The Magic of Mentoring: Pearls of Wisdom

I met Barbara Perkins three years ago and was immediately attracted to her. She has a warm aura, a beautiful face and helped me through a rough patch. I was pretty pleased when she invited me to write a chapter for her book – The Magic of Mentoring – Pearls of Wisdom. This book is a compilation of stories by some pretty inspirational men and women who share their experiences of being a mentor or being mentored.
I was happy to pitch in. Though I have never formally had a mentor, I was fortunate enough to meet a brilliant and kind man who spent hours chatting to me, whenever he had the time. From my experience with him I was able to write a chapter. Below are the ten tips that I share about being an effective mentor.
I create a safe space for them to enter and confide in me
I present myself as someone who they can trust and retain this trust by being confidential
I listen to them and ask them questions to bring them to awareness
I do not judge whatever they are saying
I ask, “What is your role in the story you shared?”
I do not take responsibility for the interaction. They call me, and I am available
I ensure that they feel seen and heard at the meetings
I am genuinely interested in their growth and development
I am open to long term relationships with them. (They can come and go as the please)
I explicitly give them permission to discuss personal or work issues when we meet.

Pick up a copy of Pearl of Wisdom today. It’s available on Amazon.


Lisa Haselton interviews Maxine Attong (me)

Interview with business writer Maxine Attong

I’m chatting with non-fiction business writer Maxine Attong today. We’re focused on her newest book, Lead Your Team to Win – Achieve Optimal Performance by Providing a Safe Space for Employees.

Welcome, Maxine. What inspired you to write this book?
My first book – Change or Die – the Business Process Improvement Manual – is is a technical book and a great reference manual for persons interested in business processes. I wrote this book from my head, since it documents my client experiences and work that I actually did in the Business Process Improvement field. After that book, I was challenged to write something that appealed to a wider audience by several of my friends. I also gained more confidence to write about me, to share some of my thoughts and a bit of myself with my audience. Lead Your Team to Win is my heart book – as such there is a lot which has a lot of me in it, my thoughts, my experiences and to say how I felt about leadership. That was one part of the inspiration. The other part is that over the years of working in corporate environments I noticed that people did not really show up at work and I know that this was keeping productivity back. I also noticed that a lot of us show up differently at work that we do in the other parts of our lives and I reflected on how this separation affected me. As a coach I keep noticing the separation in clients and how it hampered their effectiveness. In my quest to be an effective leader I wanted a style that worked for me as I am not as someone who I was not.

Excerpt: Pages 14-16 of Lead Your Team to Win – Achieve Optimal Performance by Providing a Safe Space for Employees

I wanted a leadership style that would work with my personality and still allow me to have a winning team. I knew that creating a safe space in my office was essential to achieving this since it would:
• Get people to work creatively and generate ideas and new solutions.
• Develop an incredible team with outstanding performance that ensured me, as the leader, promotions and wins. (My assumption is that each time a team member wins, the leader automatically gets one or two wins.) To achieve wins, team members must have big ideas and the guts to implement them. They need to fail and believe that while there’s a cost to failure, there’s no personal loss; and they can certainly try again. To win, the team needs to work together, think strategically about their actions, and always weigh consequences. The safe space provides a cocoon in which ideas are hatched, nurtured, and grown before being released for scrutiny by a wider audience.
• Provide a stable environment in which everyone can perform, even on the days when nothing seems to go right.
• Allow team members to bring to work the adult parts of themselves that they often park at the office door and retrieve when they leave the office. This safe space gives them permission to be the responsible, accountable, decision-making, trying-to-be the-best-they-could-be people they are outside of the office. These people make tough decisions every day about household budgets, their children’s future, and aging parents. They fail and keep going, juggling different balls to keep their lives and those of their loved ones on an even keel.
• Permit team members to think, and in so doing challenge me to think more. They need to ask questions so I can explain and become clearer, and thus we can all generate even more great ideas and make better decisions.
• Motivate the team so people feel good about what they are doing, and work well because of these positive feelings. When the team members feel safe, they’ll take risks that will bring rewards, and will accept challenges to grow professionally and personally.
• Keep my big ego in check, to ensure that my natural tendencies to be a benevolent autocrat don’t overtake my humanity. This keeps me honest and responsible for the things I do and say at the office. It also gives me the freedom to change my mind and not be seen as indecisive, and releases me from the burden of feeling I always have to be right.
• Satisfy my curiosity about leadership and the many strategies I’ve read about. I wanted to create an alternative style that would work with my personality and allow me to remain true to myself. I wanted to present an alternate and realistic tool that people like me could easily implement with their teams.

