Unearth "the Dream": Mentor like Michelangelo

Unearth "the Dream": Mentor like Michelangelo

I remembered this moment while reading Johnson and Ridley's book, The Elements of Mentoring. In Behaviour #4, "Unearth the Dream," they argue it's our role as mentors to recognize the sculpture - the Dream - is already within our mentees, waiting to be uncovered.

be real: communicating authentically at home and work

How do you create a situation where being authentic and being in service are one and the same?

How do you create a situation where being authentic and being in service are one and the same?

How much effort does it take you to go from who you are at home to who you are at work? Imagine if you used the language of your office at home?

A lazy Sunday morning, spring sunlight slanting through the window. The warm scratch of vinyl and coffee being poured...

"Hey babe, did you hear back from Carissa and Dave about brunch next weekend?"

"Hi Anna, I hope you're having a meaningful start to your week. Thanks for following up."

"So…did you hear back? You said you'd text them."

"I've taken your request back to our team to ensure we're providing you with the most up to date information."

"Our team? Baby what are you… did you even text them like I asked?"

"We've recently implemented a new form to process inquiries like yours so we can best align resources against existing priorities."

"Babe…*deep breath*…can we pause? I'm not feeling like you're hearing me right now."

"Thanks for your feedback — it really helps us continually improve. Let us know if you have any further input or questions."

"Why are you being so weird right now!?"

"FYI, I've also copied my mother to keep her updated on progress in the concept stage of Project Grandparents, so she can provide feedback on our workback schedule if needed."

Or the language of your relationship at the office?!

The optimism of commerce manifesting in the caffeinated banter of Millennials entering their open concept workplace. The rain song of Slack messages sopping over laptop keyboards...

"Good morning, darling. How did you sleep?"

"Um, hi Morgan… I’m fine?"

"You don't sound fine. What's wrong?"

"Uh, yeah, just working away here on this report, thanks."

"Do you want to do it together? I can help."

"I've actually just got to get this done before our meeting with our boss this afternoon, so..."

"Wait - why do we have to bring Carmen into everything?"

"Well, like we discussed at the huddle, she took this off your plate so you could focus on all the data entry from our last intake."

"Right. So what you're doing is so much more important, is that it?

"Morgan, we all agreed this was the best way to hit our target before the quarterly report is due. We're all doing our part."

"You're just not getting it. It doesn't feel like you want to listen."

*Sigh* "Look…do you want to check in with her so we're all extra-clear?"

"No, I want to feel connected to you! Or is that too much to ask?"

*Puts in headphones*

Obviously this isn't how we interact with our partners, personal or professional (unless you're that guy.) However, if we can have a little fun then we can realize opportunities to bring the best of both worlds. The same empathy we (hopefully) employ at home can inspire the human vulnerability we need in order to take meaningful risks at work. Similarly, how might your partner respond if you brought just a little more of that single-minded customer focus that score you such high ratings at work? 

Compartmentalizing our lives into one and the other is becoming a thing of the past; our deeper work is being of service no matter where we are. When we transcend this story of binaries and enter a middle ground, we show up with more love, purpose and authenticity in our lives. This strengthens our rapport with our partners, and creates more effective and effortless partnerships.

Book a discovery session to explore how you can show up more effortlessly and authentically in your partnerships.

Strength Training as Self Compassion

Why do you work out?

Last year, fitness was an 88 billion dollar industry. Our society is more focused on health and wellness than ever before, and even I’ve joined in. A short, high-intensity workout to start the day was a game-changer, helping me feel more awake, more mentally and socially engaged, and more physically fit and functional. But it wasn’t until I made a mistake this past week that I realized the emotional state I want to create for myself.

There I was in plank position on my kitchen floor, doing renegade rows in my underwear. (I never was much of a gym rat; but a PT session or two would’ve helped me avoid what came next). In a moment of lust for that extra edge of confidence an ectomorph like me feels when I see a six-pack in the mirror, I lost my technique for a moment and aggravated an old shoulder injury. I’ve had chronic shoulder pain since my late 20’s, and it’s taken focused rehab and daily maintenance to get to the point where pain-free is normal again.

I’d been having great sessions earlier in the week and was feeling better than I had in years. The next day, after a few beautiful months without it, the old pain was back. Anyone who’s had a chronic injury will know that “oh shit, not again” tape that starts playing; I’d spent years in that emotionally intense relationship with my body. I’d mis-exercise it, injure it, get frustrated at it, and gradually become afraid to use it to its full potential. This affected my physical fitness as well as my social confidence and my mental and emotional realities. I found myself joking with a friend that I’d trade them my shoulders, wishing I had some other, healthier body. I was shaming the one I had because it was in pain.

