Saturday, September 14, 2019

Week 37: Thanking Work Mentors

Taking Emran, a great leader at Optum, out to breakfast

I never thought about leadership too much until I was promoted to management in 1999 at Sun Microsystems. I'd been a geeky, introverted software developer for the first 17 years of my career and was nervous about getting into a role where "people skills" were so important.

However, now, as I reflect back on my career, I realize how much of a turning point that was for me and how much I've learned about people and relationships since that time.  These lessons in leadership not only helped me in my career, they've helped me in every aspect of my life.

As I was planning my goal list for my 60 until 60 project, I wanted to have a goal that would allow me to personally thank someone from my career who was a role model and so Goal #8 on my list of 60 is:

 Take a work mentor to dinner

This turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought it'd be! I made a list of those managers and leaders who took an interest in my career and influenced me the most. Surprisingly, out of nine people, the only one who now lives in Colorado is Mike Cohn! And while he IS my hero, I know he's on the road constantly, so I really wouldn't want to impose on his personal time when he's home.

I was going to change this goal to "Write a Thank You note" to my work mentors, but then I realized I'd have the opportunity to see Emran, my boss at Optum, when I was visiting MN in August. Emran is so friendly and even had a BBQ at his home when I worked for him, so it didn't feel too awkward to invite him for dinner (though we did end up going to breakfast instead, because of schedules.) It was awesome to catch up with him and get a chance to thank him in person!

I still liked the idea of writing thank you notes to all nine of my mentors... the old fashioned snail mail kind of thank you notes.. but I don't have physical addresses for most of them. At least I have Facebook and LinkedIn connections to them all!

Even though I've only taken Emran out (so far!) I'd like to thank them all here publicly! I hope some day I'll get a chance to see them again and thank them in person. The offer to treat them to a meal is an open invitation and if I can get their addresses, I'll be sending them personal thank you letters!

I wouldn't be the person I am today without the support I felt from each of these leaders. They were people who truly cared about my growth, my career, and me personally. I'm so grateful for them and the role they played in my life.

I know it might seem weird to use the "L" for work people, but you know what? One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the best leaders are those who lead with love. And we love them back.  I get that warm, fuzzy, heart-is-full-of-gratitude feeling when I think about them. So, yes, I LOVE these people!

Hans Bauman - Hans hired me and was my first manager at Sun Microsystems in 1999. At my first review, he gave me one of the best reviews I've ever gotten in my career and promoted me into management. I wasn't sure I'd have the skills to be a good manager, but Hans believed in me.  He was a wonderful role model and I thrived under his leadership. As I said above, this was a turning point in my career.

Ann Bischoff - Ann was my manager during the years I was a QA Manager at Sun. The team of about 20 people I led during those years was probably the closest team I've ever had the pleasure of working with and I'm still good friends with many of them. I give Ann credit for giving me so much autonomy and support every step of the way and guiding me in how to be a strong leader for this high-performing team.

Paul Clip - I wrote about Paul once before on my Happier at Work blog. Paul was a very senior leader at McKesson when I asked him to be my official "mentor."  He helped me through the most difficult time of my career. I'll always remember how he surprised me with flowers and a spa gift certificate at an event that I was facilitating.  He even once surprised me by sending me a phone battery backup when he'd seen that I was without one. I respect his intelligence and his deep caring for others.

Lisa Crispin - I'd been familiar with Lisa Crispin's work before I met her because she literally wrote THE BOOK on Agile Testing! It turned out that Lisa lived in Colorado (she has since moved) and once I became immersed in the world of QA and Agile, I'd see her at several events and user group meetings. I had the pleasure of bringing her on as a contributor at SearchSoftwareQuality, where I was the site editor.  I've always been impressed with how friendly, down-to-earth and humble Lisa is. I blogged about how much I admire her and my next mentor, Mike Cohn, once before.

Mike Cohn - Like Lisa, Mike Cohn lives in Colorado, has written several books and is very well-known in the Agile Community.  He was even named #1 in the list of Most Influential Agile People! In the world of Agile, Mike is FAMOUS! I first got to know Mike personally because I asked for his help when I was writing a guide about User Stories - a topic in which Mike is the ultimate guru. He liked the article and asked if I'd write for his Front Row Agile blog! Wow! What an honor! Since then, we've become Facebook friends and I love Mike's wit and humor. Like Lisa, he is humble and down-to-earth, despite his industry fame.

Emran Bhojowala - Emran (pictured above) was my very cool boss for most of the time I worked at Optum in 2016. Emran has a huge thirst for knowledge and is continually learning. I've always been impressed with Emran's natural friendliness and his authenticity. His big bear hugs when he embraces a friend and the silly songs he sings in the office are just a couple of things that I find so endearing. He has just that right balance of authority and openness to be a respected and strong leader.

Sally Elatta - Sally is another well-known thought-leader who is doing big things in the Agile community. Her company, Agile Transformations, is growing so fast, and she has so much on her plate! However, somehow, she makes time to make every person that she interacts with feel special. I thank my lucky stars for the day she called me personally and asked if I'd be interested in working with ATI on a contract at Mutual of Omaha. Sally leads with love in her heart and exudes warmth and grace.

Beth Schmidt - I feel so lucky that I was able to work under Beth during most of my contract at Mutual of Omaha. I love Beth's sense of spirit and the fun ideas she has to foster great teamwork. As soon as I met her, I felt a kindred connection and I appreciated that she treated me not only like a colleague, but like a friend, from Day 1.

Ryan Fullmer - Ryan and I have worked together as Agile coaches for the past few years. He is very experienced and I continue to learn a lot from him. I admire Ryan's many talents..  his insights and his ability to help others strategize and discover their own answers. We've had many deep discussions and I love that I can debate and look at things from all angles with Ryan. He's a trusted friend and mentor.

My career is winding down, but the lessons I've learned from these people will stay with me throughout the rest of my life.  I want them to know they made a difference. I've often thought about writing a book about Agile leadership... If I do, I ll be writing a lot about what I learned from watching the examples from these people who lead from the heart.

What worked well about this goal:
  • So glad that I was able to physically meet up with Emran to thank him in person
  • It felt good to reflect on my career and to recognize the significance of the people who influenced my career and life
  • This exercise has helped me realize that all the people I most admire and respect are those who lead from the heart -- a concept that I often teach, and feel grateful that I've been able to experience first hand 
  • I love that social media allows me to keep in touch with my mentors!
What could have been better: 
  • I would have preferred to send a personal old-fashioned thank you to everyone individually, rather than a public blog post.  Hopefully, I'll still get a chance to do that!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A little late in my commenting...excellent heartfelt blog. I really hope that somehow all the people you wrote about get an opportunity to read this blog.

Your next career: Retirement...or “Re-Wirement.”