Bev’s Tips on Reciprocal Mentoring

Want powerful mentoring?

Make it reciprocal.

The classic concept of a “mentor” is someone who’s older and more experienced.  That idea of a wise, generous senior advisor leading us along a career path is wonderful and soothing, and makes us all want mentoring. But the image is so limited, and so dated.  Here’s what can make mentoring really hum: fostering relationships that are reciprocal. 

I was thinking about the nature of mentoring during a recent long weekend, as I dropped in and out of a three-day conversation between my husband and one of his much younger professional pals.  

Andy Alexander has run an international news operation, won prizes and served a term as Washington Post ombudsman.  Once a classic newspaper guy, these days his work includes consulting, speaking, teaching and fostering media innovation at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication.  

Andy’s mid-20s friend, Ryan Lytle, has racked up an impressive resume as a multi-media expert in just a few years.  An outstanding 2010 Scripps College graduate, today he’s a rising star at, a leading source for news about social media.

Aside from the issues they touched upon, what fascinated me about the interaction between the two men was the way each listened intently and seemed to be learning from the other.  When I asked about it, Ryan said one thing he learns from veterans who grew up in a very different news business is how to build organizations and grow leadership.  Andy said, “Everything I do professionally is about the future of journalism.  And part of being engaged is staying in touch with the people who are creating that future.”

Neither Andy nor Ryan would use the term “mentor” in describing their relationship, and they didn’t think of this as a mentoring discussion.  But they both enjoy and benefit from their talks, despite their age differences and career situations. And their dialogue illustrates the benefits of an emerging concept: reciprocal mentoring, where each partner is both teacher and student. 

Actually, I think even traditional mentoring works both ways when it’s truly successful. At first glance it may seem the mentee benefits the most, getting advice and sometimes even the support of an informed advocate at critical moments.  But when the relationship clicks, the mentor gains just as much. 

Initially the joy of mentoring includes ego strokes.  It’s nice to have someone listen to you, and it can feel good when they follow your advice.  Then, as the relationship grows, the mentee’s questions and feedback can give the mentor a chance to pause and gain a new perspective.  Eventually, the conversation becomes truly two-way, with both partners seeking advice, sharing insights and exploring delicate career questions in an environment of trust.

But, as Andy and Ryan illustrate, there’s no need to wait for mentoring relationships to mature over the years into bilateral dialogues.  Why not seek relationships, or create programs, which from the very beginning are dedicated to reciprocal mentoring?

Initiating a reciprocal mentoring partnership is easiest when both people have strengths and expertise, but in different areas.  These days, when generations have such diverse skills sets, reciprocal mentoring across age groups has immense appeal. Perhaps a Boomer with leadership experience but meager social media skills might be partnered with a Millennial who understands IT and staying connected but doesn’t know how to manage people.

 Whether you want to recruit reciprocal mentors to support your own growth, or are interested in introducing the concept to your organization, here are points to consider:

  • The match is key.  Not every partnership is successful, and it can take a few tries.  Both parties should feel like there’s something to gain, and mentoring works best when both people enjoy the other’s company.  If you’re on the hunt for possible mentors for yourself, whether reciprocal or otherwise, you’re more likely to spot possibilities if you have broad social and professional circles.  So pump up your networking and find groups and activities that allow you to meet new people.  If you want to structure some kind of program, consider using social tools like as part of the matching process.
  • Require commitments.  Sometimes protégés chill their mentoring relationships by taking offense at the very advice they sought.  Partners who ask for guidance or feedback should agree to listen carefully and put aside defensive reactions.  It’s a good idea to set some ground rules at the start of a partnership. Touch upon issues like confidentiality, agree to maintain a positive tone and promise to avoid time wastes, like whining.
  • Identify specific requests. It’s not enough for partners to begin with a vague sense they’d like some career help.  Each partner should enter the process with clear ideas about issues to explore and forms of assistance that would be welcome.  Later, when the relationship is successfully launched, it might grow in surprising directions.
  • Consider logistics.  It’s great if you find a mentor in your neighborhood and can meet over coffee or lunch.  But what if you go through your professional or alumni group and find an ideal partner who lives across the country?  Explore options like phone calls, Skype or social media chats, and set a schedule that’s comfortable and convenient for both of you.