The safe space provides a dynamic and creative environment for the free exchange of ideas, and encourages team members to make decisions and take action. While it promotes team accountability, it does not release the leader from the ultimate responsibility for making the final decisions. The idea promotes a shared team consciousness about the reality of the bigger political landscape within which the team operates, and dissuades any pretensions of naïvety about how the organization and various stakeholders need to be maneuvered. Thus, it provides a reality check for the team and its members.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Right now I am resting. My first book was published in 2012 and Lead Your Team to Win in Sept 2014. I have two ideas in my head. One is about the strategic office – how to develop it and maintain it in the office. The other is about female leadership and its peculiarities. My head is leaning towards the strategy and the heart towards female leadership. So until that battle is sorted and the image forms I am not going to take any steps forward. One book will emerge and that is that book that I am going to write. While that is sorting itself out I am writing short stories which is a frightening exercise into self.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I thought of myself as a writer when I was a kid and teenager. Through my young adult years I became an accountant and reclaimed my writer title in my 30s when I stopped being an accountant. I think that my writing status is now confirmed since I wrote my second book – Lead Your Team to Win. It is my heart book and makes me feel as I did when I was a kid.

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I work a full time job in corporate. I work from nine to five from Monday to Friday so I write in the evenings. My days start off with journaling in the morning, a gym workout or a run, then I go to work. I start to write around 7 p.m. after I have wound down from the day’s work. It is something that does not tire me, so I end around 10 p.m. If I am in the zone I keep going until whatever time and have a hard day the next day. I write for at least 5 hours on a Saturday. On Sundays I rest completely, no writing except for the morning journal.

How do I find time to write?
When I am writing a book I think of all the hours that I am working as wasted time that I can spend writing. I spend the lunch times in agony since I do not write on the company’s time or property. When I get home I am eager to start writing. In a way, writing helps me focus on the work day, since work offers a distraction and a time for thoughts to shape in my head as I focus on something else. I have the ability to completely switch off work when I get home so I have the time to write.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I bought a red chair for my first book and wrote every sentence on that red chair. It was the place that I went to to edit, and finalize the book. I purchased a green chair for my next book and was writing from it. My partner sat in the green chair one day and did some work on it and that was the end of the chair for me. After he sat on it the chair lost its magic for me and I never sat on it again. I reserved one end of the sofa as mine and finished Lead Your Team to Win from there. I have to claim a writing space and no one must invade it ever.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer. I knew this since I was 8. I won my first camera as the first prize for a short story that I submitted. Over the years I won vouchers for books in various competitions and my letters to the editors were regularly published. I wrote hundreds of short stories and poems, I was always writing as a kid and as a teenager. But I did not become a writer, I became an accountant and then my writing stopped.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I realize that writing is a balancing factor of my life. In the years that I did not write I felt that something was missing and that life was chaotic. When I returned to writing I felt that this is what I was meant to do.

Maxine Attong’s personal mission statement is to “Enhance the lives of the persons with whom I make contact”. This is supported by her beliefs that:
1) Human beings are creative
2) Human beings are intelligent
3) Human beings want to make a positive contribution.

Her beliefs are evident in her writing as she celebrates the power and intelligence of people and shares the tools needed to succeed.
Maxine is a Gestalt Organizational Development practitioner, a Certified Professional Facilitator and a Certified Evidence Based Coach.
In these roles she facilitates workshops and meetings for work teams and other groups to come to decisions that everyone can live with, while providing safe and confidential environments in which her clients can achieve business or personal goals.
Maxine remains a Certified Management Accountant and is a member of the Society of Management Accountants, Ontario.

Maxine currently works as the Assistant Vice President – Strategic Planning and Implementation- at the Guardian General Insurance Company Limited.

It makes all the difference – 5 Star Review from Francis

Francis Wade – a productivity expert and an author weighs in on Lead Your Team To Win and gives it 5 STARS. See his review on Amazon
I enjoyed this book immensely for its authenticity and honesty.

At first, the idea of creating a safe space within a working team or department may seem like a pipe-dream or a play on words. However, the author uses her own experiences as a manager as the laboratory and this is where it excels.

Other books in this genre focus on giving pithy advice but Maxine shares lessons learned on the field, with real people, in actual conversations i.e. where it counts. In this sense, it’s a combination of memoir and business advice book that most professionals just don’t have the courage to write.

This makes for difficult reading at times… be prepared to hear about meetings that didn’t go well, people who left the company and awkward moments that are embarrassing and hard to bear, even second hand. But that’s the cost managers pay when they commit to create a safe space for their employees – it’s a road less traveled. And just as you’d expect, it’s the one that makes all the difference.
Francis Wade

Leah gives Lead Your Team To Win 5 Stars

Anyone who has been in a leadership role knows that it is a journey of self-exploration as much as it one how to positively influence others to action. In ‘Lead your team to win’, Maxine Attong shares her own leadership journey with us and the result is an option for other leaders on how to steer their teams so that each performer is fulfilled in the workplace. Chapter by chapter Maxine guides you through the steps to take to develop and grow the two most critical success factors for team success: Trust and Communication.

