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.