If you are looking for way to get started, think about your college alumni groups.  One way Andy and Ryan are reaching across professional generations is through their active participation in the Scripps alumni network.  

New media guru Ryan Lytle, Scripps College of Communication, Class of 2010.

New media guru Ryan Lytle, Scripps College of Communication, Class of 2010.


Journalist Andy Alexander, 2013 Ohio University Commencement Speaker, and Scripps College Class of 1972.

Journalist Andy Alexander, 2013 Ohio University Commencement Speaker, and Scripps College Class of 1972.


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

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Habits & Time Creases

In a recent move, I noticed that two longstanding habits were being performed intermittently, and I was curious what was wrong.  These habits related to exercise, were well established, and I was having trouble understanding why they weren’t getting done.

When I noticed what was happening, I realized that in moving, the habits’ normal time of performance was interrupted by the change in time zone,  and a new pattern of sleeping and staying up somewhat later.  As a result the habits lost their time crease, that time slot when they can be done routinely without interruption from other activities or habits.  Earlier in designing the habits, the habits had been inserted into time slots or creases where they could be reliably performed, but in moving, those creases were interrupted.

Once understanding the problem, it was a pretty straightforward matter to examine where new creases existed and insert the habits there; this reflection follow by action restored the habits to regular routine performance.  

Designing and establishing habits is a multifaceted business, but my recent move reminded me how important finding a viable time crease can be to a habit’s establishment and regular performance.

Revisiting “Up the Organization”

up-the-organizationFor the writing of  the forthcoming book (2014) “A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey” I was reflecting on the management and leadership influences in my life, and I had almost forgotten about Robert Townsend’s little book, Up the Organization.  I went onto Kindle and ordered it (here), reread it, and renewed my acquaintance with an old friend.  

In its day, the book was almost singlehandedly responsible for popularizing Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y (here).  Here’s part of what he says in the section on People:

Get to know your people. What they do well, what they enjoy doing, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and what they want and need to get from their job. And then try to create an organization around your people, not jam your people into those organization-chart rectangles. The only excuse for organization is to maximize the chance that each one, working with others, will get for growth in his job.You can’t motivate people. That door is locked from the inside. You can create a climate in which most of your people will motivate themselves to help the company reach its objectives. Like it or not, the only practical act is to adoptTheory Y assumptions and get going. It isn’t easy,

Townsend, Robert C.; Bennis, Warren (2011-01-06). Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits (J-B Warren Bennis Series) (Kindle Locations 1425-1430). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Yes, in places it is dated, but there is an authenticity and an energy the book emits that makes it worth a read today (here).   

Scarce Time versus Creating Time


In working as a coach, a topic that comes up frequently with clients is time. It comes up in different guises and claims.  “I don’t have enough time to spend doing X,” where X may be something at work, a hobby, a project.  “I don’t have enough to spend with Y,” where Y is a loved one, a relative, a friend, a new acquaintance.  Oftentimes there is a request from the client to work on “time management” skills so the “scarce” resource of time can be managed, prioritized, and allocated to things that matter more.  In the past, I have often approached the move to the skill development of conventional time management with some caution as it often has seemed that there was something much deeper at stake for client; thinking of time as a scarce resource that can only be allocated can mislead clients that this is their primary (only?) option. A book recommended to me by a client helped put this into clearer perspective.  

