Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Risk 2009

Tell me if you know this one: it’s a four letter word… we are allowed to say it at work… but we treat it like all other four letter words… as a dirty thing.

It’s… R.I.S.K… risk.

On websites and in dictionaries, risk is listed in every conceivable way. If it were a dessert, it would have its own menu of variations.

We talk a lot about risk in business: managing it; mitigating it; reducing it; taking it; avoiding it… We talk about risk like it’s an unwanted visitor who always overstays a welcome.

There’s a description of risk management that originated in Australia and New Zealand, now being taken up in other countries, set out in the Australian & New Zealand Standard 4360:2004. It is a process of 5 steps:
• Establish the context
• Identify risks
• Analyse risks
• Evaluate risks
• Treat risks

It makes it sound like a disease.

So, taking a step back, how did we get here? How did risk become a bad word?

Risk-taking prompted explorers to this country. Built the first structure taller than one level. Introduced spice to the world. Prompted the original money-lenders to believe banking was a viable business. Created Apple Computer. Prompted you to try a new coffee place today.

Risk is not just the large world-changing things. It’s choosing that boldly striped tie, the purple handbag, having an open and gentle conversation, telling someone what you really think of their latest project.

You can’t get through a day without taking a risk. You can’t have an opinion, can’t take a stand, can’t put forth a plan without risk.

I believe we thrive on risk. We need risk. Risk is something to explore. Risk is where the opportunities lie. Risk is our wiggle room, the call for new ideas and a point for negotiation. Call it the unknown, call it creativity or call it judgment - risk propels us forward.

We can choose to not move when faced with risk. But really every decision, even to do nothing, is a risk. Every project has potential to backfire. Every step to stumble. Every word to be misconstrued. Every choice the wrong one.

We could - another four letter word - fail by not taking a risk as much as taking one.

I personally pledge to explore failure this year. I will be willing to:
• Try new ideas
• Be wrong
• Take a stand when the safe choice isn’t the right choice

Risk is going to be me saying “This is what I believe we should do” and negotiate from there.

Maybe if I aim to fail, I will succeed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dearest You

May the holidays and coming new year bring you and your community great joy and inspiration.

corny... but true!

with great affection,


Monday, December 22, 2008

I’m nervous, but planning…

It’s a scary looking 2009 if you read the news. Job loss. Economic downturns (corporate speak for things cost more, are not so readily available, and you have less cash to get them). Small communities seeing their two main sources of income wiped out: the local factory and tourism dollars.

Of course, most of my circles are concerned with job loss. I’m getting many calls for ‘tea’ and ‘advice’ from folks who know someone already unemployed and looking to make connections.

Let’s be honest - many of us are not going to be in a position to create or find jobs in the coming year. We’ll either be doing the work of 10 (your job plus everyone who got laid off and wasn’t replaced) and hoping to keep that job - or we’ll be asking for a tea meeting ourselves.

So what can we do?

1 - Networking and mentoring should not start with a crisis. Build your circles and understand your career plan before the stress of losing a pay cheque skews your priorities. A true network (as discussed in earlier posts) - a solid community of support - is of benefit any time.

2 - Don’t be afraid to still have teas and coffees even if you think you don’t have any work leads to offer. An ear, some encouragement, some assistance with fine tuning and helping folks still feel connected is a great place to start. Besides, you never know where a conversation will lead.

3 - Talk with your closest circles now about how you can help ease burdens along the way: an hour of editing for an hour of web page support; a big pot of stew for some errands; a resume re-work for a borrowed new suit. The possibilities are endless.

4 - Think not of moving your career ahead but having time to develop skills and deepen your knowledge. Maybe the opportunities to get new jobs or promotions will be less, but you can use this time to develop yourself. Or maybe taking a different type of job (if it's what is available to you) will offer you that chance to learn something new while we all wait for our own markets to ramp back up.

5 – Watching my son, I’m most impressed with how he and his friends are determined to re-invent how they look for work… really they’re creating their own work. A void is the mother of invention (or so it’s said). They’re coming up with plans, schemes, inventions and projects as the traditional sources of hiring dry up.

If you have entrepreneurial skills, this might be a catalyst for you. If you have a good idea, now might be the time to share it. If there’s something you always wanted to try, the coming year might give you the space and time to try it. The point of influence is now, not when things settle again.

6 – The last time I was laid off, I took the time to figure out not just what I wanted in my career but also the culture that would make me more comfortable. I resolved to only work where I felt welcome and where there was something for me to learn. Where giving back to the community was as important to my employer as it is to me. Etc etc etc. But sometimes you need things to stop before you realize which pieces you’d no longer be willing to pick up.

It will pass. It will. And while it may not be pleasant to pass through (like a bout of pneumonia or stomach flu), it will pass.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Networking - how not to…

• Networking is not where everyone is on the make - it is not like a meat market for professionals.
• Networking is not a job fair
• Networking is not exchanging business cards just because you have them.
• Networking is not shaking a lot of strangers’ hands trying to make some kind of vague impression.

But what does a network or community mean? What is networking?

Start with any image you find familiar - a village, a web, a chain - with you as one point within it. You can be the centre point… I think of my network as webs within webs - I am not the centre point but I do have my own immediate network and it is interwoven with the other networks around me.

There are lots of websites, books and articles out there on HOW to network. Everyone has their 10-step process by which they swear.

I apologize - I don’t.

I believe everyone has their own style and comfort zone and exploring those will get you to your own process.

I find networking awkward. I also know how much comfort I found from the support of my network. That outweighs my discomfort. I choose to participate.

And while I’m a reluctant networker - what I do love about networking is the chance to actively promote and celebrate those around you. You’re not always asking for something - you’re offering - yourself, your thoughts, your people from your circles.

Networking doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen without effort. It’s not about attending a single event. It’s not a checkmark on your list of things to do. And it doesn’t happen in isolation. You can’t network by yourself. (You could try but - like one-handed clapping - it’s only effective in limited circumstances.)

And if you’re reluctant… And the person beside you is reluctant….. one of you has to make a choice to engage.

Kids do it better than anyone. No kid is going to see another kid in the sandbox and not interact. It’s a given. They don’t know each other’s names or address or whether they like a pail and shovel or front-loader - but one kid will either offer toys or take them and get the party started.

They don’t care what the other’s name is. Grown ups care about that. They just care if you want to play. It’s only worth knowing the names of the people you like playing with!

Simply put, networking is not a transaction. It’s about relationship and values and part of a long-term development plan and view of yourself.

I know I haven’t made networking seem easier. I know this doesn’t make it any more comfortable. But hopefully you want to keep trying?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Timing is not everything

I think there are some fallacies that ruin our day and create unnecessary stress.

According to some scientists, solids are not really solids at all at a deeper level. Clean air is a myth according to author James Michener who said in his novel “Centennial” the last bits disappeared over Denver in the 80s. Food isn’t always as nutritious as it looks (darn you ice cream!) or as nature intended (genes added or deleted).

And getting somewhere on time is more luck than anything else.

While at work, we can agree that on the hour, we all shuffle to another room simultaneously to have another meeting. But even so we arrive with 5-10 min. lag due to elevators and other meetings running late in other buildings. Even with starting in the same vicinity and moving to the same purpose.

Life, on the other hand, has people coming from opposites ends. The most organized of us still occasionally misplace our keys (or glasses, drat this morning!) losing a precious few minutes. Trains are late. Buses are early. Sometimes both. Puddles appear like black holes at the strangest of times. All the planning in the world can’t do more than control the little sphere around only yourself and then you get hit with the chaos that is the wider world.

And then comes the biggest unexpected of all… Running into someone you have not seen in years while late to get to somewhere else. Which is ruder: expressing dismay at the lost connection while continuing to run raggedly on to your first commitment? or taking 5 min. to focus on the person, get a phone number and then excuse yourself to pelt madly up the street making yourself officially late for your first appointment?

All this and you discover your socks don’t match.

Lateness, 5 - 10min, happens with the best of intentions. I try and arrive 5 min early to have some room for error. I believe in respecting other people’s time. However…

Showing up on time is second to focusing on the person before you.

I heard the gasps as I wrote that.

Relationship building - networking or mentoring - requires you to listen. To listen you must be present. To be present you have to stop looking at your watch or BB. Sometimes that means you’ll miss the chiming of the hour.

And sometimes you will be a little late but, if you’re known to listen, they’ll wait a bit longer to have you join them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Taking a Risk

I don’t mean taking a risk in the abstract sense (though I believe in taking risks as a general philosophy). I mean in the middle of all the lay offs and global market worries, I am changing jobs.

Friends are divided into 2 camps: “You’re crazy to move now!” or “Way to go!”.

Depending on the day, I find myself agreeing with different folks. I’m alternately thrilled and terrified. I’m leaving a job in an established department with loads of visibility to senior folks and where I’m respected and trusted. I’m moving to a newly created position on a virtual team in a recently formed department with an ambiguous job description. Who wouldn’t have taken the step?

Two things conspired to create my decision. One is my long-term career goals. As vague as they are some days and as much as I add regular caveats that the ‘plan’ is subject to change, I recognized months ago that it was time for me to leave my current set up and learn new things.

