Friday, 22 July 2016

#Mentoring and #Leadership - How to Find a #Mentor in 3 Steps

I find that one of the things I am asked more often when talking about the role of mentoring in leadership is how to go about finding the right mentor. I believe this is because nowadays people understand the value of mentoring but still find it hard to ask an individual to act as their mentor, possibly because they are worried about rejection or being thought of as time wasters.  

But I also find that these worries are often unfounded as potential mentors tend to be people who love to give back and that is why they attract others as mentees as they naturally inspire and motivate those around them..

 So for those of you looking to enter into a mentoring relationhips, here are some quick and easy tips to follow in order to find the right mentor for your needs.

Step #1   - What do I need a mentor for?
This is the most obvious step and yet often the most overlooked. As in most situations, clarity of thoughts will bring clarity in aims and outcomes.  You can usea simple reflection exercise that I have already introduced in a previous blog to find out and reflect on what a mentoring relationship is going to deliver to you and how and to what extent a mentori s going to improve your leadership skills for the better.  Just so you are not left wondering the reflection exercise simply asks that you answer these 3 questions:

a.       WHAT (do I want)?

b.      SO WHAT (is going to do for me)?

c.       NOW WHAT (am I going to do differently as a result)?

Spending some time answering these questions is going to help you vocalise to your future mentor why the relationship is important and what your expectations are. This in turn will help the mentor clarify whether he or she can deliver on your expectations!

Step #2   - Who do I know that can help?
To answer this question you can make use of any brainstorming tool you may be familiar with, such as mind mapping. Or indeed you can borrow some techniques from stakeholders analysis and draw three circles, each respectively for internal contacts (people in your organisation or in your private friends and family circle),  external contacts (suppliers, organisations or businesses you deal with, clients) and interconnected contacts (such as people in clubs you are member of, whether work or hobbies and interests related, university alumni and so on).

Either you will find that one or two of these people have exactly what you are looking for and thus make ideal mentors for you or you will find that amongst them there are people who know people who can make the perfect mentor for you.

Whatever the case this is an important exercise because it will force you to take stock and think through your network and how you use it.

Step#3 – Approaching and asking
Once you get to step 3 it should be just a matter of asking a simple question, but far from it, people find this final step the biggest hurdle to conquer! Yet do not be mistaken, if that is the case, it means the previous analysis has not been completed with sufficient clarity and depth.

If we assume you have, then you can approach your mentor either by email, face to face or one of the many networking channels at your disposal depending on how many degree of separation there are between yourself and the person . Face to face will always be the best way in my view but if that is not an option as the future mentor is either geographically remote or not a close contact, you can still pop the question virtually!

Always remember to introduce yourself politely, explain why you are approaching them and if they have been recommended by somebody else or they have met you before also explain the circumstances. Ask for a first informal chat or meeting to discuss your needs before expecting them to commit to a full relationship.     Use a little bit of time to build the relationship and see if the chemestry works too.

Once the mentor has agree to a first date, virtual or otherwise, the pathway is open to step up the relationship to a fully fledged mentoring one! At that point the most important rule is to stay committed and agree the way forward as far as meetings’ schedule, length, areas to discuss and so on.

Whatever  you do remember it is mostly up to you, the mentee, to make the relationhip work. If you do, I am certain that you will reap enourmous benefits and enjoyment. Bear in mind that what I have described above is a process to use for informal mentoring, not requiring monetary exchange. Should you decide that you require a professional mentor, you will need to approach the process differently and you can ask me about it directly if interested.

Good luck  with your mentoring efforts, do feedback if you have found this article helpful!

 Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Summer Of #Inspiration...#Women Through The Lens - Rashmi Chopra, Solicitor specialised in Employment Law

For my second feature of #Women through the lens I introduce you to Rashmi Chopra, solicitor and queen of networking. I met Rashmi at a networking event myself and we enjoyed talking to each other so much I asked her to be featured in the series.

1.    Please tell us what you do

I am a solicitor and specialise mainly in the area of Employment law. My practice also includes Education law.

2.    What does a typical day look like?

There is no such thing as a typical day and it varies according to the demands of casework that I have conduct of, and the needs of the work. My tasks range from:
a) attending hearings at the tribunals:
b)  taking instructions from clients;
c)   drafting claims or defences, witness statements and tribunal submissions and letters to the other party;
d) advising on clients’ workplace issues such as disciplinary and grievance matters;
e)    reviewing the merits of the case;
f)     negotiating settlements;
g)    other case management issues such as billing and record-keeping and checking the post;
h)    providing training at seminars;
i)      reviewing and drafting contracts and workplace policies and procedures;;
j)      keeping abreast of my areas of law;
k)    writing blogs for the firm’s website; and
l)      networking.