Marney Makridakis’s delightful book, Creating Time (here)makes the point that time is as much about perception and framing as the passage of hands on a clock.  The book is divided into three sections.  The first section explores time as something that can be treated subjectively and creatively, not necessarily objectively.  The third section considers applying the book’s lessons in real life.  The second section is, for me, the real meat of the book, and it creatively reframes time in 7 different ways:

  1. Flow time
  2. Gratitude time
  3. Love time
  4. Ritual time
  5. Stillness time
  6. Visualization time
  7. Permission time

Each of these perspectives is valuable.  If only one of these is helpful to you in thinking about your days, weeks, months, and years differently, it will be worth the price of admission.  Give Creating Time a scan here


4 Reasons Universities Don’t Invest in Organizational Development & Why They Now Should

An Engineer in OD/HR Wonderland

When I took training as a leadership coach at Georgetown University, many of my colleagues in cohort 30 were in human resources (HR) or organizational development (OD).  As I had just resigned my tenure as an engineering professor at the University of Illinois, learning amidst these people was disorienting on at least two fronts.  First, engineering is more technology and thing oriented and HR/OD is more people and organization oriented, and routine discussion of social, emotional, and personal matters in a classroom setting seemed a bit weird.  Second, my colleagues all belonged to organizations that believed in the importance of investment, staff, and concerted effort to improve their organizations & I had belonged to an organization that invested almost nothing in its improvement as an organization.  I had expected the first of these going in, but the starkness of the significant investment that many if not most organizations make in themselves as organizations was bracing when compared to the almost non-existent expenditure of universities in this area.

And as I have continued to reflect on this contrast, I remain more than a bit puzzled.  Organizations in the private sector understandably grasp the importance of organizational excellence and think of it as an investment that delivers a reasonable return, and expenditures are calibrated accordingly on such things as leadership development, teamwork training and facilitation, executive coaching, and so forth.  Many of my Georgetown colleagues were attached to or consultants to organizations in the Federal government, and even there, substantial sums were expended to improve organizational effectiveness in the alphabet soup of Washington, DC.  Why was it that my university–for that matter, almost all universities–spend so little on developing their organizations qua organizations? 

4 Reasons Universities Don’t Invest in OD

As I thought about this point, I was puzzled, but in thinking about it, there are a number of reasons why universities have not invested in organizational development to this point:

University life has been stable for a long time. Universities go back to the University of Bologna founded in 1088.  Although universities have changed over the years, they have been quite stable, and traditional governance and structure have appeared to serve the institutions for a quite a long time.

The university has been viewed as an assembly of experts. Over that period of time, the university has been viewed largely as a loose assembly of  quasi-independent experts.  Yes, departmental specialization was a relatively recent invention of the 19th century, and specialization intensified around the time of World War 2, but professors have been hired for their academic excellence and expertise for nearly 10 centuries.  The primary tool of “development” of the university is sabbatical, and each of the experts is supposed to renew him or herself professional several times over the course of their academic career, but no team or institutional development takes place among faculty, by and large.

Faculty members would resist OD methods if they were introduced.  Elsewhere (here), I have written about how universities may actually retard faculty development, and if this is so, fairly early stage faculty would tend to resist OD methods if they were introduced.  In engineering, for example, hard-core “rigorous” engineering professors would reject methods coming from less technical fields as being too soft or “not rigorous” regardless how much they were needed or useful.  It is reasonable to imagine that other disciplinary experts would reject out-of-discipline expertise out of hand (except for HR/OD faculty members perhaps).  

Universities are not led and managed, they are administered and governed.  And the language that we use surrounding the university is interesting. Professors and the university require governance and administration, not management and leadership.  In coaching, we distinguish between administration, management, and leadership as a distinction between past, present, and future.  Those selected to take a place in the university hierarchy are called “administrators” and their job is to bring forth a somewhat smoother version of the past going forward. Faculty members expect to be involved in “governing” the university through committee work and quasi-democratic process.  To accept OD methods in the university is tacit admission that the university needs leadership and management and to risk diminishing faculty voice in governance. 

This helps us understand why organizational development is not being used in universities, and interestingly, the list also helps us understand why OD is needed, badly and now.

