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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.

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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 January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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