In my work with men, this comes up in its own forms of chronic pain: hazardous diet, drug use, avoidance of medical care and performance of physically damaging labour. Not only can we take our bodies for granted - we can treat them like the can of a beer we just shotgunned. The relationships we have with our bodies can often reflect the unaddressed self-limiting beliefs we have about our own worth. If we tend to take care of the things we care about, what does it say about us if this is how we treat our most irreplaceable possession? That we feel prohibited from acknowledging weakness, effectively isolating ourselves from the beginnings of compassion, is the coup-de-grace can-crushing against our own face.

So a few years ago I invested in treatment, and not only did it change how I stood in a room - it changed how I walked into it. Instead of seeing the image of a fit, dominant, invulnerable man when I looked in the mirror, it became more important to see a man who cared about himself. Developing that muscle did more than strengthen - it healed and nurtured.

So this past week, I experienced something beautiful. The day after the old injury stopped in again to visit, instead of feeling exasperated at the limitations my body was placing on my over-compensating ego, I felt humbled and connected to a deeper, more grounded wisdom. Through all the encouraging progress and frustrating setbacks of my life, I stopped working for muscles others can see. Now I work for compassion that I can admire in the mirror.

Serving up Learner-led Learning


“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Before I found my calling in learning, I worked in restaurants.

Imagine going to a restaurant where the server didn’t even take your order, but shoved a plate of fatty, flavorless food in front of you instead. And you had to eat it while looking at the back of someone’s head. None of the customers speak; some are swiping on their phones.

Now imagine going to a restaurant, browsing the menu, and ordering a dish that suits your tastes, your fitness regimen, and even pairs well with a crispy glass of sauv blanc (it’s August, after all). Then you get to enjoy passionate, meaningful conversation with others as everyone eats their delicious, nutritious meal. Which restaurant is getting your return business?


I don’t go to restaurants to eat whatever they throw in front of me. And I don’t go to work to have learning content shoved down my throat. Either scenario insults my intelligence and demeans my purpose for being there in the first place.

Now some of you at the table next to me might be whispering, “Well! Isn’t that employee hard to please? Who does he think he is—the customer?”

As workplace learning increasingly becomes a focal point of organizational development, the pacesetters have recognized the employee is the customer, and that engaged, passionate, and loyal customers are good for business. So how do we keep our customers coming back and telling their friends? Are our courses too big, greasy, and indigestible? Are we force-feeding workplace learning to our employees?  

There’s a different way to serve up learning. Who’s hungry?

Learner-led Learning

So if the employee is the customer, is the customer still always right?  

Well, hold the bill. While the organization obviously has the prerogative to ensure its employees are capably trained and compliant, that’s merely the price of entry when it comes to learning and development. After an employee has cut their teeth for the first year or so, the onboarding process is likely complete, and we can assume they’ve become proficient in their role. Beyond that point, it really becomes the employee’s prerogative to define where they’re going next.  

As organizations flatten, the old formula of “career development = promotion” no longer applies. This is why it’s so important that employees understand it’s their responsibility to develop themselves. To assess where they are now, envision where they want to be, and plan what skills, relationships, and personal growth work it will take to take to get there. As the employee, that’s my responsibility, and it applies as much to my career path as it does to the workplace training I’m sitting in: I, the learner, am leading both.  

So what do I really want? How will I align myself with the company mission?  Do I even want to? Am I willing to learn, change, and grow as a person to do it? Is that the person I want to be? Is the job I’m doing engaging me in this deeper work? Because if I’m not engaged, I’m not learning. And I’m no longer keeping up, doing great work, or providing additional value to the organization.

There are no wrong answers. In learner-led learning, the customer is always right.

From Push to Pull

So what does this mean for learning professionals?  

The “push” learning approach—presenting information in lecture format for rote memorization—has been around since the Industrial Revolution needed to churn out factory workers to perform monotonous tasks. The learning professional this approach called for was the teacher, expert, and guru who knew more about the topic than the whole class. Training methodology and ethos reinforced this central “expert” identity and the dominant culture orbiting it. Classroom conversation was accordingly one-sided.  