The Times They Are a Changin’

bob_dylan_by_daniel_kramer1Although universities have not used organizational development methods because of their stability, their nature as an assembly of experts, resistance from faculty members in early stages of adult development, and because of their leadership structure and culture, universities now face exogenous forces that flips the logic of previous times.  This blog has written about each of the matters, and so we simply summarize the counterpoint to each of the 4 points of the previous section:

  1. MOOCs & the democratization of research are destabilizing a 10-century consensus of the nature of the university.
  2. The notion of expertise is under attack in the classroom and the laboratory. Returns to expertise are diminishing rapidly.
  3. Faculty members need exactly the kinds of deep development and coaching that OD methods can bring to the organization and to individuals within it.
  4. If the notion of a residential university is to survive, it needs more leadership and management, less administration, and reforms to permit innovation and maintain faculty governance, both.

As such, I predict that organizational development methods and coaching will increase in usage as these forces are faced.  Bringing OD to the university without provoking a faculty reaction requires sensitivity to the culture of the university, an understanding of the importance of faculty governance, and a respect for the traditions of the faculty and the university.  ThreeJoy Associates brings those things to its work.  Write me at to understand ways in which these methods may be helpful in promoting innovation and effective change in your organization.  

Bev’s Tips on Compliments

 To keep the compliments coming

learn to accept them gracefully.

I grew up believing the proper way to respond to a compliment was with modesty.  If somebody said, “What a pretty dress,” my response was something like, “Oh, this cheap old thing?”

When I was a young lawyer, if I worked long hours on a tough memo and a partner said, “You did a nice job,” I was inclined to answer in the same way.  I’d belittle my efforts by saying something like, “No big deal” or, “It was really a team effort.”

My typical response was wrong in so many ways.  For one thing, it reframed the partner’s assessment of the quality of my work.  Instead of reading my mind and understanding that I’d struggled hard to produce a first class draft, the partner would tend to take me at my word and recall the project as not a big deal.

Beyond that, when I deflected a compliment I drained the energy from what should have been a positive moment.  When the partner offered kind words, I made him feel a little bit bad, instead of a little better.   And I denied myself the benefits which a compliment can bring.

It wasn’t until I became a manager myself that I understood how the compliment exchange should go.  To your brain, receiving a compliment is a reward, like a little cash, and research suggests that you perform even better after accepting a reward.  So your first step after hearing a compliment is to pause for an instant, and get the full value of the moment.

When you do open your mouth to respond, you have two goals: to reinforce the positive evaluation that led to the compliment, and at the same time to make the giver feel good. Here are suggestions for accepting compliments on your work:

  • Say “thanks.”    Begin your response by saying “thank you.”  And sound like you mean it.  Even if a little voice in your head says, “I don’t deserve it,” or, “He doesn’t mean it,” ignore your doubt.  Smile and express appreciation for the compliment.
  • Show your pleasure at a job well done.  It’s not immodest to acknowledge satisfaction with good work.  After saying “thanks,” you might add a brief phrase like, “I’m proud of this one,” or “I’m so pleased that I could help.”
  • Share the credit.  Although you don’t want to deny your contribution, you don’t want to hog the limelight, either.  If it truly was a team effort, share the praise. Add a simple comment like, “I couldn’t have done it without Tom – he was terrific.”
  • Return the compliment.  You can prolong the nice moment by offering a compliment in return.  Say something like, “Your good advice made such a difference.”  But this only works if your words are sincere.  Fake praise can be just another way of deflecting a compliment.
  • Keep it short. When the compliment exchange goes on too long it can become uncomfortable.  If the flow of praise feels unending, it’s OK to turn it off with a light comment like, “Aw shucks.  That’s enough now.  You’re making me blush.”
  • Manage your “impostor syndrome.”  Sometimes high achievers find it extremely difficult to hear praise, believing they don’t really deserve it.  If you feel like an imposter, and not really good enough to deserve such kind words, ignore your discomfort and accept the compliment gracefully.  Then try these easy techniques for learning to be comfortable when your work gets rave reviews.


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

Follow Bev on Twitter. Connect with Bev on LinkedIn.