The second piece came as a result of advice offered by a peer mentor: the people who are valued in uncertain times are those who take risks and are passionate about what they do - instead of keeping their heads down and playing it safe till the crisis has passed.

The best place to create influence is always before the wave crests or the crisis is resolved. Instead of waiting for markets and industries to settle, I’m putting my hand up now. I’ll show what I’ve got to offer and accept the possibility that the fit might not work. I want to be part of how we’re evolving even if that increases my risk that others won’t agree with my suggestions. I don’t want to wait for others to make decisions when I could be making some myself.

It’s a riskier place to be - but incredibly rewarding if it works.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Ok it’s not strictly a networking topic but it has come up frequently in my peer mentoring discussions.

Scenario one: a friend who looks a little older and more tired than she is applied for a management job. The phone interview was fantastic. The hiring manager said how hard it was to find someone with her qualifications and they could afford her salary. So they met. And the same hiring manager couldn’t keep his face from falling. When prompted he said he didn’t realize my friend was so “old”. She didn’t get the job.

Question: Why is it accepted that Gen X and Y do (and expect to) change jobs every 2 - 4 years but older folks have to have at least 15 good years on offer?
(no, it wasn’t a job that age, gender or appearance would in anyway hinder anyone)

Scenario two: A friend who looks younger than she is has been counseled recently to not “rush” her career advancement, that there is plenty of time. There is 5 years difference between the friends in scenario one and two.

Question: If the ability and experience is there, should age matter?

All the planning there is can be stopped in the face of age discrimination. We can discuss and support but I’m sorry to say that brick walls exists where none should be. Spread the word and let’s keep chipping away it. (or blow it up if you can!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Social Media I - the teen years

These days, I feel it’s fair to spoil my kid rotten in exchange for being able to tell stories about teenagers - not always to a teen’s advantage. It started when he was 2 years old and barfed a pile of half-eaten gummy bears on my bed. That became the opening for a full-length stage play. Of course, since he was unaware of the hilarity his antics added to my storytelling, I didn’t feel the need to shower him with lattes, hair gel and snowboarding gear at the time. Ah, simpler times.

I enjoy observing teens, especially mine: their mating habits; eating forays; homework avoidance techniques (later perfected in the workplace); and the ebb and flow of their social structures.

What is amazing is that his generation grew up with computers. Not just a home computer, but computers and chips and technology just about everywhere: tv remotes and picture-in-picture; cell phones; Interac; digital music players… the list is long. He effortlessly uses and pushes the technology in ways that I don’t even think to go.

His friendships are conducted via text messages, Facebook, and YouTube uploads. Email is considered old-fashioned and clunky by teen standards. He belongs to on-line groups and stays in touch with current events (as relates to teen concerns) via virtual communication means.

The other day he emerged from his cave with his red hair sprayed dark black. He informed me it was “National Kick a Ginger Day” and that a large Facebook posting had his friends sending warnings all night. It takes me 2months to read my Facebook stuff. His cell phone delivers updates.

Friendships are made, lost and expanded via 1 or 2 lines of text, spelled creatively and delivered via a cell phone screen. Parties, gatherings and meetings are sent virally within hours (if not minutes). He “speaks” to more than a dozen people an evening and never gets up from his favourite TV show.

Is that multi-tasking or networking at the next level?

I’ve been asked a great deal what role ‘social networking’ should play in networking. I don’t think there’s an obvious answer. I don’t even think that everyone understands what ‘social networking’ is or what’s involved.

Even technology professionals are divided on this debate.

It’s only clear to teenagers…or so I thought.

My son - without my knowing - is actually interested in the concept of building personal community and secretly reads my blog. He read an earlier draft of this posting and suggested that he could have all the tools taken away for one good coffee with someone.

No matter how the generations are divided across their styles and tools, one approach remains the ultimate in ‘social networking’: face to face.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ambition and Responsibility

I read (in a murder mystery no less) that today women are given men’s ambition and women’s responsibilities.

I’m not a stay-at-home mom and I’m pleased my son is none the worse for wear. While I love creating and writing in isolation, I need the interaction of the collective to take my theories into fact. That’s true of me as a playwright and director; it’s doubly true of me as a public speaker; and it is certainly true of me as a business manager.

Is my drive to talk about ideas in a larger forum a male ambition? No. It’s simply how I am. (My dearest friend is a stay-at-home mom and her son has done equally well. She thrives in the relative solitude and has produced some amazing things.)

Sometimes, expectations are thrust upon me - “you should do X” or “you must become proficient at Y to succeed”. If I agree to take on those expectations but they don’t become ingrained as part of my own goals, perhaps it’s then that I’m trying to live up to someone else’s model.

But otherwise, my ambitions are no one’s but my own!

Women’s responsibilities are well documented: family care; elder care; household duties to name three of the top items that occupy a women’s day. As much as society has evolved, studies still show women as primary caregivers in these areas.

I am trying to imagine a world where a line thrust ambition solely on men and responsibility solely on women. I think both sides would protest loudly. Ambition itself comes with responsibilities - whether the ambitions lie in friendship; parenting; partners; or business. Relationships and caring come with ambition - to do it well; better; efficiently; joyously.

While building my personal community, I have been careful not to fill it with people who make the same choices as me. I revel in everyone’s version of ambition and I debate solutions for all versions of responsibilities. That’s how I learn. That’s what I hope I pass on to my mentorees.

Ambition and responsibility are building blocks of any woman's life and are never merely given to us from external sources with any expectations but our own.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Do the hot potato

I’m flippant and irreverent on the best of days. Sometimes, I’m called to task on things I never really thought about before I opened my mouth. Sometimes, the strangest things I say become the coolest ideas.

Thus the ‘hot potato’ was born. (and Similar Circles, my networking event .. but that’s another post)

It was about 10 years ago and I was attending one of those very packed, very loud industry events where one is supposed to ‘network’ and ‘get exposure’ to the senior people in the room. Beyond flashing my bra or shouting, I could not figure out how to get anyone’s attention. Every ‘senior’ person had a line up. To top it off, conversations appeared to be deep and involved, exclusive and un-interruptable (is that a word?).

So I grumbled in the corner. I grumbled through the week. I grumbled until someone asked me how I would solve this very typical networking dilemma.

I’d put some basic governance around the whole thing, I said. Networking events are not the place to hold long involved conversations. Events are a great place to discover you want to have those conversations, then book the one/one time to do so and move on.

The premise is simple. You have a 2-3 minute conversation with as many folks as you can or want. You must then introduce the person with you are conversing to someone else - you “hot potato” them and you move on. You never walk away from a conversation without first engaging your partner in a new one.

Hot potato ensures you:
• are never trapped in a lengthy conversation
• appear to be a masterful and smooth networker
• meet a lot of folks
• are remembered as a considerate conversationalist

You can introduce virtual strangers. We’re all just hanging about wondering how to meet new people anyway. Wade right in!

You can introduce people to people you’ve just met. You appear thoughtful and considerate.

You’ll find folks feel comfortable bringing folks back to you!

Imagine if we all played hot potato at events. No more line ups. No more standing on the edges. It would be expected to have introductions made and to ease in and out of conversations on a regular and comfortable basis.

ah… my perfect world…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Personal Brand again

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about ‘personal brand’ lately. See earlier postings too: November “Introducing Yourself” and August “Personal Brand”.

Basically, your ‘brand’ is what you stand for. Some folks will use the concept to create a marketing plan for oneself; some will use it as a buzzword; and some will associate it with workplace employee development.

Your brand is your personal style, your ethics, your skills, your consistency and your plans/dreams. It’s reflected in your choices, your questions and statements, and the people with whom you surround yourself and who you attract.

It’s not how you talk about yourself; it’s how others talk about you.

You can market it but your actions should back up your words. You are your brand. You can’t try one on like a jacket; it’s your skin. Personal brand is, ultimately, your reputation.

I was just pondering personal brand while I sat in a coffee shop alone for 45 minutes and my appointment stood me up. However, I know there’s a good reason and I offer her the benefit of the doubt.

Conversely, I waited 10 minutes for a colleague on a project the other day and was fuming.

It’s that simple. Call it integrity, trust, likeability, reputation - you can’t fake it.

It’s why folks will approach you for mentoring. It should be part of your planning with your mentor.

Don’t get hung up on “personal brand” as a concept - focus on the pieces that create it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tough Times

And, rumour has it, times are only going to get tougher for a while. The first world-wide recession. It boggles the mind. It disturbs me deeply.

Never before has it been so evident how interconnected we all are - from our economies to our food sources and down to the very personal level of friends and neighbours facing difficult choices and situations.

Suddenly my personal community - my network of colleagues, peers and friends - doesn’t seem wide enough or deep enough. We will all need to offer and receive some form of support in the coming year: encouragement to still take some measured risk; endorsement of our skills and abilities; comfort for our struggles; and reassurance that the community is still actively coaching, networking and expanding.