The work required from the modern workforce is more complex, creative, and collaborative than ever before, and the currently deepening shift towards “pull” learning can’t come soon enough. Today’s employee likely holds more expertise in their job than does their manager or their learning department. This means learning professionals must not only evolve their delivery methods to encourage learner-led learning in the classroom, but their competencies in concept and design as well: guiding learners further up Bloom’s Taxonomy, beyond rote memorization and repetition of data, towards the interpretation, deconstruction, and evaluation of ideas.  

But beyond the delivery or development of learning, this evolution manifests on an even deeper level within the learning professional. From being the experts providing answers, we’re now called to become facilitators asking questions, essentially and figuratively stepping back to create space for learner-led learning to occur.

This may sound easy on paper, however, relinquishing control rarely is—especially on a personal level. The need for certainty is a powerful psychological driver, and overcoming it in the moment (as 20 of your peers are staring expectantly at you) is spiritual work as much as it is tactical. It requires the emotional poise to notice and manage the urge to give advice, the spiritual willingness to surrender control, and the professional discipline to respond with a question that inspires thought, as opposed to an answer that drops a piano on it.

Most of the facilitators I’ve trained initially struggle with a tension and anxiety that asks “What if they don’t get it?” I myself struggle to surrender the fundamental assumption that it’s my job to “get it” for them.

It is my job to ensure they “get it,” right? Right. But telling them only ensures they’ll forget, because they won’t have been led into the habit of actually thinking it through. Joseph Campbell is often quoted as saying, “The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves.”

Involving the learner in the process (through questions, discussion, group activity, or peer-to-peer teach-backs) is far more likely to result in them retaining and truly owning the knowledge we want them to master. They’ll have fought for it themselves, they’ll have led their own learning, and they’ll leave that training with a greater capacity to learn.  

The implications of this improvement extend beyond job performance into career development. When we shift our learning approach from push to pull, we can leverage our learning objectives as opportunities to grow and develop our people.  

Aligning People with Purpose, through Learning

So what happens when a learner who has developed new knowledge, skills, or attitudes leaves the classroom?  

Unfortunately in many cases, the “learning experience” is over by the time they arrive back at their desk, relegated by pre-existing environmental conditions, performance structures, and behavioral habits. Real, on-the-job learning transfer remains elusive without a comprehensive and cohesive organizational learning strategy, and broad buy-in to change.

It’s a challenging recipe. When an employee on your team develops a new competency or takes on new responsibility, it’s like there’s suddenly more of one ingredient in your soup. It can create imbalances, bottlenecks, and leave a bad taste in the mouths of anyone who liked things the way they were. In order to do learning right, organizations need to be adventurous enough to embrace change, and aligned enough to manage it effectively.

This is the where learning organizations can capitalize. Having an inspiring organizational mission is already a competitive advantage in attracting talent—retaining them means providing growth and development opportunities that drive the business. Aligning learning strategy with talent development creates learning paths that support retention, internal mobility, and home-grown leadership development. It’s an under-exploited way for organizations to take that mission statement off the wall and embody it in a way employees can experience and engage in, and which empowers them to perform, develop, and grow within the company.  

As the learning shifts increasingly from pushing content out, toward pulling the best out of your people, now is the time for organizational leadership to make a concerted long-term investment in learning culture, if it hasn’t already. Learning professionals can transcend content pushing and instead cultivate experiences of participation and peer-to-peer learning, while creating tools and resources to sustain the learning transfer when employees return to their desk. And individuals with the leadership and initiative to grow with the organization can choose from a menu of lean, green, and tasty learning to fuel their engagement, performance and development.  

And lots of snacks.

*Originally published for the fine folks at Actionable.co. Click title for link.


Prepare for brilliance.

The fallacy is that only certain people experience it, and the rest of us don't.  When really, I could be drunk and going to the washroom and have a brilliant idea - I mean, a friend could be drunk and going to the washroom and have a brilliant idea, and come back to their desk and write it down, and in the morning wake up and say "yes!  That's true!"  OR they could wake up and say "yeah, I remember having this brilliant idea...what was it again?"  

Brilliance is available to you, just as it's available to every living person.  Do you choose it?

Begin practicing your brilliance. Prioritize it. Build your life around it.  Be prepared to interrupt whatever is happening. Cut off your friend mid-sentence.  Keep a notepad and pen nearby, in your bag, at your nightstand, open to the next empty and anticipating page...

...it is about to happen again, at any moment.  Have you made room in your life for your own brilliance?