. What they wanted to know was what else I could offer."

The "what else" factor involved strategizing a plan for the company's future, and promoting herself for all she was worth.

Foley's key lessons for building political capital:

1. Learn to pick your battles.

2. Understand your power base—what you know about the organization, the industry, about behavior in general, your creative ability, the power of the position you hold and the relationships you've nurtured, and your relationship with yourself.

3. Know your strengths, and how you can add value to the organization.

4. Learn the arts of lobbying, compromising, and graceful defeat.

WaterCooler (WC) Personal: The Flip Side—The Counter Example: Be Real

Most people find "playing politics" stressful. Maybe that's because they think they have to be someone other than themselves—someone more sophisticated and manipulative.

Carolyn Porter, D. Div., offers another perspective. Speaker, author, and coach, Porter says the key to staying serene instead of stressed is to "Be real."

Most women don't feel real, Porter says. Instead, they often feel they're living life through someone else's eyes and expectations: a boss, a coworker, clients, customers, spouse or partner, children, and even the media. We're always busy: do more, get more, do more, get more.

One of the first challenges in "being real" is understanding your own power, which stems from the relationship you have with yourself (Foley says the same, and that this is a key to your political power). Porter says most women shrink from this because they either doubt they have power, or they're afraid of the power they do have.

Accepting your own power allows you to make choices that are right for you—on the job and at home, and sometimes in that gray area where the two conflict. It means stopping and listening to that "inner voice"—not the ones that come from outside yourself that tell you to be more, do more, be everything to all people, but the one that tells you what you know to be true for your own good.

For me, that voice has a sense of rootedness, a grit that differs from the other voices that seem more flighty, like kites cut loose from their strings.

Porter says that when we respond to the quiet voice, and let the others go, we let go of stress. Seems to me we also become more centered, and wiser in the process. More able to see a political or leadership challenge for what it is: a gift that can help us grow beyond the situation and become stronger.

It is possible to be both politically savvy and real. The challenge is to navigate those choices in ways that serve our integrity.

If, as Porter recommends, we can also "get out of the way, give up the need to be right, and change our thoughts to change our lives," we will achieve serenity and keep our heads even when, as Kipling said, "all around you are losing theirs."

In the workplace this is a lot like Foley's "learn the art of lobbying, compromise, and graceful defeat."

Acting gracefully contributes to your "carriage," which Foley says often speaks volumes to those in positions to observe and reward your performance.

More on the art of stress-free living is available from Dr. Porter's website.

News Flash

Mentor Me International

Mentor Me is now in Bangladesh, having been adopted in April 2005 as an in-house program, by USAID's Mission Management and Training Committee. Kudos to Pam Anderson, Special Projects Manager, for initiating this program and getting it off the ground. And much success to the program participants!