There will be a number of folks out there adrift. Folks who, until a crisis hits, don’t have a community behind them and didn’t previously seek to build one. For some, building a personal community through networking and mentoring will be a revelation that will carry them forward for the remainder of their careers. For others, it will be a scramble for any kind of life raft, to be left behind when safety is reached.

It costs us only our time to have a coffee with someone and see if there’s a connection. We don’t have to personally save everyone; we will only need to reach out to those around us with willingness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I have to be Me

I chopped off all my hair. Short. Like Mia Farrow in the 60s. My female friends say it makes me look younger. My male friends say I look butch. Work folks didn’t say anything at all.

One day, I looked around a meeting and saw almost every woman had the same chin-length bob. My department has over 50 folks - that’s a lot of bobs. At the time, I had one too.

We try hard in professional environments to be politically correct and to make other folks ‘comfortable’ with us. As women, we struggle with what that means - power suits? colours? all black? firm handshake? soft voice? Many folks have written articles around the question of: are women trying to look and act like men in the workplace to be accepted?

What about the things we sometimes do to be acceptable to other women? Not being confrontational. No arguments. Being agreeable. (which, in my mind is worse that trying to be liked - see an earlier posting).

I didn’t chop off my hair to look different. I cut my hair to remind myself of my uniqueness. (I am unique only in the way that billions of other folks are unique. I have my own style and my own views.)

I chopped my locks to remind myself to state my point of view honestly (albeit respectfully). To remember that it’s ok to walk against traffic if you know where you are going. That I bring definition to the job/project/adventure and not the other way around.

My community has been cheering my re-found sense of self. I’m ashamed I ever allowed myself to lose it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I am not inventing the wheel

I wish I was. I do fool myself some days, thinking I’m terribly smart and holding all the answers. Ha.

Then I have a lunch with women who, with great enthusiasm, show me something they’ve written or discovered. (see the new link to Avil Beckford’s site in the right-side menu and read about her book) They have no idea they’re putting me firmly back in my place.

New ideas are only new to the person who has recently discovered them. The rest of the folks nod sagely and think “ah, you’ve caught up to the rest of us.”

However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to keep reminding each other of these ideas - especially when they have value and keep rippling onward.

I’m not inventing the wheel here. I’m trying to retool some steering and make the seats more comfortable.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Please Like Me

I got critiqued at work the other day for wanting people to like me.

Now let’s get one thing clear - I do NOT want everyone to like me; that would be creepy. Believe me, not all folks do (I can hear my friends snickering).

My job, however, is about having folks at least tolerate me - I’m a relationship manager! (one of many hats)

You can get any job done without being liked. You cannot get a job done effectively without being liked.

For example, last week I went to Holts to get some make up. I booked an appointment with Loida at the Laura Mercier counter (shameless plug for her) even though I planned to buy Prescriptives.

Anyone could have answered my questions, shown me product, taken my money and guided me through the exchange. How many times have you had such an exchange? Do you remember the sales person’s name - or even their face?

If you liked them you do.

I don’t mean the blurry line between the professional and the personal. Loida doesn’t know where I work or what my latest drama is. I have no idea about her life either except that she runs the Laura Mercier counter and has recently stopped wearing all black - though I don’t know why. Our relationship is strictly professional.

It’s beyond service. I like her. I like her attitude towards her work. I like the way she questions my choices. I like that she offers an honest opinion. (No one else could have talked me into turquoise eye liner!) I like her - and in this case that liking means I trust, respect and enjoy her. I don’t have to invite her out for coffee to cement the relationship.

No one, except people we like (read: trust; respect; enjoy), can get us to offer information or support.

Think about it. We spend most of our waking hours (and some of our sleeping ones) with people we like. We walk into a room and seek them out to sit with them. We take breaks with them. We do them favours. We share ideas. We care if their work/day/project/life is going awry.

A project manager can bring a project to deadline while stepping all over everyone she knows. A project manager who builds relationships will have both added benefits in her project (possibly less resource issues or deadline problems) and will be all set with a strong network to bring the next project in with even bigger results.

Business has been branding managers and executives in many personality buckets for a few decades. At every turn, the manager who tries to be liked is considered less effective and not as strong a leader.

That may be true if they need everyone to like them personally. But let’s challenge conventional thinking. Let’s point out that good leadership (and mentoring and management) is supported by being liked.

We’ve established we’re all more effective with a community behind us. How on earth does one build a community if one isn’t liked??

Friday, November 14, 2008

Speech from Nov.11

I get asked 2 questions all the time.

#1 What's a mentor?

The dictionary says it is a trusted advisor or guide.

I believe that a mentor is someone who is committed to that guiding and advising. Most importantly, a mentor is your safe place where you can discuss the tougher questions - anything from heart-held career goals to work/life balance to office politics to self-doubt.

#2 What does it take to be a mentor?

The ability to listen. A desire to share. A willingness to examine your own motives, methods, and mistakes.

All of which means you have to be as open and receptive as your mentoree. Which is hard because I don’t like admitting I don’t know anymore than the next person does.

And an understanding that mentoring contributes to the greater community.

Mentoring has brought me so much.
• Access to bright women willing to debate and discuss
• Involved examinations of areas of strength
• Stronger understanding of best practice

I like to think of it as: creative friendships and dialogues I wouldn’t otherwise have.

It’s conversations that will last a lifetime.

So why do we need to come together to talk about this?

I believe that everyone is looking for a mentor. Call it a yogi, guru, advisor, whatever.

It has nothing to do with career level and everything to do with reaching for more or pushing to be better or find more… More knowledge = better insight.

Our capacity is not limitless and that's a painful lesson. We're limited by our intellect, emotional availability, height, arm strength, attention span, ability to undrstand grade 10 calculus - these are all limits.

And if we have difficulties moving beyond our own limits then we adapt by borrowing or leaning on the capabilities of others. My son gets the cans off the high shelf. My friend explains politics. My boss finesses a project plan. We use those we know around us. It only makes sense to therefore collect and cherish as many people around you as you can.

You might not always get everything you want and unfortunately sometimes you might not even achieve what you need but your chances are greater if you ask for help, actively seek it and contribute to the needs of others.

Mentoring is vital! Vital to any sector, to any person doing anything at which they want to excel.

Always remember - No one does anything without a community behind them

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Introducing Yourself

A lot has been written on this topic. Sometimes it feels like the entire point of networking is to focus on the introduction. I believe it’s an opportunity we often waste. Why is something we do many times a day - not just at an event - so hard to get ‘right’?

Possibly because there’s a lot of pressure to pile ‘you’ into a handshake and a few words. To be mesmerizing in15 seconds or less. To become the most interesting person in the world just by uttering your name and something pithy which you spent hours rehearsing in your head… only to have something completely different pop out of your mouth.

Ok - let’s step back.

Think of yourself as an unwrapped stick of gum. (indulge me) Now put yourself in the middle of a dozen other unwrapped sticks of gum. Assume all the other gums are equally as talented and tasty as you. Other than size and maybe some colouring, it’s hard to tell everyone apart.

This is where personal brand comes in. It’s the markers and identifiers that allow folks to pick you out of a crowd. It’s your wrapper. Personal brand isn’t superficial; it’s not fluff. It’s how folks know what talents you have and what you stand for.

Most of us wander about like unwrapped sticks of gum hoping that someone will intuit the heart of us - our flavour, our characteristics. Look around the next meeting or event and try to pick out a stellar, driven performer by their appearance. (I don’t believe you’d get that description during a handshake either!)

Your personal brand is like your list of ingredients, adds colour, and is a marker for who you are.

That doesn’t mean you should pin a resume to your chest under the name tag.

You can however rethink your introduction.

Some parts of your personal brand will definitely take time for someone to uncover: your work ethic; personal ethics; soft skills; career ambitions; and your past history to name a few.

Some things you can convey immediately in a greeting, such as: your sense of humour or seriousness; intensity or relaxation; ability to listen and focus; your self-confidence and your passion for the topic at hand.

Passion intrigues us. Passion makes us ask questions and seek information. Passion often gets the conversation started better than your job title. Passion can be conveyed in one sentence - either offered or as a response - to a topic you hope to introduce or that’s on the floor already.

So introduce yourself wearing your personal brand proudly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Focus on the Outcome

A reader comment made me go seek out the Jack Canfield equation: Event + Reaction = Outcome.

Now I don’t subscribe to any one business philosopher - they’ve all solved a piece of the puzzle and I’ve learned quite a bit from their books and seminars. Their true success is in identifying the nugget that carries across disciplines and questions.

A great nugget is Event + Reaction = Outcome. You can’t usually predict or control an event. You can’t control how you feel about it. You can control what you DO about it and so you influence outcome through that control.

That separates the complainers from the action takers!

I truly believe that it’s healthier to check-in with how you feel before choosing how to react. Then you know exactly what the commitments/sacrifices/changes/requirements ask of you. Then it’s a choice.

Life will forever ask us to do things with which we are uncomfortable, aren’t sure we like, or that simply changes stuff. Having a kid prompted me to different choices in career. Having feedback from my community makes me consider choices I might have otherwise discarded (or taken).