3. What are the best things and more challenging things about your career?
Employment law if one of fastest changing areas of law due to the impetus from Europe (alas, no longer!). The best thing is when I get a positive financial result for the client either following negotiations or after the conclusion of a hearing.
Challenges I face is clients’ ability to afford legal fees, particularly following a dismissal. The government as introduced a fee paying regime in the Employment tribunals, resulting in a over 70% drop in tribunal claims, nationally, and as such denying people access to justice. Coupled with the fact that in order make a claim for unfair dismissal an employee must have been in employment for a period of 2 years. Issues such as these act as a deterrent to making claims as the legal process is onerous and expensive.

4.    How did you get to where you are today, including qualifications and skill
I was the only girl with three brothers. Being a girl in an Indian family, meant less preferential treatment particularly in relation to being allowed out of the house and do normal things that teenagers do. My father being a mathematics teacher, and fanatical about the subject, I was forced to do mathematical subjects. Other subjects that I excelled in did not matter to him. I gave up my math studies which annoyed my father to no end. This meant that I was ready to be married off.  In order to disencumber from what I saw as an oppressive home environment, I ran away. At first I felt isolated as we had only recently arrived to the UK from Zambia, and did not know many people at the time, but I soon made friends and acquaintances.
I got involved in civil rights issues concerning low paid workers. I was the first ethnic minority woman paid full time trade union officer (field officer for the health service trade union), across all trade unions. So my appointment was a historical one. 
This is what generated my interest in the law, leading me to study as a mature student and began my legal studies at the age of 36. It was the best move I made, even though I had to make personal and financial sacrifices to maintain myself to achieve my goal of qualifying as a solicitor. I was self-motivated and my previous experiences assisted me in being able to grasp legal concepts more easily than my peers. My mature outlook in life made me good communicator.
5.    Your proudest (work) moment

Being appointment as the Chief Assistant Solicitor (Head of Employment Law) at the City of London Corporation gave me a real sense of achievement, in that my hard work, determination and acquiring legal knowledge had paid off. During my tenure I had several successes and received many testimonials from other Directorates.

6. What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?

My advice is to a younger colleague would be to only enter into this field if you are self-motivated and committed to withstand the challenges ahead of them. Hard work and determination pays off.

Friday, 1 July 2016

If #Women Ruled the #World

Today I picked up a local newspaper and found an article about what may happen in 2017.

With Clinton (USA), May (UK), Sturgeon (Scotland) and Merkel (Germany) potentially all in power at the same time and the possibility of a woman being elected as the new United Nations Secretary General, women appear unstoppable and we can only rejoice at that.

What would we ask of them if this possibility came true? Better still, what difference do we think that having a group of powerful females as head of states and powerful institutions would make to the world and the way we live?

As a woman, I believe that the following should be considered as the most important objectives / priorities by females in power and focused on:

1.     Education for all girls
2.     Putting a stop to violence on women
3.     Economic empowerment of women for greater social justice
4.     Greater number of women on boards and generally in senior and influential roles throughout
        the corporate world
5.     Childcare and greater flexible working (to ensure number 4 can actually happen)
6.     Eliminating the gender pay gap.
In terms of expectations, I would suggest that with a greater number of females in power and in senior positions across all sectors of the economy, the following would also happen:

  1. Better communication across countries, people, departments, divisions, companies and the likes.  By better I mean more frequent communication, the breaking down of silos, more open and transparent communication.
  2. Greater collaboration as a result of increased communications. Thus more learning from each other and the removal of cultural and mental barriers that prevent us from sharing.
  3. Increased innovation and creativity in business. This in my experience is critical to stay competitive and ahead of the games but can only happen when barriers are down and honest communication is up.
  4. Upholding values and ensuring business retains its ethic for the community and the greater good. This is not just a moral obligation but makes commercial sense as a large number of women with high disposable income make purchasing decisions and become influencers.
It may be only wishful thinking, but it is clear that as women, consumers, voters and decision makers in and outside the house we have a voice and can make an impact, so we ought to use our voice fully for this picture to become reality.

As it stands, I can only look forward to 2017! But what are your thoughts and wishes on the objectives and priorities? Please contact me with your views or leave your comments below, thank you!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

NEW FEATURE ! A Summer Of #Inspiration...#Women Through The Lens - Lily Sawyer , Photographer and Interior Designer

This week I am launching a new feature in my blog. We all need some inspiration sometimes and there are so many amazing women around, I have decided to feature some that inspire me through their work and simply the way they are. You can find out more about their jobs and their passion by reading their guest blogs which I will publish 2-3 times a month throughout the Summer time.

My first 'woman through the lens' is Lily Sawyer, quite appropriately a photographer and interior designer who recently saw off competition of almost 8000 to end up in the top sixteen of  BBC's  interior designing competition.   

