[Life Back West] Winter 2014 – “Thank You”

Thank YOU red grunge vintage seal isolated on white

November was a blur but I came away with one distilled thought: It never hurts to give thanks for thanks.

The good deeds – mitzvahs if you speak Yiddish – directed my way were small to large but net-net, they were all very kind and very terrific.

The unfortunate expectation that some people have is that if you do good for someone else there is a chit, a payback note, that suggests the next favor is due you.

It would be great if karma worked that way but hunch is it doesn’t. The payback just might mean that no one does anything to help you and the real gift is that you figure out how to do something on your own.

In a set of weeks where the blessings were countless ranging from the smaller (a stranger chasing me to return a $20 that dropped out of my pocket) to the larger (a new corporate role as Head of Human Resources with an incredibly talented set of people at a client biotech company), my older sister Claudia’s stint taking care of me post-op with my new right hip (look everyone, combined with the artificial left hip it’s now stereo!).

My sister spent nine days taking time off from her life in Portland to do in San Francisco all the things I would normally have never asked anyone to do; helping get my 12-year old sonTraylor to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon, helping shop and clean house, walking the dog, and making sure that I actually did what I seldom do, take it a little easy.

The joke between us is that I’m the only person buttoned-down enough for her to trust with planning her funeral. The flip side? Claudia is the only person I’d want to help me post-op because her help is really help, not help that ends up adding to your workload.

So while the US Thanksgiving has come and gone, giving thanks really has no season or limit. And while it’s a world where the phrase “let me know if I can help” sometimes means “don’t count on me to go out of my way” – having someone offer help and follow through can be exceptional.

So to my big sister Claudia there’s two words that say it all: thank you.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

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The Problem with Values

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Many organizations proudly tout them. But are value statements worth the time taken to write them? Here are some examples: “Observe and preserve our core values of open communication, empowerment, inclusion, integrity, and trust.” (Cisco) “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” (Boy Scouts of America) “Explore, enjoy and protect the […]

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The Litmus Test: Would Donald Sterling Work Here?

I heard Tim Wise speak yesterday regarding race, gender, and the bagful of what gets summarized as diversity and inclusion. #74716269 / gettyimages.com Wise was forceful, funny and spot-on. Sample lines: “If race is a card (e.g. “race card”) it’s a two of diamonds” and “Some execs like to colorize their organizations the ways Ted Turner […]

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[Mentors Count] Paging Sue Leeson

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"The right mentor can help you get ahead" according to the Boston Globe.

An article in Forbes headlines "To build a great company, start with great mentors."

And the wrong or no mentor? A recipe for more career detours or a life in the slower lane.

I got a chance last weekend at my alma mater Willamette University's terrifically done Alumni Weekend to spend time with one of my college mentors, Susan Leeson.

I met Sue when she was fresh out of grad school from earning her PhD at Claremont, just a very few years after she had graduated from Willamette.

Short on years and experience, Sue was (and is) long on EQ (and IQ) and advising smarts. While mentoring can be trained and developed in people, Sue had clearly done coursework on her own time for all of her life.

After I'd nodded off at one 1 PM Friday 12-person seminar - a class I'd asked to sit in - she observed that I must have a lot going on and asked how I was doing.

After turning in some work that was OK but not great, Sue noted "You can do better" and then talked about ways to meet a bar I'd set myself.

Mentoring is a little like dating - there is no formula for finding a great mentor. And Sue has that touch to nudge and care, prod and nurture.

Post Willamette we lost touch, though I continued to follow Sue's career which led to her going to law school to get a JD, teach law school, serve on the Oregon Court of Appeals and later on the state of Oregon Supreme Court. She now teaches and works as a (much sought-after) mediator; it was sweet to feel that same strong connection we had 40 years ago when we say each other last week at Alumni Weekend.

The Forbes article mentioned above has a very helpful list of things to do - and things to don't - when identifying and working with mentors.

And when you're lucky enough to find people like Sue Leeson, cherish them. They are as precious as rare jewels, and when it comes to your career, more valuable.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Picture: Susan Leeson - James Madison University.

Mentoring is hot, both on college campuses and in the private sector. “The right mentor can help you get ahead” according to the Boston Globe. An article in Forbes headlines “To build a great company, start with great mentors.“ And the wrong or no mentor? A recipe for more career detours or a life in […]

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Why were you fired? “I’m not altogether sure”

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It happens. Out of the blue an exec (or anyone else) gets whacked. Sometimes it’s a clear quantitative reason (e.g. sales goals weren’t met). But many times it’s not. And that not-so-clear can be for a host of reasons frequently including “bad” fit. And at the top, where competence is a given, fit is what what sometimes […]

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[Life Back West] Early Autumn 2014 – The Big Reset

English: Value function in Prospect Theory, dr...

We might sell our Dolores Park area home, a house we’ve lived in for 20 years. But then again, if the price isn’t right, we might not. We might pare down early – accelerating a plan 10 years out – and buy a place in Stanley Saitowitz’ minimalistic 8 Octavia in Hayes Valley. But then again, if […]

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