Your personal community is in the Canfield equation. Your community is a safe place to explore your reaction and folks who care about you can talk you through your choices. This network can offer perspectives sometimes out of reach to those directly involved in the emotional turmoil of change.

Another reason to build community and be a living, breathing, emotional person!

Friday, November 7, 2008


I attended a wonderful workshop around voice and breath last night. While I sound like Marlene Dietrich today, it was worth the effort! (If you’re interested in the details of the workshop, let me know.)

I think that one of the biggest benefits of building a personal community is the ability to be cross-pollinated by other disciplines, fields, viewpoints, etc. It fascinates me when folks limit themselves to only their own industry or discipline when seeking to expand their communities and potential.

Going outside your own field isn’t only helpful if you wish to change careers. Multiple perspectives from different lenses help us deepen our efforts in our own disciplines. It’s a renaissance approach to life and, in this age of subject matter experts, necessary to create new growth.

Was I outside of my comfort zone? Absolutely. I am not a performer (though some equate public speaking with performance) and I am not comfortable exposing my limitations in a public forum. My discomfort faded with understanding and familiarity with the rest of the group and the tasks we were set. (as does all discomfort usually)

Mentors - encourage your mentees to explore further afield. The unknown becomes known and can add new zest as well as new skills.

Networkers - don’t worry about how someone’s knowledge can or can’t mesh with your own. Enjoy learning a tidbit or two for its own sake. You never know how the connections will appear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Women are Emotional

If I hear someone describe me one more time as ‘emotional’ I will scream.

People are emotional. It’s is proven that there is no such thing as true objectivity though there can be situational disinterest and distance.

However, our emotions colour everything we do - regardless of gender. We decide if we ‘liked’ how a meeting went, if we are ‘happy’ with outcomes, if we are ‘uncomfortable’ with a situation, if we are ‘worried’ about the market. All acceptable emotional responses.

We react emotionally to events and people and then rationalize why we feel that way.

So why accuse women of being ‘emotional’ - very Victorian and archaic!

It’s a standard response when the accuser is either uncomfortable with the emotion being expressed or when the emotion doesn’t reflect what the accuser feels should be the proper response. (making the accuser the emotional one, yes?)

When you are mentoring, keep in mind that emotion is another feature of our mentorees. It can be coached; it can be tamped; it can be explored. It shouldn’t be a bad thing - for either gender.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Thank you for all the email and the comments left here! I really appreciate the points of the view and the questions.

Sometimes, a theme emerges; all the email I've received this week was about discomfort.

Mostly, folks start a conversation with me with a goal of "how do I do X?" They first approach networking and mentoring as a project with a set list of tasks. (You've all heard me rant, and will again, about how this is not a task-oriented process or a transactional approach, and personal style as a driving force).

I got excited this week - the conversation seems to have evolved to "I know what to do but how do I get past my discomfort?" (Mentors, note the posting from Sept26)

So here's a few statements around discomfort - what do you think?

• Discomfort with change doesn’t make change go away.
• Discomfort and dissatisfaction are not the same thing.
• Discomfort with a task or plan or idea doesn’t make that task or plan or idea any less worthwhile.
• Discomfort with your job doesn’t always mean you should change the job.
• Discomfort with networking is an excuse, not a reason, to avoid it.
• Discomfort is a great place to start an exploration of your career, your perceptions or your style.
• Discomfort with yourself doesn’t make change go away.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are Women More Reflective than Men?

I don’t mean in terms of reflecting light (haha) but in regards to wanting to think things through before moving forward.

I see a lot of support around helping women network or mentor but not as much for men. Is that because men as a group aren’t in vogue (having held the spotlight for so long)? Or because men are comfortable mentoring and networking even if it’s untutored or unrecognized?

I get a lot of men asking if they could come talk to me about those two subjects. But never publicly. And never as a group.

I do believe women are really great at pulling together a group - what I call being able to call together the kitchen table. They can create and foster a gathering where everyone feels supported and supportive and great discussion can occur.

I’m generalizing of course. I’ve certainly met my share of women at whose “kitchen table” I’d be afraid to ask for water.

Yet this innate ability to create an interactive table fails women when they put the word ‘networking’ in front of it. Men are comfortable networking but (again generalizing) hesitate at hosting a intimate and interactive gathering.

Is there really a gender gap on this issue?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Peer to Peer - each other's best resource

I started with this as my basic concept. I talk about peer to peer so much that I can't believe I haven’t blogged about it in all these months. Like the foundation of a building, I've taken it for granted that we all stand on it.

How did I figure peer to peer (P2P) as the most successful way to approach building a personal community?

I asked myself: what are women great at doing? Building communities - personal communities that incorporate the private and the professional, the intimate and the public.

How? By gathering family, friends and neighbours co-workers around the table and hosting a conversation. Call it the kitchen table, the conference table or the patio - we’re great at getting folks talking and sharing.

We’re natural facilitators - giving as much as we receive. Making folks comfortable. Encouraging conversation and debate.

The same tools that make us good as facilitators should make us natural networkers. We’re always doing networking when we gather a table.

Let’s call this ability to gather a table: peer to peer (P2P) networking.

P2P simply put is about creating the various tables and circles of folks with whom you share information, successes, failures and questions.

It’s folks of your level (social, professional – choose the designation) with whom you can debate the questions.

The P2P hierarchy isn’t traditional – it’s not based on position, title or industry. It is experience to experience. Body of knowledge to body of knowledge. Everyone has something to contribute. There is no supplicant in this equation.

Life is collaborative. We come together in changing roles (manager, expert, guest, etc.) - by project or event - and learn from each other all the time: experienced manager sharing with the expert, new career sharing with the person who already reinvented themselves, someone finishing a process with someone just starting.

A team meeting, a barbeque, a golf 4some, a brainstorming session with your trusted peers - all ripe for P2P networking.

Networking happens all the time by this definition. Every meeting, every time you stand in a line up for coffee, every elevator ride is ripe to make a connection and share information.

Remember - networking isn’t a single event - it’s a process.

P2P networking you can start today. You can offer and you can receive support and advice - you can ask questions - you can simply meet people with no agenda other than asking yourself - would I sit at this person’s table?

It’s a building personal community.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Perfection not required

Your career is not a boat… A boat with even a small leak is going to sink. You, on the other hand, don't need to be perfect to succeed. Seth Godin

If you don’t know Seth Godin - he is a marvelous writer of all things PR and marketing (see his blog link on the right). He is funny and insightful and - though I’m not a marketeer - I’ve gained some new perspectives from him along the way.

This particular quote from his blog posting of Oct.21 made my day. Especially since I’ve just sat through a presentation where I was told to make sure I was “rowing my boat” and not drifting with the current.

We need the reminder. We don’t need to be perfect to offer good mentoring. We don’t need to know how to network perfectly. We just need to do our best and we’ll all be ahead together.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rant on committees

I sit on a lot of committees. Doing so sounded way more exciting when I was younger and more foolish. Now I think of ways to delegate them.

I’m not sure if that’s a product of there simply being too many meetings - or if it is because invitations are handed out to too many folks. We all know everyone (including me) has an opinion - we don’t need to have them all represented at every meeting.

This fall, I’ve attended many meetings focused on networking and mentoring (again, the 2 words used interchangeably - see a previous post). The subject matter is no surprise but there are two common issues that arise at each one:

1 - The wheel is invented yet again. No one looking at how to do ‘it’ (mentoring or networking) differently - they just want to set up a committee to support it. How many committees in one organisation does it take…. an old joke. And ?why? must we silo by industry? Why reinvent the wheel by industry and then again by industry segment? i.e. can only your mom and your sister teach you to cook?

2 - At each meeting, folks talk about giving women access to senior leadership (vs. access to expertise or interest at any level). Come on! Doesn’t anyone at these meetings point out that networking is about creating interaction FROM WHICH comes the exposure?

That approach of ‘exposure to sr. leadership’ immediately creates pressure on attendees to flock around any senior people there and ‘make an impression’. We should be meeting everyone in the room. Impressions should come from good personal preparation and a well-run event.

If you’re on a committee to set up mentoring and networking in your organization, consider inviting someone who has already successfully run something. See if others across your organization are already engaged. See what other industries are doing and if there is any potential cross-over by piggy-backing. Most importantly, figure out WHY you are helping your organization network so that you’re not planning yet another event that no one knows how to make the most of.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Would politeness help?

I’m back - miss me? I bet you didn’t even notice. We’re all so busy these days with jobs, family, keeping the roof from leaking and finding time to sleep that life is passing at breakneck pace.

So I escaped on a brief vacation.

The thing that strikes me every time I travel is how nice folks are. They say ‘hi’ when they pass a stranger on the sidewalk. They don’t seem to sit on the phone/RIM while eating a meal. I hear a lot of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. No one interrupts a train of thought in an attempt to complete my sentence for me. Why is it so striking that old-fashioned politeness comes to fore on vacation but we feel free to discard it during our regular working hours?