Bev’s Tips on How to bounce back when they say “no”


Hit by professional rejection?

Try these tips for handling it.


A highly qualified professional went after his dream job. “Paul” has a solid record of extraordinary career success and he was confident about being the winning candidate.  Then he felt devastated when he didn’t get the job.  Paul wrote me about the intensity of his reaction. 

“I hate how this news makes me feel,” Paul said. “Not only did I miss out on a job that I really wanted, but the company hired someone against whom I stacked up very well.” 

“Aside from frustration and sadness, I also have second-order emotions regarding this decision,” Paul said. “Namely, I’m angry at myself for feeling sad and frustrated. These aren’t becoming emotions of a gentleman, and certainly I know rationally that they aren’t the ‘right way’ to deal with rejection.” 

That was a couple of months ago and Paul is feeling much better. He suggested that his struggles and our dialogue about career rejection might be useful to others trying to get over a career disappointment.  These tips helped Paul, and we hope they might help you in handling career rejection:

  • Know that pain is normal.  As someone who has read a lot of history, Paul realized that all great leaders faced setbacks on their paths to glory.  But that knowledge didn’t help him feel better.  He was embarrassed about experiencing such pain from something that happens to everyone. “I understand your frustration and the other emotions swirling around,” I said to Paul.  “This is a normal passage for all high achievers.  Everybody gets rejected eventually and the pain is tougher when you are not used to it.”  Knowing it’s OK to feel bad was helpful to Paul, and he chose to let go of those secondary emotions, like guilt for feeling grief.
  • Write about your pain.  A useful way of dealing with pain is to examine it.  When you carefully notice details about your pain, you start to feel some distance from it.  I suggested that Paul take notes about his pain.  I asked him, “What does it feel like to be sad and frustrated? Describe your feelings precisely? Where do you feel stress in your body?  What are your repetitive thoughts?  Are you making it worse by projecting what this blow means for the future?”
  • Share with your inner circle.  A key to Paul’s rapid recovery is the support he received from his partner and a few close friends.  “I found it really helpful just to share my anxieties with them because good friends who know you well can help you maintain perspective,” he said.
  • Understand what you lost.  When you face professional rejection, some of your sadness is a sense of loss because you don’t have the opportunity you sought.  But sometimes people feel awful about not getting a job they didn’t even care about.   They like winning and feel rejected whether or not they wanted the prize.  It may help you refocus on the future if you can be specifically identity what really hurt.  Are you mostly concerned about the opportunity, the prestige or the money?  The more clearly you understand the cause of your disappointment, the better you will be at articulating and looking toward your next goals.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.  One of the best antidotes for negative emotion is gratitude.  Research has demonstrated that when you feel grateful the part of your brain associated with anxiety quiets down.  You can pull yourself out of a bad place by focusing on the things in your life and career that are going well.  A useful exercise is to take a few minutes at the end of every day to write about five aspects of your work life for which you’re grateful.
  • Be gracious in defeat.  While Paul was honest about how he felt with a trusted few, for most of the world he put on his game face and avoided any show of disappointment.  That worked out well for him, and one of the executives involved in the negative decision helped make a connection that led to a job that’s an even better fit.

In the depth of his despair, Paul asked, “What’s the silver lining here?”  One answer is that you can learn how to navigate career transitions, and overcoming setbacks is part of the learning process.  And, I said, “now that you finally have this big disappointment out of the way, you’ll start to build up antibodies for the next time, like with chicken pox.”


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

Follow Bev on Twitter. Connect with Bev on LinkedIn.


Bev’s Tips on Stiletto Networks


Hey, women professionals:

Want career synchronicity?

Network with other women!

“Synchronicity” is the term psychologist Karl Jung coined to describe those times when meaningful coincidences seem to bring you what you need. When synchronistic events pile up, Jung said, it’s as though you’re being supported by an unseen helper.