1.Please tell us what you do
I create fine art images that look natural and authentic. Six years lecturing, three children and eight years in professional photography later, I have photographed over 250 families and nearly 100 weddings. What makes me really proud is when my clients are always surprised at how they love images of themselves in the photos I capture of them. 

Newlyweds describe me as a bride's best friend and photo ninja rolled into one as my organised approach helps ensure their wedding day goes smoothly whilst creatively capturing it with them hardly noticing.

When not behind the camera, I love moving furniture around and redecorating my house - I have a love affair with interior design!

2. What does a typical day look like?
Every day is different, but it always starts in the same way: taking the kids to school, home for breakfast and then planning my day. A typical morning will have me doing my business admin jobs - emails, meetings, networking or marketing, writing, blogging, uploading photos and galleries, emailing clients their various links and other bitty jobs. In the afternoon I collect the kids from school and sort them out or take them to various activities before going back to any work that needs finishing. I usually do my editing in the evening where I can have a few hours of peace and quiet and have less distractions. I'm a night owl so I don't mind working late.

3. What are the best things and more challenging things about your career?
Seeing people's delight when they receive their photos is the most rewarding thing about my job. Meeting and exceeding their expectations and making them happy with my service are the reasons why I have lasted this long in such a challenging and over-saturated market. I find the business side of things very challenging and that includes networking and social media. This is because I'm an introvert and don't like talking about myself.
I love the creative side of my job: planning and styling the shoot, editing and deciding on the look and feel of the final images, and "writing" the story in photos. I find these really inspiring and motivating to create beautiful images that hold deep meaning to my clients, images that they will treasure for a very long time to come.

4. How did you get to where you are today, including your qualifications and skills?
I have always been creative but I never planned to be a photographer.  I have a BA (Hons) Fine Art Painting and MA in Fine Art Painting.  I enjoyed 6 years of studying Fine Art but I was under no illusion that getting good jobs as an artist was going to be a walk in the park. I did well in my studies and was able to get lecturing jobs in various universities with the help of a PGCE in Higher Education.
I left to be a full-time mother when I was expecting my second child. But I became a MWAC - mum with a camera - when I had my kids and took hundreds of photos of them, most were not great! To this day my kids are my most difficult "clients" to photograph, but had it not been for them, I would never have thought of becoming a professional photographer!
I got a bit obsessed with photography and photographed everything that moved or di not move. It was through doing this that I realised I'm a people photographer. Eventually, I practised photography on friends' families and weddings and learned by experimenting as well as going on numerous online courses.  To this day I am still learning and enrolled on courses to keep me inspired and to learn new techniques. Learning never stops.
My business started back in 2009 when I first received payment for my photography services. And since then it was an uphill climb trying to establish a business. No longer was it just a hobby and a creative outlet, it had to also bring in money to help with the family income. That took a few years to happen!
One of the most amazing weddings I have photographed was in St. Paul's Cathedral. It is an incredible venue and not everyone can get married there! It was a great privilege.  My work has been featured in various national wedding blogs and a few magazines.

5. What would you recommend to a younger colleague wanting to start her career in your area or sector of expertise?
I would recommend anyone wanting to start a photography business to do these 3 key things:
a. Learn how to use your camera in Manual mode and have a good solid understanding of the exposure triangle. Starting with a sound knowledge of this puts you in good stead as you start your business. Don't make your very basic mistakes with your  paying clients. Never stop learning and invest in educational courses that are right for you and will hone your skills and better your craft. Keep moving forward despite challenges and difficulties.
b. Read up on business and be prepared to face the business side of things square on. This is probably the hardest challenge. It's a completely different beast and I felt like a needed a business degree just to run a very simple business to start with.
c. Start it! Just do it. You don't need to have an extensive portfolio or be perfect at everything. Unless you actually do something about it, it will never happen. Whether that be starting a website, or showing your portfolio on flicker or opening a Facebook page or any other social platform, do something about it. Don't despise small beginnings!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Friday, 10 June 2016

People Of The World Rejoice! A #Woman in the #WhiteHouse Is Nigh!

I would be mad not to celebrate what has ended up being an historical week for women's equality progress. Hillary Clinton is now de-facto the democratic candidate to the White House. I cannot help but pinching myself, I 've got to say it again: By next Christmas a W-O-M-A-N may well be President of the United States (after all of 44 men!) . You've got to see it to believe it and yes, I am seeing it!

This is not a politically motivated blog so I am not entering the Democratic-Republican debate.  What I am saying though is that everyone, absolutely everyone should come together and celebrate that Mrs Clinton has now a serious chance to be elected President of The United States of America. The reasons why this is true are many.  But please let me remind you of a few stats just in case you were skeptical about the reasons to celebrate:

- In the United States 20% of  congress seats are held by women. In the UK latest stats suggest that out of 650 MPs 192 are females.