I think that’s a part of why we are often so uncomfortable with networking. It is transactional. We treat folks like a bank machine that is only of interest if we can get something out of them. We treat strangers and acquaintances as obstacles to getting our goals accomplished swiftly. And we’re exposed to the same treatment in return. In our rush to ‘get things done’, we’re rude in the name of business.

Heck, I don’t even answer my phone with “Hello?” anymore. I state my name and the person calling gets right to business. (I changed that today and kicked off a meeting with a personal anecdote! gasp!)

Would networking be more comfortable if we all treated each other a bit more gently in our day-to-day interactions? Treating others as an end in and of themselves vs. the means to our own needs?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm actually taking a short hiking trip with my kid (whose girlfriend will be feeding our animal and staying at our house for her own vacation). I'll be back online next week. I wanted to leave you with the thought that propels me through each day:

You might not always get everything you want and unfortunately sometimes you might not even achieve what you need but your chances are greater if you ask for help, actively seek it and contribute to the needs of others.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leaders Network cont'd

So what is an example of leadership process around networking for a project or business program purpose?

The introduction.

That’s the greeting we give at a regular meeting where we may/may not know the other folks around the table. The usual “duck duck goose” game of introductions at a business meeting is to offer minimal information as one goes around the circle until it gets back to the chair where - “goose” - the meeting then takes off.

This is squandering the opportunity you and your teams and their teams get a dozen times a day - a chance to connect for the first time or deepen a connection.

These introductions should be viewed as a strategic business opportunity to offer information and open the door to future conversations either by revealing new information about oneself or by reinforcing information for new and established colleagues.

We should deliberately move from simply offering our name and title to offering meaningful information (which of course can change in context). “Hi I’m Dennie, Manager of X” becomes “Hi I’m Dennie and I focus on the project’s change management needs.”

And if that prompts someone after the meeting to ask “What did you mean by change management?” then a conversation has begun.

It’s a process. You can coach to it. You can use it. It is not only part of your personal brand but reflects your team’s reputation.

Why didn't I figure this angle out sooner?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Leaders - Know How to Network

I’ve spent the week talking with senior IT managers in the US about networking from the perspective that networking is a leader’s mandate; it’s not a choice.

Unlike the other postings, I'm not talking about how senior folk need to have a career perspective on networking (though they do). I'm positing that it’s good business to be a networker with your internal partners and your own employees.

While we can’t mandate folks to connect, we can mandate leaders to be effective relationship managers and share their networks with their teams. Our daily relationships with our colleagues and partners are the ones we treat as the most transactional - “you have to work with me ‘cuz you’re paid from the same company” is a common underlying sentiment.

Do you know how your team approaches and hones relationships? Is it by magic? Instinct? Or careful and considerate choice?

This is a strong statement: networking is a leadership issue.

Consider this: if networking is a process and not a single transaction or event; if networking is strategic planning; if networking is part of the daily business function (not career searching but daily business interaction) then it stands to reason that it is a leadership deliverable.

Viewed this way, daily business interaction can be broken in processes that should be discussed and explored like other business functions. Choice, instead of habit, would make a leader intentional in their interactions.

I’ll continue this in my next posting.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mentors - consider this

I’m lazy.

Now for those of you that know me, you’re probably thinking my definition of laziness is different from yours. Not so.

Yes, I put out a great deal of effort - words, projects, parenting, keeping house, volunteering, mentoring, etc. and reading at least 4 books a week. But consider this: what I do, I do because I’m interested in it.

When I’m not interested, I want to play Solitaire or read or watch tv. Not being interested at 10 am on a work day can be problematic. Looming deadlines and a full mailbox (voice and data) can’t get me to sit at my desk. I wander into the hallway for tea. I organize a file. I visit with colleagues. All things that also must be done (hydration, relationship management and have you seen my desk?).

Don’t get me wrong. I do everything that Must Be Done. However, I’m really good at avoiding those that Should Be Done. Usually because those things bore me or I don’t see the value. Or because I can think of other things to do that have more interest to me. Which is the traditional view of laziness. No one will suffer because of what I’m avoiding but I’m definitely not making the extra effort.

So as a mentor, I forget this basic in human nature. I can pontificate for hours on what Should Be Done - and no one will do it. I can’t fault anyone for it. People will focus on careers if their career interests them (corporations, please note: it doesn’t interest everyone). People will do the work they Must and most likely do the minimum on the work they Should.

This blog is full of ideas on what Should be done. I can’t prioritize for you. I am planning to re-examine my own career plan with my mentors and determine what’s a Must and what’s a Should. I will try and work with my mentorees on the same thing.

It’s the Should Be Done pile that fascinates me though. Given my nature to be lazy, I need to figure out what might interest me in all that muck. If I can pique my interest, I might do a few more items. If I’m interested, those items move from the equivalent of doing laundry to the comparable enjoyment of a good book. Of course, then it’s not effort and I can maintain my assertion that I’m lazy.

Mentors, consider this: help your mentorees find what’s interesting to them in that Should pile. Because the Must is a minimum. It’s the Should pile where we will all discover real value and progress for ourselves.

“One of the things that may get in the way of people being lifelong learners is that they’re not in touch with their passion. If you’re passionate about what it is you do, then you’re going to be looking for everything you can to get better at it.”
Jack Canfield

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Weddings vs. Work Functions

I was at a lovely wedding last weekend. Yes, the dress was divine. The whole wedding party looked terrific. The reverend running the ceremony was a great public speaker. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale sang (I still have shivers). The food was good.

However, it was lovely because the entire room came together as one community in support of the couple. Now, every wedding is supposed to be about that but not every wedding pulls it off.

At one point, there was a search for some Tylenol - not just at my table - but folks walking from table to table helping the search, not even having met the guest who was hit with a sudden headache.

I saw folks interacting like kids in a sandbox. Everyone was welcome and there was enough cake and merriment to go around. Sometimes no one even exchanged names - the basic grown up fallback. Strangers paid unsolicited compliments and wandered off to their next random flattery moment. By the end of the evening, the room was full of old friends who had, in many instances, just met.

So why does such seamless interaction at an event take on such awkwardness when it’s a work or industry function? We come together for a common cause or theme and we’re there to possibly share a cocktail or understand a strategy. Not as much fun as a wedding but the basic human interaction should be similar.

I think it’s because a work/industry function makes us feel like we have to prove ourselves in some vague way. A social function strips us of titles and focuses on ‘how’ we are vs. ‘who’ we are. Personally, I find the latter function scarier.

Next ‘professional’ function - try breaking the ice as though you were waiting in line at the coffee shop. Comment on the product offered. Comment on the atmosphere. Pay a random compliment. Find the personal connection and enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Things I can’t tell my manager

That I’m not sure this job is the right one for me anymore
That I don’t know if this career path is the right one for me anymore
That I don’t have a key skill you assume I have - or I don’t have it to the extent you assume I have it.
That I don’t know how to manage you.
That my methods of dealing with department politics are failing me this month.
That I am questioning the validity of the assignments I’m getting.
That recognition is not given in ways that are meaningful to me.
That my friends/family think I’m in the wrong space.
That I’m not challenged. That I’m too challenged. That I’m bored. That I’m antsy. That I’m questioning myself.
Why should I do this? Why should I do this?

Even mentors ask these questions. None of us are alone. No questions are negative if you are willing to hear a difficult answer.
Questioning is good. Not questioning leads to no change.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Exercise: Skills Inventory

The marvel of this list is 2-fold: it’s a great way to view your strengths on a day when you’re not sure you can do more than tie your own shoes (badly); it’s a terrific list out of which to create a personal development plan or understand the pro/cons for you when considering a job change.

It’s tempting to rush this inventory exercise by doing it only once (vs. making it a living document) or taking short cuts such as bundling skills under one skill name. Take your time and update it every few months.

• First, make a list of all the skills you have in excruciating detail. Ask yourself ‘what does that word mean’ and if it breaks down into several smaller skills - list those.
• Don’t just list what you love or what you’re good at. List what you’re capable of.
• Ask people you trust to contribute to the list.
• Don’t edit skills by what you like/don’t like doing. I don’t want to be known as a ‘project manager’ anymore since I moved my career over. However, it’s still something I do very well. It goes on my list.

Once you’ve got a comprehensive list (to which you can continue to add at any time), move the skills on to a 4-square grid.

Top left:
- take these skills to the bank - am in the top % here.
No false modesty - these are the skills you use to sell yourself as unique/amazing. They make up your personal brand.

Bottom left:
Solid skills
- table stakes - we all do these

Bottom right:
Skills I could use more training on
- you can do them but we wouldn’t go out of our way to ask you

Top right:
Skills for which I want some/more training
- not what your manager wants - what YOU want

Top right is my favourite square. Identifying existing languishing skills you wish to beef up, pinpoints your interests for either enhancing your current job or helping you select your next challenge. It’s also a great list to figure out where you might want some coaching from your peers or long-term planning with your mentor. You can, with this ¼ of the grid, also add skills you don’t even have yet for the same planning purposes.

I also divide my original list in two pieces - skills I have that I love doing; skills I have that I do because I must. Facilitating falls in the former; updating spreadsheets falls in the latter.

