The Problem with Values


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 / 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


"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”

Fired red stamp

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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The Launch of Launch

ee97b218-598e-4af8-babb-55984ac3c7bcBecause Every Path is Different

My colleague Tricia Stone and her co-founder Kurt Wolfgang have started up a business geared to “connect education with the rest of life, starting in high school, and continuing throughout college.”  It’s a terrific and needed idea, and they’re going to be outstanding at this work. Here’s their August newsletter which has lessons for all of […]

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The Colleague: “Eeyore”

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

While not abundant, you can spot them everywhere. They are the sorts of colleagues who turn a ray of sunshine into a warning about skin cancer. In a world of glass half-full or glass half-empty, they manage to always find the latter. It’s as if the coin flip for heads or tails always landed on one […]

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Stay or Jump? The New Boss

My Boss My Hero

  The all-day meeting with the exec staff ended up focused on one point: “What should we tell the new CEO?” Hunch is everyone wants to do well with the new boss. While there is the occasional new CEO that parachutes in, the rumor mill or extensive interview vetting usually gives you an idea who the new […]

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“I’m Not There Anymore”

Pre-School Graduation!!!

It can be surprising – even unsettling – when you bump into someone who has been a pillar of an organization for decades and they mention that “I’m not there anymore.“ That was the case when I bumped into Todd Wanerman at La Rondalla. Todd was one of my son Traylor’s teachers at The Little School, a person so […]

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[Use with Caution] “Some of Us Were Talking…”


There are phrases that bring out smiles and there are strings of words that generate frowns. Here’s one that can do both: “Some of us were talking…” Like other “traffic signal” words and phrases – things like “but” as in “You’ll like it but it might be bumpy” or “just” as in “He’s just another […]

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