As a performance improvement consultant, I am always looking for new tools to support my clients’ goals and the Safe Space can definitely be one of those tools. I don’t think that there is one management tool that will work for everyone, but I do think that leaders need options. They need to find a style that resonates with them and their organization and that gets results for them and their team. This book shows leaders that all this is possible if they are willing to be open, honest and workplace focused.
Leah De Souza

Terry Ann weighs in on Lead Your Team To Win – 5 stars

A new review of my book – Lead Your Team To Win – was posted on Amazon today. See below Terry Ann Wilson gives Lead Your Team To Win – 5 Stars

I purchased this book as I was intrigued by the questions posed to readers in the synopsis. I was keen to find out the author’s approach on bringing out the best of your team, not to mention I was curious about the Safe Space approach. I wanted to find out more about it and how it worked.

I have been going through the book slowly in order to make my notes and fully extract the points from each chapter.

It has been easy to read and easy to follow from chapter to chapter. The author has been able to capture her ideas and experiences and transfer these so that the reader is able to extract them. The author provides a conclusion at the end of each chapter so as to summarise the thoughts discussed throughout which helps to crystalise the learnings from it.

It is clear that the author is genuinely interested in the development of people and provides clear guidance on how to do this through the various experiences related with her team. She does not advocate micro managing people but states the value of follow up to bringing about success.

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on Decision Making as it highlighted that we as leaders are the reason why our team members are incapable of making decisions

The author carefully articulates people need “to feel safe so that they can speak, question, state concerns and challenge the status quo”, in order to give off their best; they should be treated with respect. As leaders we need to provide that environment of trust and communication

Whilst there are some aspects of the author’s approach you may not agree with, overall it is an excellent book and one which will have you examining yourself, the way you do things and how you can make changes for improvement.

There are parts of the book which left me shaking my head in agreement or reflecting on some action I had taken in the past and how I can improve for the future.

I would recommend this book not only to anyone who leads teams and is seeking to bring out the best in their team but to anyone who has to manage or work with people.

I have since purchased two additional books to share with my teams leaders
As posted on Amazon by Terry Ann Wilson.

Did you read the book yet? If so can you post a review on Amazon. Thanks!


This week was epic. My book – Lead Your Team To Win – was sent into space at the National Library last Tuesday evening. This was a great event, with a feature speaker that got the audience going. As he spoke some people took notes, others commented that they thought him relevant while a girlfriend thought that he was taking digs at me. The local paparazzi took picture after picture at the book signing. I am hoping that the pictures make the press.
On Wednesday morning I moved into supporting role. For the first time, Trinidad and Tobago joined 140 other countries to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. My girlfriend who is an advocate for women’s entrepreneurship hosted the event. She asked me to moderate the panel discussion which I was happy to do. It was not about the event, since I only understood the magnitude of the occasion when I got there, it was about being able to tangibly support a friend in her world.
That night I went to see the new designs by a top local designer. On Thursday evening, I was out again, socializing at a local design store, as it showcased new collections from its artisans and designers.
I had a lot of fun this week and realized that I have not been socializing much. There are things happening all around me every week and I have not been participating. I have been house bound, not going out, not seeking company to go out and not going out on my own. I have made assumptions about events being boring and stayed at home without testing the waters. I have lacked interest in the things around me and have not been curious to see what’s happening. I have been yearning for some conversation with strange people yet I stay home and keep my mouth shut.
The truth is that I miss being out, I miss socializing, I miss meeting new people. I miss the act of going out, being out, and returning home after having a good time. I did not know that I missed it because I was not doing it, and as I had the flurry of activity this week I realized how badly I missed it.
Time to flip the script. I am going to go out. I am going to leave my house and go somewhere where something is happening. I am going to check the things that I like and show up wherever they are happening. I have worked, and I have done well. Now it’s time for me to have some fun.

When was the last time you had some fun? What are you going to do about it?

For Maxine

Elaine Thompson, a long time friend and colleague of mine, who attended the book launch last night, posted this note today to me. Thanks Elaine. It is always wonderful to feel your support.
Hans, Martin and I attended the book launch yesterday of my closest and longest lasting professional friend, Maxine Attong.

