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Selfish Mentoring

Selfish Mentoring

One of my favorite themes in the MWA coaching curriculum is something we refer to as the ‘selfish mentoring of ‘imi ola.’

‘Imi ola is the Hawaiian value of personal vision; it literally translates to ‘seek life’ and as a business value, we use it to coach managers on how to seek their best possible lives in business.

Don’t get stuck on the normally negative connotation of the word; selfishness in this context is a very good thing.

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When you have the goal of ‘imi ola, and creating the best possible life for yourself, Selfish Mentoring is training and coaching one’s apparent successor or team of direct reports to do everything you can do in your present sphere of influence. They rise to higher expectations while enjoying the fruits of those efforts, thereby releasing you – freeing you – to create higher, or simply different expectations for yourself. Selfish Mentoring is a win-win concept in which everyone benefits; you, those you mentor, and whatever you are managing as a whole.

Win: You—You achieve a freedom from those things you may now have to do, because you’re the only one capable of doing them, or the only one fully trusted to do them. You claim your time as your own again, for your own planning, and your own choices.

Win-Win: Those you mentor—Once they enjoy a higher level of trust from you and from others in the organization, their self-confidence soars, and they start to set higher goals for themselves. When they take the next step and duplicate the behavior you’re now modeling, they begin to mentor others so they too can be more productive, on their own terms.

Win-Win-Win: Whatever you, and they, manage—No one is indispensable, and nothing is sacred. Everyone sees they can learn ‘what the boss knows’ and seize opportunity when they accept coaching. Process and systemic options and contingencies increase. Shared decision-making increases. With more alternatives to choose from, and more people trusted to make the necessary decisions, operations rarely stall and they become more nimble.

Another way to think of this, is that all birds fly, not just leader birds. You are teaching your baby birds to fly from your nest without you, and when they do, you’re able to take some solo flights of your own imagining because your babysitting days are over. In fact, their new flights create fresh wind under your wings; you could fly the coop completely, leaving it for them to redecorate as they wish to when they get back.

In starting our coaching on Selfish Mentoring, we take a look at the babysitting our managers do.

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  1. Print out your calendar from the last 7-10 days, including a capture of the weekend. Do an honest assessment of what you did in someone else’s plan because you felt you had little choice. Big candidates for this are meetings and events you had to attend because it was felt that no one else could satisfactorily represent you; YOU didn’t feel it was that great a use of your time, however others felt you had to be there, and so you were. If you’re honest, the most you got out of it was a very short term boost to the ‘ol ego, and that glow is now long gone.
  2. Now write down some names. Who could have taken your place because learning to would be a win for them? Why do you feel they are great candidates for this? (This is mentoring, not dumping.)
  3. Next write down what they need to know (you may simply need to open access to more information) or need to learn (skills and/or knowledge) so that next time the same situation comes up, they can take your place. Empathize; think of ‘imi ola, and determine how this jump into your sphere of influence will be of benefit to them. You are drafting their coaching plan.
  4. Set up a time to meet with them, tell them what you have in mind, and secure their agreement. (Mentoring is something people want, not something imposed on them.) Coach them in goal-setting: Seek to raise the bar, not just pass the torch.
  5. Commence training and coaching.

Once they learn what they need to, get out of their way and let them fly. Soon you can figure out where to book your next flight.

For more on ‘Imi ola, take the links in this index on Managing with Aloha.

Post Author:
Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business. She fervently believes that work can inspire, and that great managers and leaders can change our lives for the better. You can also visit her on www.managingwithaloha.com. Rosa writes for Lifehack.org to freely offer her coaching to those of us who aspire to be greater than we are, for she also believes in us. Writing on What Great Managers Do is one of her favorite topics.

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Last year at this time, Rosa had written: Let’s talk LOVE at work: 9 Views.

More by this author

Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on June 12, 2019

Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

Top 10 Ways to Lead More Effectively with Humor

Humor and laughter provide so many rewards. Studies have shown 20 seconds of laughter yield the same benefits as 3 minutes of hard rowing. A Robert Half International study reported 84% of executives believe a worker with a good sense of humor does a better job. Incorporating humor more effectively in the workplace allows you to defuse difficult situations, reduce stress, create attention for new ideas, build rapport, and be a more approachable and memorable leader.

With those benefits, it behooves you to hone your workplace comedic skills. So in the tradition of David Letterman, here are the top 10 ways to more effectively lead with humor!

#10. Look for Joy in Life

An important step is continually looking for joy throughout your life. This happens in a variety of ways:

  • Focus less on yourself and more on helping others. Need help? Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the classic by Dale Carnegie.
  • Laugh more – kids reportedly laugh 400 times per day vs. 15 times for adults. Aim for laughing 40 times daily to be at least 10% of your former self!
  • Regularly read humorous comic strips and look for quips and funny comments in your reading.
  • Even in challenging situations, hunt for something funny or humorous you can take away.

#9. Learn What Makes You Laugh

If you’re trying to laugh 40 times daily, it’s important to know what makes you laugh and have ready access to laugh-provokers. Figure out 107 things which make you laugh. Unrealistic? Hardly! Why 107? Because 107 is funnier than 100! Here’s a recipe for listing what makes you laugh by simply identifying:

  • 13 Movies
  • 11 TV Shows
  • 5 Words or Phrases
  • 19 Personal Stories
  • 5 Cartoons
  • 7 Audio or Video Pieces
  • 11 Comedians
  • 7 TV Personalities
  • 7 Funny Photos
  • 7 People You Know
  • 15 of Anything Else
  • TOTAL = 107 Funny Things

Collect & save these humor starters in a “Smile File” when you quickly need a laugh or comedic inspiration.

