When Everyone Suffers, You Suffer (Guest Blogger Julia Menard)

(I’m blessed to have several friends who are great bloggers (writers) and are willing to let me share their work with people who appreciate growth and development. Today’s guest article is from Julia Menard, a mediator, coach, and conflict resolution specialist, who writes a monthly newsletter called HEN. The name comes from “transforming conflict to revitalize your Health, Environment, Negotiations.” Readers can subscribe to her free newsletter at http://www.juliamenard.com/.)

I’m really enjoying my most recent class in the Masters of Education (MEd) in Leadership Studies at Royal Roads University. It’s called Community Leadership and Adult Learning and my professor, Ron Faris, is passionate about the cause of income inequality.

As a consequence, you too, dear HEN reader, will benefit from his influence today!

A recent article he sent around from the Harvard Business Review surprised me. It said that income inequality makes us all less happy with our lives, even if we’re relatively well-off.

I had always understood that all indicators show if you have more money, you will be healthier. And, through lived experience, I can see that those without much money are not as healthy.

What I didn’t know, is the impact of income only goes so far – and then the benefits stop. As the gap in incomes grows, this does not result in more benefits for those with more money.

As this article indicates, it actually results in negative, unintended, effects. The authors also cite a 2010 paper by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton, both Nobel laureates. They calculated that day-to-day happiness peaks at an income of $75,000 a year, after which it plateaus (about $85,000 in today’s dollars).

The income gap creates more dissatisfaction and more stress, worry and anger.

The article goes on to say there are implications for pay and compensation policies in organizations as well – since executive salaries today have continued to balloon, growing to as much as 200 times what median workers earn.

The bottom line is, as the article indicates:

“The more income is concentrated in the hands of a few, the more likely individuals are to report lower levels of life satisfaction and more negative daily emotional experiences. That is, the higher the share of national income that is held by the top 1%, the lower the overall well-being of the general population.”

So, when one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are all ultimately connected and need to care about each other. When this comes to income disparities, this means starting with even knowing that we gain more when we are all sharing in the wealth – in our organizations and societies.

“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.”   ~ Louis Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice

Mentors in Memorium: Jacob Goldman (1921-2011)

Jacob_GoldmanMr. Goldman, a physicist, was the chief scientist at Xerox in the 1960’s. While there he founded the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which invented the modern personal computer. At the time computers were typically not available in offices, and little was known about what shape the invention of the personal computer would take for the office of the future. Mr. Goldman’s vision convinced Xerox to invest in the future, even if it didn’t know what to do with the returns. PARC researchers designed a number of innovations including the Alto personal computer, the Ethernet office network, laser printing, and the graphical user interface.

The technologies he spearheaded eventually were commercialized by Apple and Microsoft, prompting Mr. Goldman to lament in a 1988 interview: “Xerox’s failure was part of a large corporation’s unwillingness to take risks. Look at the personal computer industry today. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. And we at Xerox could have had that industry to ourselves.”

He acted as a mentor to many scientists and helped them to create a larger vision for whatever projects they created. He brought the idea to management that they may have to wait some time to gain practical value from scientific work.


More details about Mr. Goldman are available in the obituary in the NY Times (here).

Ensure Accurate Self-Assessment in Peer, Mentor, and Coach Work

Feedback_KeyAssessment has become a billion dollar industry and is strongly fueled by the conventional wisdom that an individual’s ability to assess him or her self is typically less reliable, less accurate, or less valid than an external or expert source of assessment. Most of us have between 12 to 18 years of experience with this viewpoint as our teachers graded our work from kindergarten to graduate school. While there might have been the occasional unhappiness about a particular grade as not being fair, for the most part we learned to accept this conventional view that “teacher knows best.”

This same perspective is perpetuated in the workplace. While even the most conservative organizations will solicit employee views about their own progress, growth or development, they rely mostly on reports from supervisors, managers, co-workers, or assessment inventories to obtain “real” data. Self-assessment data is often described as “subjective,” “self-serving,” or “inaccurate.” It would be ridiculous, most managers believe, to rely exclusively on an employee’s self-evaluation of performance when the outcome of that evaluation may determine promotion, advancement or pay increases.

The vision of most mentors, peer trainers, and coaches includes a commitment to their partners’, trainees’, or clients’ ability to have accurate views of their own work, development, or skills. But what happens when a mentor’s assessment clashes with the self-assessment of the person he or she is mentoring? Or when a peer trainer’s assessment of a training participant doesn’t match the self-assessment of that person in training? Or when a coach’s view of a client and the client’s view of him or herself do not line up? In other words, even though both parties want to improve the accuracy of self-assessment, what happens that prevents this outcome?

During the 1970’s I experimented with a number of self-assessment procedures in my university courses. I was especially interested in the relationship between external assessments of learning and how much learners perceived they had gained. I wanted to know what factors influenced a difference between a learner’s own assessment and an instructor’s assessment of that learner. Since both learners and instructors were dealing with the same content, the same procedures, and the same evaluation data, why were they so often at odds with each other when it came to the assessment of progress, results, or outcomes.

