Can ‘YouTube’ be a mentor?

If YouTube videos can teach us how to wire a smoke detector, can they also teach us how to lead? That may seem like a ridiculous question, but in our evolving ‘conversation adverse’ culture, are we turning to videos to provide guidance in the workplace?

Think about your first job, your first day at work. Aside from the anticipation, you might as well have been visiting another planet. Perceptions collided with reality as you navigated your way through the first days; an amateur anthropologist alert to  any clue to success in this new society you had joined. Who could you trust to advise you on your journey?

That is the question we all ask at some point in our first weeks at work. All is new and colleagues seem equal. Then the sorting begins as you filter conversations and observe interactions among colleagues and the leadership team. A picture begins to emerge of the culture, the influencers and the business problems to be solved. For most of us, we wing it. We take our experience, as limited as it may be, and experiment. We offer solutions. Find they are not well constructed. Go back and revise and then venture back with the edited proposal. It’s a process of trial and error as we independently craft an answer.

We find ourselves at a turning point. We need help. Where do we go to find it?

There are thousands of articles that define the role of mentors, how to find one, how to manage the relationship, but it was the first paragraph of an article I read a few weeks ago that introduced a significant hybrid approach to how we learn to work.

In early August, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times on the topic of servant leadership, putting others first and leading from the heart.

“From the earliest days of Starbucks, I’ve been captivated by the art of leadership. I was mentored over three decades by Warren G. Bennis, the eminent professor and scholar on leadership. I’ve gathered insights from peers, and I’ve drawn inspiration from our 300,000 employees. But nothing I’ve read or heard in the past few years has rivaled the power of the image I viewed on my cellphone a few years ago: Pope Francis, shortly after his election, kneeling and washing the feet of a dozen prisoners in Rome, one of them a young Muslim woman, in a pre-Easter ritual.”

In one short paragraph, the CEO describes a combination of activities that build upon each other to form his leadership style. He relies on a mentor from outside his business, gathers insights from peers and employees and in the end it’s an image from the internet that provides the inspiration for his leadership view.

Can YouTube be a mentor? There is no substitute for human interaction and advice. Learning to work is a lifetime quest and hard work. But the ability to access online courses, TED Talks and podcasts provide an essential element in our professional development.

The week@work – Stock market volatility, workplace violence, effective hiring tactics and the best jobs require you to be a ‘people person’

This was probably not the best week@work with stock market volatility and one of the most horrific incidents of workplace violence broadcast live on the morning news.

The first shock of the week came in the global stock market and created an opportunity for one corporate leader to step out from the cable news apocalyptic babble.

In response to the crisis in world financial markets, Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz sent a email to his employees both to ease worries about the impact on Starbucks’ business and encourage them to understand the mood of their customers. The email was met with mixed reviews outside the Starbucks organization, but was consistent with the Shultz’s style and the culture of ‘servant leadership’.

“Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”

The second shock of the week arrived with breakfast, in Roanoke, Virginia. Two journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward were murdered @work early Wednesday morning, doing what they loved. Their deaths will be added to the global total of 42 journalism deaths since the beginning of the year.

CNN political commentator, Errol Louis responded with a thoughtful opinion piece, ‘The real issue behind on-air killings of journalists’.

“According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency, while workplace violence has dropped in recent years, it is still startlingly frequent. Nearly a decade ago, according to the agency, 20 workers were murdered every week. A more recent report shows the tide of violence declining, but as of 2009, 521 people were killed on the job and 572,000 non-fatal violent crimes took place, including rape, robbery and assault.”

“…we have to stop treating workplace killings as sporadic, one-time bursts of irrational behavior.”

Workplace safety has to be a priority for CEOs. It effects all aspects of organization culture, beginning with the ability to attract and retain talent.

Two additional stories from the week@work focus on talent@work: finding it and nurturing it.

How do you find people who will be successful in your organization? CEO Richard Sheridan of  software design firm, Menlo Innovations, shared his company’s approach.

“Menlo hires people in mass auditions conducted several times a year. The process is designed to mimic the company’s operations. Our staff spends their days working in pairs, with each pair collaborating on a distinct task, sharing a single computer. So when applicants show up for our auditions, we pair them up and give each pair a single sheet of paper and a pencil. Then we set them to work on a task, Menlo style.”

“Candidates who make the first cut return for a test of skills that–like the mass audition–is an immersion in our process and culture. The candidate comes in for a full paid day working on real projects. She pairs with one Menlonian in the morning and a different Menlonian after lunch. If both give her a thumbs-up, we offer a three-week trial contract. We make special arrangements for those who can’t risk taking time away from their current situations.”

The selection and retention of candidates who become contributing members of an organization’s community is a major challenge for leadership. Each week you can find articles on creative ways to recruit. In a world of algorithmic forecasts, maybe it’s time to get back to basics and invite candidates into the reality of the workplace with the first interview.

Andrew Flowers reporting for ‘The FIveThirtyEight Economics’ finds ‘The Best Jobs Now Require You To Be A People Person’.

“To land a lucrative job today, hard skills in math and engineering, for instance, may not be enough. As technology allows us to automate more technical jobs, new research shows that people skills — communicating clearly, being a team player — matter more than ever. And women appear to be the ones capitalizing on this shift in the workplace.

“The days of only plugging away at a spreadsheet are over,” David Deming, an associate professor of economics at Harvard, told me. Deming is the author of a new working paper, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” which shows how today’s high-skill, high-paying jobs — like consultants and managers — increasingly require interpersonal skills.”

You can’t land your first job and relax. It’s the beginning of a lifelong learning experiment interacting with customers, investors and colleagues. And you will need an array of communication skills to advance. Which brings us back to the first story of Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. It’s his emotional intelligence combined with his business savvy that has led to his success and ability to influence the national conversation on work and workers.