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#8. Use Your Own Comedic Material

Personal experiences are the most genuine humor sources for effective leadership. Look for humor in situations from your own life:

  • Funny things you have said or others have said to you
  • Pratfalls, be they mental, interpersonal, & physical
  • Embarrassing moments or unexpected happenings
  • Times of change or learning
  • Difficult life events (yes, even these can be humor sources)

When turning personal situations into comedic material, remember lessons learned from a childhood humor staple: Knock-Knock Jokes. These simple jokes work because the knock-knock structure highlights familiar situations, uses only essential words and phrases, and clearly signals a laughing opportunity. They also demonstrate how humor springs from surprise. The laughs come from not knowing who or what exactly is behind the door based on the initial response to “Who’s there?”

#7. Adapt Somebody Else’s Material

Beyond your own experiences, there’s a tradition of “borrowing & adapting” (I didn’t say stealing) funny stuff from others. That’s why old-time comedian Milton Berle was called the “Thief of Bad Gags.”

Part of borrowing successfully is using easily accessible humor sources in ways many don’t consider. Beyond simply Googling “funny” in front of quotes, one-liners, definitions, pictures, or videos, here are two other common sources you can adapt:

  • Cartoons – You can use cartoons in various ways by showing one in a presentation, telling the cartoon’s story (potentially making yourself a character) without any images, or using its punch line as a starting point for new humor.
  • Comedians – Mainstream comedians’ jokes or catch phrases are another source to modify and adapt to your personality or work situation. Watch lots of comedians and learn how professionals do it so well.

#6. Understand Your Audience

Using humor in a leadership position requires understanding boundaries on its proper use. It all starts with really understanding your audience by:

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  • Paying attention to top management’s attitudes toward humor.
  • Knowing the audience’s composition – this directly affects which humor types are appropriate.
  • Loving your audience as much or more than you poke fun at them.
  • Inviting others into humor since you can’t assume they share your same humor sensibilities.

In case you’re contemplating using ad lib humor, completely knowing your audience is even more vital. Ad-libs have the potential for going horribly wrong because audience sensibilities have been misjudged. It’s very beneficial to actually plan and rehearse ad libs. It may sound odd, but identify common work situations you encounter and think through what usually goes wrong or provides a source for potential humor. Work out some “safe” funny comebacks to use as “planned” ad libs.

#5. Know the Rules and Boundaries

There are blatant humor no-no’s in the workplace which are quite acceptable for an onstage comedian. At work, avoid harmful practical jokes or pranks, heavily sarcastic comments, and humor rooted in religious, sexual, ethnic, or racial themes. Think you know your work setting well enough to tread on this dangerous ground? Here’s some advice: DON’T. The way questionable humor will be perceived by a workplace audience is too much of an unknown to take big risks when your career is at stake.

Use this checkpoint to actually see if your intended workplace humor is SAFE. To pass the SAFE test, all of these statements need to be true regarding your joke, comment, or image:

  • I can Say/Show this to my mother.
  • It wouldn’t Anger me if I were the butt of the joke.
  • This wouldn’t trigger an FCC violation
  • Everyone in the audience will be able to get it.

With even a hint of one false answer, dramatically modify your idea or better yet, abandon it and start over.

#4. Get over Yourself

Effective leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re comfortable laughing at themselves and letting others be funny as well. Leaders should become adept at appropriately using self-deprecating humor, i.e., self-directed humor downplaying your own talents, stature, or accomplishments

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You don’t want to use self-deprecating humor on simply any topic, however. It’s most effectively & appropriately used in:

  • Situations where you’re comfortable & self-confident
  • Areas where your credibility & competence are clearly established
  • Ways that fit your known personality & sensibilities

Remember – when trying to borrow someone else’s self-deprecating humor, you need to share that person’s perspective & situation. If not, it’s simply deprecating! I once heard a decidedly non-technical Marketing VP call out “data geeks” in the audience. While that’s what they called themselves, she wasn’t a part of their group, and her comment, intended to build affiliation, fell completely flat.

#3. Need Humor Ideas? Just Look Around

The workplace is filled with situations lending themselves to comedy. Humor springs from exaggeration, wordplay, misunderstandings, ambiguity, contradictions, paradoxes, pain, and inconsistencies. If you work in any type of business or organizational setting, there are plenty of these situations to go around!

As a leader, it’s your role to use the proper opptunities to encourage and employ humor successfully by ensuring that:

  • Your humor makes others feel good about themselves.
  • Hurtful fun isn’t made of those less tenured than you in the organization.
  • You don’t use humor when agitated since it can lead to apparent meanness.

#2. Surround Yourself with Joy

If you’re looking for more joy and levity in leadership, surround yourself with joyful people. These are people who are funny, easily spur laughter, and routinely cheer people up through their presence.

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Cultivate relationships with these types of people. Spend time with them, learn from their successful uses of humor, and emulate elements of their approaches that work for you.

Beyond basking in the joy these people create, select 3 or 4 of them to be an informal comedy team. As your comedy team, solicit their opinions to help you generate and refine humor ideas. They can also provide perspectives on potentially questionable humor material that makes it through the SAFE test, but still feels like it might not be right for a workplace audience.

#1. Dive into the Fun

Ultimately, the most important part of successfully using humor as a leader is actually sharing it in the workplace. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind:

  • Practice your humor in appropriate, low-risk settings to find out what works before trying it out with a bigger audience.
  • Signal a laughing opportunity through your words, actions, and tone. It’s also a good practice to give people “permission” to laugh in the workplace.
  • Finally, be earnest in using humor; don’t focus on laughs so much as lightening and adding fun into work settings.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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