Part of my motivation for this experimentation was a dissatisfaction with the traditional grading system that minimized the student role and contributed to the atrophy of student ability to make accurate self-assessments. Another element in my intention was my experience during my own graduate student days on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, where “student power” became our everyday mantra. I was determined to find ways to integrate student power into the classroom and show how it actually improved academic achievement.

My first experiments were almost completely based on my Berkeley experience. “At the end of the term,” I told my first group of undergraduates, “give yourself a grade and provide a rationale.” My courses became oversubscribed by eager students willing to participate in this experiment. While many enrolled because they wanted to learn about the topic, seize the opportunity to re-vitalize their intrinsic ability to make assessments, or become associated with such a radical procedure, others enrolled for the perceived easy grade and opportunity to improve their grade point average.

Although all course outlines and grading procedures had to be submitted to department chairs, the sheer weight of such pages from all the members of the department likely prohibited my chair from anything but just filing them in a “current course outlines” folder. Thus, I had not received any feedback about my intended procedure.

When the semester came to an end, I had several hundred self-assessments to read. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, almost every student gave him or herself an “A” grade. The accompanying rationales ranged from a single sentence to several pages. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to the variety of reasons students provided for such a mark.

I should note here that students did participate in both essay exams and quick quizzes, and they also wrote a paper on a related topic of their choosing. Students received scores on their exams and feedback about their papers. Some of the most paradoxical rationale for the end-of-term self-assignment of the “A” grade came from students who scored at the low end on the exams and wrote questionable papers. Going into those details is beyond the scope of this article, but mostly the extent of their rationale was “I learned a lot.”

When I submitted my grade sheets listing the extensive number of “A” grades and then went on holidays, I was still very dissatisfied with the outcomes and thought I really hadn’t come much closer to understanding the relationship between self-assessment and actual learning, let alone how to make this happen in a practical and concrete way in the classroom.

After returning from my vacation, I was greeted by a stack of mail and a copy of the university newspaper that had as a headline: “University bans self-assessment as a grading option.” My mail included mostly requests from senior administrators to attend meetings to explain why my grade sheet was so out-of-line with all other grade sheets; followed by requests to attend the academic senate hearings on why my grade sheet had so many high grades; and followed by a request from the university president to meet and explain my rationale.

In the relatively short time I had been employed by the university, I was delighted to have such an interest in my work. Of course, it didn’t bode well for my progress towards tenure to have so many administrators and colleagues “annoyed.” (I use that term because the terms that most of my colleagues used would not be suitable for this newsletter.)

To make this long story short (oops, probably too late), I went back to all the rationale statements provided by the students and identified a number of themes. These themes led to designing a different way to integrate self-assessment into the classroom and increase the likelihood that such assessments would more accurately reflect or match actual learning. The resulting system was implemented successfully in virtually all of my courses and was continued until retirement from university teaching (with tenure).

The elements of that system are described in Carr, R. (1977). The effects of specific guidelines on the accuracy of student self-evaluation. Canadian Journal of Education, 2 (4), 65-79. This study used videotape feedback and three degrees of specific, objective instructions to impact self-assessments. Theme analysis of the original course data and continuing data from subsequent courses confirmed that the more explicit the criteria used to make the self-assessment and the more involvement in the creation of those criteria by the person making the self-assessment, the more likely that the self-assessment matched other “objective” measures of learning.

In our work as mentors, coaches, and peer supporters, if we want self-assessment to play a significant and accepted role, and we want to maximize the accuracy of self-assessment (that is, be reasonably in line with other accurate data sources), then the procedures and structure we use to gain such self-assessment data are crucial.

First, the person who will be the focus of the self-assessment must be actively involved in determining the criteria to be used to make the assessment. The criteria can be created through discussions with supervisors, managers or co-workers, but ultimately they must be criteria that both the self-assessor and the person that the self-assessor will submit the results to agree upon as being important. This often means that pre-determined instruments or previously used sets of criteria will have limited utility unless they contain items valued by both parties. “Re-inventing” the wheel each time is more likely to yield accurate self-assessments.

Second, the criteria developed must be specific, concrete or explicit enough so that all parties will understand not just “what” the criteria are, but also the way in which the criteria are relevant. Most people object to this part. They are more likely to design simple criteria and then spend more time analyzing the response to the criteria. Ambiguous criteria often receive ambiguous answers. When I was asked by a previous employer (a theme park, motion picture, and television production organization that I will not name) to assess “How much have you learned about operating ‘Ride X’?” I responded with the informative phrase, “A lot.”

While there can still be debate as to whether an individual’s own self-assessment or another person’s assessment of that individual can be considered “more accurate,” without the knowledge of the factors that contribute to better self-assessment, we have little chance to prevent individuals from missing the mark, being too critical, or ignoring their own learning.

“Life asks us to make measurable progress in reasonable time. That’s why they make those fourth-grade chairs so small – so that you won’t fit in them again at age twenty-five.”