- In the United States 1 in 5 members of House and Senate are racially diverse and this is considered a huge improvement on the past (after all they have the first ever ethnic minority President...). In the UK apparently only 41 Member of Parliaments define themselves as coming from an ethnical minority background.

- In the US, for every 1$ earned by a man, a woman owns 0.79 cents. In Britain the male-female pay gap considering all employees remains steadily at 19.2%.

Whether Mrs Clinton's personality and style wins your vote or not, what must earn your vote is the relatively simple truth that Hillary stands for a lot of us, not just women, but an entire, diverse slice of society that has been considered everything from a minority to utterly irrelevant. She has waited patiently in line, working hard behind the spotlight for a very long time, to get where she is today. A woman who is also a grandmother, who is possibly less photogenic and less inclined to care about look or age over substance and who as a result is still quite subject to criticism for it.

Now I don't know about you but I suspect that  she might have the blessing of those hundreds of suffragettes, pioneers and 'first-woman-to...' that have come before her.  I also suspect that 2016 notwithstanding she has worked just as hard to be where she is today because, as we see from the stats above, gender equality is far from achieved and there is no place for complacency. But from where she is and going forward, she can now inspire generations of women, older women and younger women, white women and ethnical minorities women, to dream big dreams. What's more, she can possibly also inspire some of society's more diverse men to think that well, if she did it, they can do it too.

So I do not care if you agree with her political agenda; if you think her dress-sense is awful or if you believe she is too old to be in politics. Hillary Clinton is helping society and the human kind take a huge leap forward. Let's rejoice at that!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

3 Actions That Turn Managers Into Leaders

Managers and Leaders: there could not be a more discussed topic! All you need to do is google these two words to see how many thousands of pages are being written in and around them.

The reason, in my opinion, is because true and authentic leadership is very difficult to achieve.

Yet, organisations are asking their managers to think and act like leaders in order to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities that come from the complex world we live in.

Personally I believe that leadership qualities can be developed and nurtured through self-awareness, self-reflection and on-going feedback.

They can be also reinforced through role-modelling and mentoring support. In summary, and to a great extent, they can be learnt.

But where might one start on his or her leadership journey? Which actions are going to provide the greater impact in the shortest of times?

In my opinion, apart from achieving even greater self-awareness, most impactful actions will be those that involve building relationships and achieving the trust of the people around you. For that to happen, few simple steps can make a whole world of difference:

#1 Harness Positive Emotions    

Whoever said that emotions have no place in the workplace has clearly overlooked the impact that expressing positive feelings can have on people. Empathy, laughter, joy, optimism, encouragement are just some of the emotions I am thinking of that can help create a totally different difference workplace experience to the people you manage.  When we open up to these emotions we show our 'human' side and at the same time encourage others to do the same. There is plenty of evidence that happy people are more productive people, thus sharing a joke, celebrating a success or even  a colleague's out of work achievement can make the difference to a team's ability to deliver on a daily, weekly and annual basis. It is not by chance that most successful leaders are also highly emotional intelligent: they know full well that success at work starts (and finishes) with the people who are supposed to execute their vision and they harness positive emotions to motivate and uplift others.

#2 Ask insightful questions

As managers focussing on a task we are required to tell people what to do so that we may achieve that task on time and to budget. But when managers stop telling staff what to do and start asking staff what they thing they should be doing, something quite different begins to happen. All of a sudden the tables are turned and colleagues realise that their opinion matters; that they are trusted to make good decisions; that they are empowered as to what should be short, that they are accountable and have ownership of their work. The impact of this can leave you astounded and certainly as a manager, wondering why you had not done it before. As  a manager you are going to find yourself with a lot more time to focus on the really important tasks. You are also going to find that solutions, different perspectives and new ideas are brought to you on a regular basis, just because other colleagues have been given the opportunity to contribute their own views. So simple yet ever so powerful!    

#3 Invite feedback from others

Feedback is one thing that authentic leaders do well - it remains very important as well as a courageous thing to do because it implies a number of other qualities. More specifically, it means that the manager is willing to listen, reflect and learn from others  which in itself are already leadership attributes!

Feedback matters because it is through feedback that we show a willingness to dig deeper into ourselves, taking a closer look at aspects of our personality and our work, even when this causes discomfort. It also matters because it helps us create a culture of open and transparent communication where nobody or nothing is untouchable. In inviting feedback we also confirm our intent to remain humble and grounded - even though we may sit relatively high in the 'pecking order'.

Above all, by inviting feedback we send an important message to the people around us, that their views matters and that learning is an on-going, never ending process we all need to embrace.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.