I can roughly graph the times in my career when synchronicity was in full flow.  From my early job as Ohio University’s director of women’s affairs, through my years as a Washington lawyer, lobbyist and executive, to my decade as coach and consultant, I’ve enjoyed periods of peak synchronicity. In these times opportunities abound, resources appear when I need them, and life feels abundant. 

I also can create another graph of my 40+ career years.  This one measures the intensity of my networking with other women.  If I compare the two lines – one for career synchronicity and the other for Old Girl networking – they seem to match.  My graphs illustrate that the most exciting, productive years aren’t necessarily the ones when I’ve worked the hardest or been the most disciplined.  What often seems to trigger the times of great flow is the energy I put into networking, particularly with other women.

Journalist Pamela Ryckman started noticing women of all ages harnessing the power of a new breed of professional networks.  Intrigued by the trend, she began writing about a wide mix of women’s dining clubs and other groups, particularly in New York and California.  She followed the trail to more cities and the result is her new book, Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business.

“I started to discover dinner groups and salons and coworking and networking circles in major cities across the United States,” Ryckman says.  “In almost every case, the women thought they were alone in assembling clusters of dear, smart girlfriends who met regularly to learn and share.”  But in fact there are so many groups it’s starting to look like a movement.

I don’t think the phenomenon of women’s support circles is as new as Ryckman suggests, but I enjoyed her description of how the tide of female power groups is rising.  “They talk nonstop about business.  And while their companies span the industries – from finance to real estate to fashion to art – they’re almost all Web-based.” But “it’s not like they’re all work and no play…Never has the Women’s Movement felt less like a jaundiced faction and more like a party.”

Tens of thousands of professional women are meeting regularly, reaching across generational and institutional lines, and sharing information, advice and contacts.  And the energy and excitement they share seems contagious.  Ryckman describes woman after woman whose career takes off, with one synchronistic opportunity after another, as a result of her Stiletto Network.

It’s worth noting that these groups are not anti-man.  “Networks are meant to extend one’s scope, not restrict it,” Ryckman says.  “Savvy gals may unite on occasion, but they don’t cut themselves off from the dudes.” Women want to help each other build rich networks, including with powerful men.

The circles exist to provide peer-to-peer support and don’t welcome just anybody.  Some mentioned by Ryckman have membership policies sounding perhaps too much like the restrictive clubs that served the Old Boy Network.  “For Stiletto Networks to be relevant and desirable, they must be rooted in shared experience and true sympathy – which means they must have some form of exclusivity.”

What makes the new groups particularly interesting is the absence of hierarchy and emphasis on collaboration across industries and skills sets.  “The horizontal networks women have built over time just happen to be the same networks society now wants and needs,” Ryckman says. They are about being “collegial, collaborative, checking your ego at the door, and trying to work on solutions.”

The circles are so varied that your experience may not align with Ryckman’s account of how the women’s network works.  But if you’re a woman, I bet her book will make you want to start a group, or tweak the one you already love so it can foster even more career synchronicity. 

Ryckman’s tips for starting a Stiletto Network include:

  • Think diversity.  Don’t just round up your best buddies. Draw women with diverse skills, in different fields.
  • Believe in magic.  Don’t worry much about the goals or agendas.  “If you get dynamic ladies talking or walking or drinking, exciting things will happen.”
  • Use technology to facilitate.  After the event, share information and continue the conversation through email and social media.
  • Systemize “asks and offers.”  Women may have trouble asking for help.  A process for making requests or offering assistance makes groups more effective.

If you’re part of a Stiletto Network, or want to create one, I’d love to hear about it.


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

Follow Bev on Twitter. Connect with Bev on LinkedIn.


Bev’s Tips on strengthening your career by building your leadership brand

Strengthen your future career by

 building your leadership brand now


Want to start today to prepare for success later?  Be methodical about creating a stronger brand. 

Your brand both shapes and influences how people the talk about you, how they evaluate you, and their willingness to trust you.  It says something not only about who you truly are but also about what others think you can accomplish. 