Where I’ve really found this list and the grid useful (if I keep it up-to-date), is helping me not simply jump at new opportunities but approach them strategically. Does this project/job/opportunity help me dive into something on top right part of my grid? Does it simply showcase my existing skills across the left? Does it lean too heavily on the things I don’t enjoy doing (even if I do them very well)?

The list and grid have many applications - but the trick is to make one at all!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starting a Booklist

I have many books I return to often and some that are new discoveries. Send me your top 3 books - a treasured favourite; a constant reference; a new discovery!

1 - A treasured favourite
Do What You Are : Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
Paul D. Tieger

I think this book is in its 20+ printing and has finally moved to paperback. I may have read every printing. (They’ve got a website now but I find it is mostly to sell the product vs. having more information to share.) This is the first book where I had an “ah ha!” moment instead of something that just reaffirmed what I already knew.

It’s aimed at the job seeker but I find it useful to even figure out what skill set to aim for when changing jobs. It’s an easy read, respectful and the exercise I developed for myself out of it was creating the ‘skills inventory’. The language the book uses around skills helps to focus my list instead of taking shortcuts.

It’s also a great mentoring tool - creating some common language, a potential assessment and a good starting point for discussion.

2 - A constant reference
The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron

I actually know folks who have done this program in its entirety. (I would not be one of them.) I do know many of the suggested exercises are terrific for writers and non-writers alike. This is a book that really helps one question the way information is processed and how best to put information out. It’s a lovely personal development tool.

My favourite way to use this book is to let it fall open to a page where I read the quote and try out the suggestion. All random and always relevant.

3 - A new discovery
Corporate Intelligence Awareness: Securing the Competitive Edge
Rodger Harding

I confess - I’m only halfway through this book but even so, Rodger, you must have had cameras in my department.

One promo reads: "In this compelling new book by a former diplomat, you will learn the secrets (step by step) to developing an intelligence strategy by effective information gathering and analyzing, and then to delivering credible intelligence to senior management."

At first glance, it may seem not immediately relevant to your own world but Rodger points out that ethical business intelligence is vital to our ability to think creatively in a crisis or facing a fresh challenge. This book is about how we think - always a fascinating topic.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sales Pressure

You’ve seen the ads about those terrified by sales folk on commission - people diving behind couches and bringing lawyers all to avoid being pressured.

I’d like to state for the record that I receive no money if you take any advice from this blog. LOL

Seriously, the issue I’m hearing more and more is how the workplace is ‘urging’ and ‘directing’ folks to be mentored. Toolkits and networks are set up (or not). Meetings are called.

And once again the words mentoring and networking become
1 - used interchangeably
2 - without definition
3 - thrust upon the individual who enters a potential networking or mentoring opportunity because they feel they must or that it’s politically savvy to do so - vs. because they want to.

I do understand that for some to realize they want to add mentoring and networking to their lives, it takes a catalyst. Dragged to an event by a friend or co-worker. Told to upgrade their skill set or risk lack of advancement by a manager. However, they are won over by seeing others model positive and proactive networking and mentoring behaviours in the workplace. This modeling can create as much influence (and more positive) as being mandated.

Mentoring is not coaching for an immediate job issue. Mentoring doesn’t require lists of skills around which the workplace would like you to better yourself. Your workplace values are what your manager coaches you on. Your career and personal self within that career are where a mentor comes in.

You don’t have to mentor or be mentored. It isn’t network or die! Mentoring and networking are a choice. A sensible and wonderful choice in my opinion - but a choice. It’s not brussel sprouts; it’s a dessert buffet.

Yes, the workplace should get involved. The more who espouse building community in all its forms, the better. But it’s not mandatory and no salesperson should call.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why would Oprah care about my book?

(Yup, I’m working on a book about building a personal community: networking and mentoring.)

Yes, someone asked me that recently. No, I didn’t consider it impertinent.

Not that I expect Oprah to ever read it when I finish. But it’s still a really good question.

Why should anyone care? (oh.. that’s a slippery slope filled with ‘who am I to think I have something new to say’ etc.) But really - why?

You know, it’s not the book itself, nor the blog, that drives me to sit at the computer. It’s that I really believe building a personal community - with sincerity, commitment and real relationships (filled with people you honestly Like having coffee with!) - leaves us all with better neighbourhoods, better friendships, more resources to share and more openness to new experiences.

The concept takes us beyond the value of one, the benefits for one, the ambition of one and opens doors that ripple out beyond even the folks you try to directly affect. You don’t have to be altruistic to be successful in this equation; you have to be genuine and dedicated to the effort required.

My dedication is taking the form of a book these days. I’m calling on the experiences of my network for it. I’m sharing the mentoring advice I’ve been given and have offered. I’m trying to extend the reach of these ideas and counsel beyond those I can actually touch personally.

Because I care. I’ve based my whole way of life on it. I don’t know if anyone, including Oprah, feels the way I do. But I sincerely hope so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Winter Prep

No matter how old I get, September will always be the real ‘new year’. School starts; work gears back up; and winter preparation begins.

You’ve heard of spring cleaning but not winter prep? That’s where you look at your home and get it ready for winter (gardens, closets, boot trays - whatever your routines are). You look at work and *sigh* think about all the things that will now pile up. You make a resolution to stay on top of things this fall because, before you know it, the holidays will be upon you. And, if you’re like me, you look at yourself and wonder how come you didn’t start/finish all the personal projects you had planned to complete by Aug.31.

If you’re really like me you might even do some mental self-flagellation over that last item while eating copious amounts of dark chocolate.

I believe we spend a lot of time worrying or fussing over all the things we don’t get to. How many of you - in recent memory - made a mental or actual list of everything you have accomplished in the last month?

That’s the best ‘winter prep' and school-year resolution I can offer you. Make a list of what you have done lately. Keep it up-to-date. Review it often - not for gaps - but to feel proud.

One day, when you’ve had that list for a few months, you can use it to show your boss your accomplishments, your loved ones your successes or a potential new employer your capability for projects that span across all aspects of your community.

We don’t remember what we accomplished. We do remember what we have yet to do. Spend some time making a useful reminder for yourself and celebrate it on a regular basis!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Personal Brand

I hear everyone – and I include myself – bandying about the term “personal brand” a lot lately. I was very excited when I first heard the term but, like any buzzword, it has become vague, overused and misunderstood. It’s become a marker on the edge of our community along with “trespassers shall be prosecuted”, “don’t litter”, and “act today, don’t delay!”

“This area is posted as my personal brand” is how some folks are claiming space in a world that seeks originality and ‘hot’ new things. Personal branding seems to imply that one owns the item/idea/approach in question. Personal brand (PB) has become about external markers and marketing.


If there are only 7 notes on the musical scale, then music by that definition can’t be reinvented or owned. Therefore, symphonies are an individual’s interpretation of the original scale and the style of interpretation could be called “personal brand’ (PB).

Style is made of so many things – some original for sure! and some interpretations. Perhaps some pieces of style are merely used ‘as is’. I love cinnamon – it’s a signature scent of mine; part of my style – but not owned or interpreted by me. (but I digress…)

PB is, simply put, one’s personal style. Style is made up of so many things – all selected by the individual and deemed important to their sense and portrayal of self. Visual presentation, oral presentation, career choices, philosophies, organizations joined.... There is no definitive checklist.

So – going forward – when we talk about our PB, let’s discuss which element of our style we’re discussing at that moment. Let’s not use it to claim territory but to include and share the space around us. Let’s examine the philosophies, visuals, ideas, ethics and actions that make us individual. (No one woman has the exact same wardrobe as another even if they frequent the same stores!). It’s not about marketing our PB – it’s about expanding, developing and sharing the pieces that sum up and influence our personal style/brand.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grey Zones

Mentoring and networking create a lot of 'grey zones' - areas where it isn't clear what to do or how to do it. Choices aren't obviously professional or personal, rational or emotional, traditional or self-directed.

If you are debating, searching, questioning - don't feel dumb. We're all doing the same thing.

That's the real secret - there is no one answer and we're all making it up and changing the rules as we go.

I know there are lots of books/websites/articles etc. out there that offer step-by-step instructions. I may fall into the same trap along the way - are there any universal "do"s or "don't"s?

But those checklists assume you have a decisive linear direction and that you are simply looking to refine your tactics.

I really believe that if we are serious about building a personal community - and doing the work it takes to make it productive for ourselves and others - then it requires a long-term view and is based on relationships vs. events and checkmarks.

And, of course, sincerity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A 'genuine' introduction

I read an article today on More.ca - a magazine trying to appeal to women over 40. (and I thought ice cream and great clothes were ageless)

The article asked if we know how to present our "genuine self". Not our career or our status (married, single, mother, sister, etc.) but our core and our dreams. The article didn't offer enough examples for me to fully grasp what the author was seeking but the concept is very appealing.

We search for ways to introduce ourselves that make us seem palatable, desirable, interesting. We create tag lines with an audience in mind. We use our introductions to engage someone else's interest.