~ Jim Rohn ~

Mentors in Memorium: Jay Cross (1944-2015)

Jay_CrossJay Cross was the author of the book Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance (Amazon), described as the turning point for the learning industry. He was often referred to as the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning, and he is credited with creating the term “e-learning.” He challenged the conventional wisdom about how adults learn, and he inspired and had a lasting impact on many learning practitioners.

One of those he influenced said, “I remember being struck by his interest in what I was doing. He had a natural curiosity and wanted to explore why I was doing what I was doing, and the learning value that came out of it for me.”

Another said, “Jay’s contribution to the field of organisational learning was huge. He made us think hard about the edges of our profession. When many were fretting about perfecting the irrelevant with better classroom courses, Jay was pulling us into the emerging world of eLearning. When most were still focused on integrating eLearning into courses and curricula, Jay was shouting that the real power wasn’t in structured learning at all but in workplace and in informal and social learning approaches.”

“He was a mentor and colleague. Whenever I was struggling with an idea or needed some creative diversion, Jay was the person I called.”

Ravi Pratap Singh, the Co-Founder of Learnnovators has compiled a list of Jay Cross quotes that he extracted from an interview with Jay a couple of month’s before his death in November 2015. The quotes are available here.

Much of Jay’s work is still available on the Internet, including his great blog, Working Smarter Daily.

“Bringing people together face-to-face is a catalyst for innovation, collegiality, and rewarding conversations. Collaboration has its intrinsic rewards. It is sinful to waste this time together aimlessly or passively listening to presentations.”

Mentors in Memorium: Marnie Rice (1949-2016)


Marnie Rice

Mental Health Professional Dr. Marnie Rice began her career engaging in behaviour modification of inmates in one of Canada’s most notorious mental institutions, known for its concrete cells and steel bars. It housed the most dangerous psychopaths, serial murderers and pedophiles in Canada. 

Eventually, she became the Director of Research and was determined to find ways to assess the risk of violence in her patients and devise practical treatments. It was a daunting task for her to remain positive given the violence demonstrated by her charges. At one point she was attacked by a psychotic patient during a group session. She said, “He grabbed me around the neck and tried to strangle me, but he was pretty weak. Everybody jumped up to help. It was nothing serious.”

Dr. Rice used her experience to develop a tool to solve this problem of attacks on staff. She learned that assaults on staff were often prompted by staff members’ attitudes toward their patients. She developed a guide to train staff members that was used by many other institutions. She eventually developed another tool to assess the risk of releasing psychopaths back into the community.

Everyone who worked with her knew of her passion for mentoring new scientists. “She kept her door open and was happy to answer questions and give encouragement. Her nurturing prompted us to have high standards for scientific research and ethics.,” said one of those she mentored.

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Mentors in Memorium: Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)

mary_parker_follettWhile many management gurus are men, Mary Parker Follett has been largely forgotten in the history of management. She was the first to apply human psychology and human relations to industrial management.

She went to Radcliffe College–a coordinate college of Harvard University–though, being a woman, she was denied a degree. From there, she became a voluntary social worker and founded social community centres in and around Boston.

Her contribution to the development of management theory can be seen as a contrast to the scientific management theories of the early 1900’s. Unlike the approach of time-and-motion advocates such as American mechanical engineer Frederick W. Taylor (1856-19195), Mary argued for a human relations approach that was well before its time, and eventually served as an influence in the work of Austrian management guru Peter Drucker 1909-2005) and others. In a 1924 essay on “Power”, she coined the phrases “power-over” and “power-with”, observing that groups work more effectively when power is shared and people are empowered. Her ideas about shared power, mutuality, and reciprocity formed the basis for much of modern day mentoring. Her  books, in part, served as the foundation for the Human Relations Movement of the mid-20th century of management gurus such as American psychologist and human needs specialist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), clinical psychologist and management pioneer Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000) and Australian-born management psychologist Elton Mayo (1880-1949).

“It seems to me that whereas power usually means power-over, the power of some person or group over some other person or group, it is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.”

~ Mary Parker Follett ~

In Memorium, Pat Conroy (1945-2016): Your Mentoring Legacy Gave The World Joy and Courage


Pat Conroy’s incredible books, The Great Santini, Beach Music, Prince of Tides, and My Reading Life (among others), provided many readers with strong emotional experiences and often led readers to examine their own lives. Mr. Conroy explained it this way: “The reason I write is to explain my life to myself. I’ve also discovered that when I do, I’m explaining other people’s lives to them.”

Mr. Conroy’s own life of growing up in an unstable and abusive life provided him with considerable strength or “grit.” But one of his earliest strength-giving experiences was when he was a student in Mr. Norris’ high school English class. As Pat Conroy said, “In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.”

Another one of Pat Conroy’s mentors was the novelist James Dickey (1923-1997), his professor at the University of South Carolina. In reacting to some less than supportive reviews of his book, Prince of Tides, Mr. Conroy recalled the advice of his professor: “He told me to write everything I did with all the passion and all the power you could muster. Don’t worry about how long it takes or how long it is when you’re done. You know, he was right.”