A good way to prepare for both challenges and opportunities is to build your brand as a leader.  Your reputation as a leader begins long before you are managing a team or holding a fancy title.  Even if you’re a solopreneur or a junior staffer, you can be known as a leader.  You’re showing leadership any time you spot a problem, create a plan to solve it, and then execute your plan.

Your leadership brand sets you apart from the competition.  In part, it’s based on your special strengths and accomplishments – the way you actually solve problems.  Beyond that, it reflects the personal qualities other people see in you – their expectations about your problem-solving and other abilities.

To build your leadership brand, identify the personal qualities you want to be known for.  Then take steps to develop and display those qualities.  This process can help you define and build your brand:

Step one:  create your leadership vision.

A simple way to create a vision of the kind of leader you want to be is to list the personal qualities you’d like to be known for. 

To start, identify the personal qualities that matter most to you.  These steps can help you craft a list of leadership characteristics that feels authentic:

  • Notice consumer brands you love.  Think of several brands you trust and would recommend to a friend.  For each one ask yourself: what makes this brand great?  For example, I am a Starbucks fan, although their coffee isn’t my favorite.  What I love is that Starbucks is reliable, friendly and generous with perks like WIFI and comfortable seating.  So I would add qualities like consistency, friendliness and generosity to my list.  Consider which brand qualities you want reflected in your reputation as a leader.
  • Think about leaders you admire.  List five leaders who have influenced you, whether they were teachers, colleagues or historic figures.  Then list their important personal characteristics. Here are words and phrases many people use in describing leaders they admire:
    • Positive
    • Energetic
    • Supportive and empowering of others
    • Self aware
    • Reliable
    • Organized
    • Always learning and growing

        Consider which of these descriptors you want to add to your brand.

  • Ask what would feel good.  Imagine several colleagues are talking about the quality of your work and the kind of contributions you’re making on a project.  What would you like to hear them saying about you?  Add those words to your list.

Step two: study your list. 

When you have a list of the leadership qualities you want to be known for, post it in a conspicuous place. And carry around a copy.  Look at your list frequently, including each morning. When you’re faced with a challenge or decision, study your list and see if these qualities might simplify a decision or inspire action. 

One technique I like is imagining what I’d be like if I did possess all the qualities on my list.  I summon up a mental picture of a sort of UberBev, much stronger and wiser than the Bev I see in the mirror.  And when I’m faced with a tough decision, or maybe I’m just feeling lazy, I ask: what would UberBev do?

Step three: practice acting this way

A key to building your brand is practicing the attitudes and behaviors that will earn the reputation you want.  If you’re working on a few characteristics, try a flavor-of-the month approach.   Go to your calendar for the rest of the year and note a characteristic that will be your theme for each month.  Let’s say, if it’s May you’ll work on reliability.  Write “be reliable” on your May calendar in whatever way works best for you. 

Now here’s the most important part. Think of a specific behaviorial change that could demonstrate and bolster the characteristic of the month.  And take at least one step a day to create that change, perhaps in the form of a new habit.

I client I’ll call John heard in a 360 review process that his colleagues didn’t feel they could count on him.  They liked him and admired his creativity, but were annoyed by his tendency to lose track of the time.  “You never know if John will show up,” someone said.

Understanding that his reputation could be blocking his way to a promotion, John wanted to become known as a guy you can rely on.  He decided that for one month he’d attend every staff meeting and arrive at each meeting on time, as a way to demonstrate reliability.

Because tracking performance helps turn a new behavior into a habit, John created a log. He noted each meeting scheduled in the month, whether or not he attended it, and if he was on time. If he was late he said by how many minutes.

 At the end of the month John felt he’d made progress but was still struggling to organize himself to get to meetings.  So he expanded the log, creating room for comments on why he was late or unable to attend, and how he handled the situation so the team wouldn’t be inconvenienced. After a few more months John was comfortable with his new patterns and felt people were taking him more seriously.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about  building new habits.