So knowing that we rarely do anything without some kind of audience in mind - I propose the following exercise:
1 - If you were to introduce you to yourself, what would you say?
2 - If you were to introduce yourself without mentioning what you're paid to do, what would you say?
3 - If your best friend/partner/child were to introduce you, what's the one thing you'd hope they'd say?

I bet you just created an introduction that is 'genuinely' about you. I dare you to try it out.

Learning to be idle

For those of you who know me well, you know I hate being sick. I don't mind deliberately lazing about with a good book for an afternoon. I do mind the enforced sitting about when my body isn't keeping up.

Know that I'm home for the next 2 weeks. While I don't mind staying in my jammies, I am already wondering if I should re-arrange my livingroom.

It's not that we should be busy every minute of the day - solving problems, talking to everyone, getting 'out there'. It's that when you've already built thinking time into a schedule, suddenly having a surfeit is uncomfortable.

Ah, I thought, and why would the luxury of time to do more thinking and wondering be uncomfortable? Because I think I already have a plan and now it's time to DO? Because I'm afraid to question my past decisions? Because I'm worried my reputation/personal brand will suffer and folks will think I'm merely goofing off?

Planning and execution are iterative. A plan is what you hope will create the future but of course it's not a reality today. Executing is an immediate activity that must respond and bend to the obstacles (forseen or unforseen). Sometimes that means you have to plan some more. Some times it simply means you have to wait.

I realised today my reputation should rest more on my flexibility than my output. That is a very different way for me to start approaching my daily work, my communities and my career.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding a mentor - part 2

It's just as hard to be a mentor as find one. My own criteria for picking a mentor might not fit for anyone else. For example, I pick mentors for myself because I admire how their minds work. I’m a huge fan of Carol Stephenson - no matter how often she has changed industry, her ability to create a relevant strategic framework that opens both minds and revenue has inspired me for years. If I had the nerve, I’d be driving to her office right now to ask for her time! But I don't want to run Lucent or Stentor or Ivey. I'm a fan of hers for how she thinks vs. what she's working on at the moment.

So when I'm asked:
1) How do you find someone to be a mentor outside of your organization?
2) When that person is outside of the organization, how do you handle talking about things that matter to you and your work, but might be considered confidential/proprietary intellectual property?

I can offer these guidelines.

First question – are you looking for coaching on your current job/challenge or are you looking for mentoring on your ongoing development?

It does get tricky when you have a current work issue that can't be discussed without an NDA. If you are looking for a solution to the actual problem or an in-depth view to the subject, then certainly stay with the subject matter experts cleared to examine the problem.

If you are looking at your own behaviour or means of approaching problems – whether it is to find a new book/course/tool to expand your education on the subject or to be more adept at the politics of the situation – then it is easier to avoid the confidential details and take a broader long-term approach that is part of your own development cycle.

Mentoring is more about long-term solutions and expanded education. Coaching is often about an immediate issue that can be a specific/one-time question.

Mentoring is also about trust – you will stray into grey zones all the time as your relationship develops. An open conversation, while respecting boundaries of those not present, assumes a high level of disclosure. (It is like being under NDA every time I hear someone say “of course this stays in this room”.)

I think the best compromise might be to look at the associations around your current career. These (often not-for-profit) groups bring together folks with common skills/careers/challenges and have often have mentoring programs for which you can both volunteer and ask for a mentor.

Going outside your own company, no matter how big or small it is, is a great advantage.
* you are never in danger of having someone influence your career (promotions, raises evaluations, etc.) without your knowledge. Power should not be lightly given.
* you gain valuable exposure to how things work elsewhere
* it keeps everyone from being 'too close' to the problem/issue/question, so you gain fresh perspectives
* it offers different and sometimes broader resources and career exposure.

The downside is they might not see the nuances with which you are struggling. It does put more of an onus on you to be a better communicator in the relationship.

I talked about how to find a mentor in an earlier post. Start asking around!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We try so hard to stay strangers

I was caught in a rainstorm, along with several 10s of people. We all crowded in under the same small bits of shelter. And everyone tried so hard to preserve everyone else's sense of space and privacy. Which was considerate but ultimately very odd as no one talked or took the opportunity to be an impromptu community. Everyone pretended to be in their own worlds. Because of a sense of politeness? A sense of distaste for strangers? A fear of being thought uninteresting?

It is a very lonely world somedays.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Not working the room

What the heck is mentoring or a mentor

I found myself at a music festival this weekend. Literally. On Friday night, I stood on the edge of the grass behind the sea of lawn chairs and felt myself arrive – piece by piece. The sky had miraculously cleared and there were at least 4 constellations (of which I knew the names). The sun had blazed over Lake Huron an hour before and now here we all were, many hundreds of people, all sitting / standing /swaying and all strangers.

It was a relief to not be “on” - to be anonymous – to be part of a crowd with no agenda but to be there.

Which completely freed me to do what I love best.

Meet people.

What? you might think, Isn't that the opposite of the anonymity and the purpose of getting away from it all?

I think that's the biggest mistake we make when we talk about “Networking”. It is not a task to be undertaken or a challenge to be overcome. It doesn't have to involve your game face or your most polished presentation.

Here we all were at a large gathering for a common purpose. No one asked me what I do for a living. No one was seeking anything. Heck, folks didn't even ask my name unless the conversation was going really well.

We all wandered about this lovely park (could've easily been a big hotel ballroom) and nodded to each other, made comments about a book tucked under an arm, the source of a sandwich, a compliment... a commentary on the musicians... found an old acquaintance. Some conversations evolved. Some will stretch on and off through the event. Some were simply polite.

It is ok to say 'hi' to folks. It is ok that some conversations go nowhere. It is ok to just be in the room and not 'work it'. Often the room works itself :-)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

To meet or not to meet?

I gather I was preaching to the choir on that last posting.

One other interesting piece I hear a lot in those sessions is : Email, phone and on-line are fine but to really build a meaningful relationship, you need to meet face to face at least once - preferably early on.

Is this true?

I’m torn on this one.

If we go by learning styles, there are about ¼ of us that need that touch - that visceral connection you can only get by being in the same room. If you go by social media, a webcam should suffice. If we’re talking traditional - then you can form a lasting relationship with nothing more than words - online or by phone.

Sure, meeting with someone is a shortcut to possibly better communication. But is it a “must do”?

Folks everywhere are building online/remote relationships in all aspects of life. There’s online dating - where the first meeting(s) are only virtual. Yes, the goal is to result in a personal meeting but the initial relationship is often formed online with great expectations and a ‘feel’ for the other person built on nothing more than screen time.

What about using online resources? We do customer service on-line, expecting solutions to queries and complaints without pleading our case in person. We hit blogs and websites, post comments, ask questions and feel connected to authors and experts without ever even thinking about meeting up in real time.

And pen pals - the time-honoured tradition of making friends with someone in a remote location from yourself who you might never meet. (Does anyone out there still have pen pals? Is it still also done in the schools?)

So if you can build love, friendship, kinship all online - do you absolutely need to meet face to face to add someone to your network in a meaningful way?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who should I call?

I just finished a report after many employee ‘listening sessions’. I’ve done 4 of these projects now and heard over 1000 people who - and it’s peculiar - stick to the same topics and concerns year after year.

They talk about work/life balance (no one has it) and flex time (not everyone is for it). They talk about how nobody ever tells them anything (and sometimes they’re right). And they talk about not knowing who to go to with work questions, problems or ideas. They complain about having to ask other people for direction about who else to approach.

I’m always flabbergasted at that one. Yes, company phone books and org charts aren’t always in great shape but surely that’s not a reason to toss up your hands and give up?

Let’s use the example of being new to the city. You need to set up a home with services. You need to find activities. You need to get restaurant recommendations. Yes, there's a city phone book - always a place for the big ticket items. But do you stop there? Do you expect by examining neighbourhood maps or city websites that you should find everything you need regarding your personal project needs?

Of course not.

You ask friends and neighbours. You chat up whomever is in line at the grocery store. You pass yourself from person to person until you find the pieces you need. It’s expected.

We do the same to both build our network and mine it. We are mentored to do this. Heck, that’s why this blog has the reference to circles - they overlap, they ripple, they widen.

So WHY is it considered to be such a hardship to do it as part of our jobs? Frankly, that’s just silly. And even sillier to hold the organization accountable beyond producing the phone book. Hmph!

Monday, July 28, 2008

When you really don’t feel up to it

So - how do you maintain your network and keep mentoring when you’re feeling truly depressed or simply discouraged?

No - this isn’t a hidden cry for help or a question for which there is only one answer.

But lately my own struggles have skewed my interaction with my world. I’m not comfortable putting on a fake face - though I do have comfort in putting on a brave one.

I just don’t have the energy or resources to reach out with both hands to those who depend on me or to those on whom I depend. My life is a little overwhelming at the moment and my career is a piece of that puzzle.

It’s crummy to be so down in the hot sunny days of summer. Somehow the snow and sleet are better for lying in bed and wondering about life.