We started off in the trenches in November 1990, while the city of Port of Spain was still reeling after the looting and devastation which came in the aftermath of the 1990 terrorist attack . The fact that the event was held in the shadow of the Red House, which was ground zero for the attack, was not lost upon me. Neither was the recent death of Mr. Michael Mansoor, who passed away this month, and was the financial comptroller of McEnearney Alstons Ltd while we were there.

The concept of as safe space created by a leader in the workplace is absolutely a conversation which we need to have, especially as accountants. I have not managed to read the entire book yet, as I only bought my copy yesterday, but from the first chapters which I read immediately after buying a copy yesterday, I think that this concept is particularly overlooked in the work space of today. So often do we blindly follow in the traditions of authoritarianism which were passed down through the generations of managers and Directors. The first question which Maxine asked , back in the Training room on 69 Independence Square, where we spent the first week in training lead by the Human Resource Director and his team was “Why is it so quiet here?” It was a bombshell of a question, and as we sat around the horseshoe seating, all of us, Trainees and trainers alike were at a loss for words. Mr. Gordon Draper, Human Resource Director of the McEnearney Alstons Group who was in charge of the session, managed to answer.

Maxine embodied all that was young and gifted at the time – we were reminded that over 200 people had applied for the 16 internships sitting around the training room. She was never afraid to challenge the status quo, and the fact that she has decided to follow her natural inclination to teach and coach is not surprising. It is important that the insights which she shares are informed by her grounding in finance and the rigours of the profession. Twenty years ago I was at her graduation from the Certified management Accountant course which she began while we were management trainees. Human resource professionals are in a sense generalists – in the trenches of Accounting and Finance lurk certain peculiar monsters which can only be understood by being in the trenches. This book, in fact, I consider should be required reading by Human resource professionals.

A lot of the stoicism which I see in Maxine reminds me of her mother, who was in attendance– if we are a composite of our experiences and our caregivers, then I hope that what is reflected of Mrs. Janet Attong in Maxine is pleasing to both of them.

I was strangely reminded of a poem we studied for “A” Levels – Ulysses by Alfred , Lord Tennyson, which ends thus:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
Who supports you?

Book launch completed – Tick

It’s official. The book launch for Lead Your Team To Win happened this evening at the National Library in Port of Spain. It was an event that leaves me extremely pleased and feeling contented and at peace.
The book has now been released, it is no longer mine, it has to find its way in the world and where it will reside. I have surrendered it to an audience and it will find its ground.
I was truly supported by all the people who came and all the people who attended. Right now I want to make comparisons between the launch of the first book and this, I want to compare feelings and the things that I spoke about, but right now I am going to bask in the moment.
This is not time to think. It is time to feel. To feel good, to be elated and to enjoy all the feelings. I am switching the brain off and staying with the feelings. Tomorrow I will analyse it all.
Tonight I am just saying thanks to all who helped make the Book Launch incredible. Thanks Keston Nancoo, Richard Espinet, Dianne Simeon. Leslie Ferrier Attong for being a wonderful MC. The welcoming committee – Kafiya James and Amelia Sudan. Quincy on bar and Judith on food. Deborah Lezama for video and Christopher Culpepper for photos. Melaine Mahabir and Candace Simmons for organising the event. This could not happen without you guys.

Reaching the Unknown

Today I did my first ever interview on the local television. I got there at 7.05 a.m., since I was told to get there early, and I went on at 7.50 a.m, just in time for the end of the program.
When I got to the station I signed in as instructed by the octogenarian guard, who then told me, “Have a seat. They will call you when they ready.” I asked him, “Do you know whom I am and when I am on?” “Yes,” he said. I decided not to push, since he does this every morning; so I took a seat and looked on at the morning show as it was broadcast.
When I got on air the presenter was friendly enough and we launched into a whirlwind chat about the book. I felt my head spin as she fired question after question. Soon my five minutes of fame were over and I went to my office to start the workday.
When I got to the office it seemed that no-one had seen the interview. The TV in the kitchen was tuned to a foreign newsfeed and no one made any comment about seeing me on TV. On Facebook, most of my network commented that they forgot about the interview – it really is in the middle of drive time. Even my mother said that she was sleeping at the time the interview aired.
I was a bit deflated as I got zip, zero feedback from my world.
Then a long time colleague of mine posted a snapshot of the interview on my time line and another person whom I do not know complimented me on the interview.
Only then did I understand the purpose of going on TV. It’s not for my friends and followers to see me, it is to reach an unknown audience, a new audience that has never heard of me and don’t know that I exist. It is to take my message beyond my sphere of influence into the unknown. It is to highlight and showcase me to different people and open new opportunities. Since my network stayed off the airwaves it means that other people were on.
Tomorrow is the book launch for – Lead Your Team To Win. I am getting more excited as the time draws nearer and the organizers have everything in place. We will see who shows up and what happens then.