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

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Bev’s Tips on Looking for needs, as you seek your next act

 Gen. Robert E. Lee,

higher ed innovator,

 inspires encore careers

Has the tumultuous job market got you fretting about what to do next?  You’re not alone.  And among the folks wondering about their next career are millions of Baby Boomers.  Many don’t plan on early retirement, but they worry age discrimination or technological shifts might block their way to a new phase. 

Now me, I’m an optimist.  Not only have I weathered several reinventions, but through my work as an executive coach I have a close-up view of people finding satisfying second and third acts.  I was contemplating the new phenomenon of encore careers a few months ago, when we visited Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.  

As I mused, we wandered into the lovely Lee Chapel & Museum, where we saw the office in which Gen. Robert E. Lee actually worked during his last years.  It struck me that encore careers aren’t all that new, and Gen. Lee is a fine example of how reinvention is possible no matter how badly your current career may endAfter suffering an extraordinary defeat, Lee became a peacetime visionary and stimulated the reform of American higher education.

Just 20 weeks after surrendering at Appomattox, Lee was inaugurated as president of Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia.  As Charles Bracelen Flood describes in his moving book, Lee, The Last Years, the general had hesitated for several weeks about whether to accept the job.  He didn’t know whether his health could stand the strain.  He hated aspects of the role, like fund-raising and public speaking.  And he thought he still might be charged with treason.

The college was a shambles, emerging from the war years with no money, buildings still occupied by Federal troops, and only about 40 students.  Lee didn’t take the job because it seemed like a promising opportunity.  What moved him to sign on was his understanding of a larger mission.

 In urging Lee to accept the job, the college trustees had appealed to his sense of duty, arguing that the future of the former Confederate States of America depended on its ability to train its young men. On the day after his inauguration, Lee wrote, “I think the South requires the aid of her sons now more than at any period in her history.”

So within months after his crushing defeat as the general in command of all Confederate forces, Lee looked to the future and launched his encore career.  In the last five years of his life, he revitalized and reorganized the College that, after his death, would be renamed “Washington and Lee University.”  Moving beyond the traditional approach to higher education, he envisioned a program of “practical education” that would train young men to rebuild the South.  An innovator who knew how to recognize and implement others’ good ideas, Lee redesigned curriculum and introduced new fields of study, like business and journalism.

Lee’s achievements in higher education influenced universities throughout the nation.  At the same time, he became a model of how to accept defeat.  Lee’s extraordinary career transition, following crushing defeat, exemplifies one of the most important attributes of resilient careerists: When one path leads to a dead end, they dig deep, focus on a big goal, and start taking steps.

Encore career lessons from Gen. Lee:

  • Don’t obsess about the past.  Instead of giving in to sorrow about all that was lost, within weeks after Appomattox Lee shifted his focus to the future.  Flood says: “To a Confederate widow who was expressing hatred for the North, he said, ‘Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the government of the United States.  Remember, we are all one country now.  Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans.’”
  • Look for a way to make a difference:  Lee didn’t set out to win personal kudos as an educator.  He looked around the post-War South and saw a pressing need: a new generation of engineers, manufacturers, journalists and others with the skills to rebuild the economy.  If you’re contemplating an encore career, think about the issues that really get your juices flowing.  Is there some way you can contribute to change, and make the world a better place at the same time you earn an income?  (For more on creating an encore career with social impact, visit
  • Connect with others.  Lee knew he needed help to rebuild the college, and he quickly reached out to friends and even strangers throughout the United States.  His first big supporter was Chicago inventor Cyrus H. McCormick, who sent a check for $10,000.


Bev at the entrance of Lee Chapel, Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, December 2012.

Bev at the entrance of Lee Chapel, Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, December 2012.


Bev’s Tips have been arriving as a zine on Tuesday mornings about 20 times a year since 2004. For more Tips, sign up for the zine, go to the zine archive or visit Bev’s blog. We’d love to hear your comments here on, or email Bev at:

Follow Bev on Twitter. Connect with Bev on LinkedIn.