My solution? I can only speak for myself of course…
1 - I set a minimum of interaction below which my ethics are compromised and make myself stick to it. I will feel worse about myself if I throw my hands up and let everything go to pot instead of just the pieces I think are doing so without my help. But I will not put my schedule over the solitude I currently crave.
2 - I won’t take on any new commitments until I feel more settled emotionally once more.
3 - I will let my mentors and peers know that, with my thought processes muddied, I might rely more on theirs to help me through.
4 - I will trust in the decisions I made a few months ago instead of giving into the doubts that besiege me now (unless I get new hard facts to change the decisions).

Being professional is often synonymous with being impersonal. I don’t subscribe to that. For my network to be successful and my mentoring to be meaningful, I have to be human. Sometimes that means asking for help. Sometimes that means admitting I’m not on top of my game. That approach gives all of us permission to do the same if we so choose.

I’ll be here on this blog. I just may not have time for tea at the moment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Words we misuse

The Lexicon of Mentoring and Networking

Mentoring and networking are 2 halves of the same coin. Networking being the active building of community and mentoring being the individual seeking of counsel/advice from that community.

Mentoring and networking are not a science; they are an art. You can have checklists, invitations and plans but it comes down to 2 basic things - relationships and words.

It drives me crazy that some organizations talk about mentoring and networking without defining what they mean AND using the 2 words interchangeably.

With interest in these topics on the rise, we run the risk of losing all meaning - much like the over-hyped word ‘green’ or the or the nonsensical, amorphous understanding of ‘cool’.

Just look at some of the words we use:
* intern / internship
* apprentice / apprenticeship
* placement
* protégée
* mentoree
* coach
* mentor
* advisor
* manage / manager
* network
* relationship management

Would you call a chicken a turkey?

So let me just make the first of many distinctions for my purposes :-)

Apprenticing: Trump has made this famous - you find a successful sponsor who will teach you everything they know and you follow in their footsteps till you either have their job or have enough ‘whatever’ to build your own path. It’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years and has produced some great artists and thinkers.
I lump in internships and placements here.

Mentoring: as I see it, mentoring puts the work back on the mentoree. You own your actions and decisions at all times. You choose -or don’t - to take the advice or challenges given to you by your mentor. You’re answerable to no one but yourself on your progress. It’s like an independent study.

And managing and coaching are what your supervisor does.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

While Travelling

Recently, I've had the opportunity to do some travelling - mostly for work and mainly to places I've never been. Ah, you might think this was terrific for making new friends, contacts and adventures. Of course it was - but it was also terrible for keeping up with my current circles.

I supposed I could have blogged about my adventures (though really, no one wants to hear about what I had for supper in Portland or how nice the admins were in NJ?). Honestly, I found myself too tired at the end of the day to reach out - even in cyberspace - to more than my kid.

I espouse keeping in touch. I made a commitment on this blog. I have long-standing relationships I value that require personal moments. So why is it that travelling broke all of this?

It didn't.

It gave me time to think and not just say/do.

So here's my current top 10 list for networking when you travel.

10 - Understand which points of contact should be part of your travels (i.e. my kid) and which can wait for your return.

9 - Don't feel guilty about taking a short break from those other relationships.

8 - Focus on the people you're meeting while away - this could be one of the few chances where you'll see them face-to-face.

7 - Be consistent in your approach with folks - if you're more reserved or more outgoing while travelling then ask yourself if you need to make adjustments (at home or away) to reflect your real style.

6 - Try not to introduce yourself by 'what you do' when away. If you're travelling in a business context, chances are they know why you're there. If you're on personal time, it's a great chance to showcase another of your many sides.

5 - There's no need to add everyone you meet to your network. You're looking for folks who offer new/interesting pieces to your approach to life/career/questions - and who might value your contributions. A pile of business cards is simply a pile if you don't genuinely want to have a conversation with the name(s) on the card.

4 - Don't post shots of yourself in your new bathing suit. Even if you found it on sale at Lord&Taylor and it's beautiful. Somethings only your mother would appreciate.

3 - Grab the chance to read - take information in instead of the constant output expected from us in our working lives. Murder mysteries count.

2 - Wonder how to really set up networking from a borderless, distance-agnostic perspective. Put that question out there.

1 - Let everyone know when you're home.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Your mentor, your friend?

Actually, a mentor asked me this question. She has been mentoring someone for about 2 years and has come to care about them – even though they only meet a few times per year. She knows her mentoree is having some personal upheaval and has become withdrawn. As a friend, she might reach out and offer her help. As a mentor, she feels compelled to stay away.

She doesn't want to make anyone uncomfortable or embarassed as she feels she holds some power as the mentor.

What would you do in her situation?

Friday, July 4, 2008

How much time to give to change?

I’m off to sunny Portland ME to run a small executive meeting for IT. I will miss my Weds posting next week due to the fact I’ll be driving around the state and hopefully sampling a few lobster rolls. I promise to make it up to you.

In the meantime, here’s an excellent question to ponder:

How long should I give myself when I make a change?

Changing your approach & philosophy
They say in exercise that muscle memory kicks in after 10 repetitions. So if you do a move like an ab crunch incorrectly 9 times, you’ll spend many months unintentionally injuring yourself. If you do the move correctly, you’ll be fine.

Changing our lives isn’t easy to do - never mind doing it error-free. The discipline of assessing, networking, questioning becomes habit - but refining those habits can take weeks, months or even a whole career.

Instead of setting goals with time limits (i.e. I will become an executive by 2010) - set milestones against your overall goal (I will read X, take X course, find a mentor for X, target X company, etc). Each milestone is one set of crunches towards your goal of a stronger abdomen.

Changing a major part of your life
Timing yourself is slightly different when you’re experience an external change like moving houses or changing jobs.

I give myself 3- 6 months depending on the size of the change (and how many at once) for life to assume its new(er) patterns. I set milestones within those months but I don’t push myself to do more than get my usual routines back in place. My priority is to not push myself to do more than find my place within the new setting and to not lose touch with my community as the crazy busy times take over.

I’m not always successful at staying in touch - I’d welcome your thoughts on simple ways to do that while running the marathon we call life!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's work

"Discipline is not a nasty word." Pat Riley

There is no pill. There is no quick fix. I think I groaned when I really took in the fact that building a community was another full-time job in my jam-packed agenda.

It’s time and effort. It’s WORK. You have to plan; you have to follow through.

It takes commitment and discipline.

You run the real risk of being called *gasp* a Brazen Careerist - someone who is openly ambitious.

This is where I balked. I'm known as a sociable, let's-all-take-turns kind o'person and ambition these days seems to mean you're willing to run over your best friend to get the trophy.

And - where do you draw the line between personal and professional communities? I mean if you do decide to do the work, make the commitment to yourself and risk being labeled as 'out there' how many darn communities do you have the time to build?


Yes it creates some weird grey lines between the personal and professional but life doesn't fall into neat boxes (though I've dated some guys who tried to live that way).

How do you feel about the grey zone?

Monday, June 30, 2008

What the heck is mentoring?

I’m hoping this topic will raise a few questions/objections/cheers. As well, it will be a multiple-part post because it’s a big question.

Assertions on mentoring:

#1 - Mentoring is the other side of networking.
#2 - You can possibly network without being deliberately involved in mentoring (giving or receiving) BUT you can’t be involved in mentoring without being committed to networking.
#3 - Mentoring is not:
· having someone find you a job.
· the same as workplace coaching.
· a casual relationship
#4 - Mentoring is a key component of your personal ‘brand’
#5 - Mentoring and networking are vital to any person doing anything at which they want to excel.

(Wait till we get to the networking assertions! Send me yours now?)

For any industry or company, mentoring can:
· attract the brightest individuals with more than the lure (or lack) of salary
· ensure people are able to find their areas of strength, building personal satisfaction
· potentially bring people together as a dynamic group within that industry or event
· open doors to people and knowledge and opportunities

At the individual level, mentoring is:

  • A one/one relationship to help expand knowledge or experience or understanding of a particular issue or area or industry

That is a formal, well-known approach we all value.

The first question to ask yourself is: what am I really asking for when I want help or advice?

Basically start by asking yourself if you are looking for the old-style ‘apprentice’ or for the newer approach of mentoring. Some folks don’t differentiate.

Apprenticing - and Trump has made this famous - you find a successful sponsor who will teach you everything they know. You follow in their footsteps till you either have their job or have enough whatever to build your own path.

When folks used to look for a mentor, that’s what was in mind. It’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years and has produced some great artists, leaders and contributors. Apprenticing today can have many names: protégée, intern, or placement. It focuses on the successes of the mentor who brings the protégée along.

Mentoring the way I see it puts the work back on you - the mentoree. You own your actions and decisions at all times. You choose -or don’t - to take the advice or challenges given to you by your mentor. You’re answerable to no one but yourself on your progress. (like an independent study)

You might have several mentors across different areas of your life at one time. You might have more than one mentor simultaneously. You may be in a formal program. You might do it through an organization or association. You might do it just by asking someone to mentor you.

Either way you control the process and you decide the type of information and advice you seek. This pulls mentoring beyond the realm of your particular industry and allows you to seek best-practice folks wherever they are to be found.