Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

I declare 2010 to be the Year of Meaningful Compliments.

What's a meaningful compliment? One that you take pride in - overtly or privately. One that acknowledges something towards which you've strived or a quality you've been cultivating.

Pick a step/goal on your journey or a quality you'd like to have known as part of your personal brand. Something you want; not something someone else has said you should desire/seek.

Live it. Breathe it. Enjoy it.

And this year, when someone compliments on you on it - perhaps not evening knowing how important it is to you - you'll have your first meaningful compliment of 2010.

Collect them. Cherish them. If I get just one this year, I'm going to grin about it for months!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Forgotten resolutions

Those are the ones we don't think of as 'worthy' to be resolutions. We think of them and dismiss them as too easy or fun - as though resolutions must be like punishments for the excess of the previous year.

I call them the 'self-care' resolutions... the ones we never seem to get to as we do for others or do what's expected first.

Consider what might make 2010 brighter, simpler and cheerier for you. Mentoring others also means caring for yourself the way we suggest others care for themselves.

I'm going to read more non-business books (murder mysteries!). I'm going to buy a t-shirt in a bright colour and throw out worn undies in place of new. I'm going to stop apologizing if my eyes tear up during moments of frustration. Most importantly, I'm going to indulge in two over-priced Sunday lattes if it means an extra hour with my kid, hearing about his world.

My 'forgotten resolution' list is longer but you get the idea...

Of course, I have my career plans and my year plan. But first and foremost I resolve to to walk my talk, including in uncovering moments of joy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December wishes

However you celebrate - whatever your traditions - may this holiday season gather the best of your community around you.

May you be warmed by the goodwill of friends and family till we see longer days of sunshine and the first buds of spring.

Thank you for being part of another year of exploration and questions. Thank you for being part of my circle.

Much cheer,


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Mentor "A" list

Folks just aren't talking about mentoring as much they discuss networking. And yet mentoring and networking are two sides of the same coin.

In the joyous spirit of December, let's kick off a conversation about mentoring.

Over the next few months, with the help of the alphabet, a dictionary and you... Let's explore the different kinds of mentors there are! We either do these things for others or we seek them for ourselves.

Starting with "A":

1. Abandon"ment-or" – helps when the world seems to be ignoring you
2. Abutment-or – props you up while you try new things
3. Accompaniment-or – tries things with you
4. Accomplishment-or – someone you admire
5. Achievement-or – points out what there is to admire in you
6. Adjustment-or – helps make changes
7. Adornment-or – helps you dress better
8. Advancement-or – helps you rethink your career
9. Agreement-or – helps find a middle ground
10. Ailment-or – consoles you
11. Alignment-or – points in the right direction
12. Amazement-or – surprises you and changes your perspective
13. Amendment-or – offers alternatives
14. Amusement-or – sees the humour of the situation
15. Announcement-or – tells everyone about you
16. Apartment-or – knows where you live and is willing to meet you there
17. Appointment-or – teaches time management
18. Argument-or – helps you stand up and be heard
19. Arrangement-or – introduces you to new people
20. Assessment-or – helps you understands yourself
21. Assignment-or – tasks you with things to try
22. Assortment-or – offers multiple perspectives
23. Atonement-or – helps fix mistakes
24. Attachment-or – builds meaningful relationships
25. Attainment-or – helps you define goals
26. Augment-or – helps you be you in all facets

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Invisible Mentor - postings

Avil Beckford has written a lovely article about some folks' top 5 books for a desert island. Engaging and informative, it also proves that I should expand my own list a bit more :-)

She also interviewed me for her blog "The Invisible Mentor". Again, I shouldn't be trusted to answer questions without my PR person standing by. (it's an unpaid spot - let me know if you're interested)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reinforce existing ties

This is a great time of year. It's like when the library holds a "return old books and we'll waive all overdue fines!"

It's the time of year when it's perfectly ok to reach out to folks you haven't talked to all year without having to make excuses. Use a card, a call or a coffee - but now is the time to reinforce some existing ties within your network.

Evaluate your network. With whom have you not had a chance to catch up? Who are the folks for whom you should reinforce that you are happy they are part of your community? Who has gone MIA in your world and, if you care, can you reach out?

It's been a busy year full of change for many of us. We started with the best of intentions and got caught up in the minutae of running a life. So grab some time this month or next and and extend a hand - all fines waived!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The secret

What is it about the holiday month that makes folks so hungry for shortcuts and boxed answers? (I'm including myself) Time feels too short and with the excitement also grows anxiety.

So here's the secret - the one thing everyone must know - that I've learned about mentoring and networking...

You Don't Have To Be Good At It.

You need a purpose. You need desire. You must be willing. But you can do it anyway you want and figure it out as you go. Just jump in. Anytime. A community awaits you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Networking - things to ponder #5

Mentoring and networking are two sides of the same coin.

The relationship between the two activities are obvious to me.
* mentors/mentorees and connections to mentors/mentorees come from your community
* peer mentoring is a fundamental activity of your community
* new connections are a result of activity within your community
* feedback and comfort at events are a support function of your community

The list is longer and we can all add our favourites to build it.

At a meeting yesterday, I realized why folks keep the two activities in separate drawers of the mind. Because mentoring mentoring is still not widely understood and networking is still perceived as Going-to-an-Event.

Let's look at Going-to-an-Event...
If that's the only way you do networking, you've cut yourself off from 90% of the other means of meeting/deepening connections. It's like only eating brussel sprouts. (you might like them but you can't survive on them)

Walking into a large room full of strangers and told to 'mingle' is not everyone's idea of heaven. (That's why I've called myself "The Reluctant Networker" for so long)
* It ignores the daily opportunities - meetings, elevators, coffee lines, your family activities - we talk to people all the time!
* It ignores the existing connections for new ones
* It implies "bulk" shopping is the only option
* It limits you to networking outside your normal routines which can be difficult (child care; family obligations; personal commitments, etc.)

Networking is a daily activity, driven by your personal goals. Chances are if you know why you are doing it and towards what you are driving, you will have an easier time working through the how-to-do-it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What helps with your blocks?

It's 3am and I've managed to play 3 hours of solitaire and Snood. I have pile of work on one side and a list of blogs to write on the other. I've had 2 entire pots of tea, turned off the music and have resisted watching the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on YouTube one more time....

What do YOU do when your mind stays stubbornly blank? Help a mentor out....?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Don't wait - prepare!

Most of us wait till we are changing assignments to redo resumes, think about our core skills and maybe develop a bio. It's like shopping for holiday gifts Dec. 24 - silly.


Since many of us find our day jobs a little quieter over the holidays, why not put aside 15 minutes a day (or even every second day) to brush up your tools? Make or revamp a skills list. Read your resume while you're not in a rush - find a better way to state your accomplishments or add the latest ones. Practice the holiday introductions you can use at parties and events.

Mentors - offer a holiday coffee to help your peers and mentorees focus on one of the above bits. No one should have to develop their tools alone!

Remember - you also need these tools to enhance your 'brand' within your current situation. The clearer your story - the more folks will offer to tell it!

Friday, December 4, 2009


I don't know about you... but I hate writing my bio. Either I sound flaky (though myself) or I sound like a cross between Mother Teresa and a machine.

I know very few folks who write their bios well. And even fewer who have their communities review them.

Here's a few thoughts I've picked up from the discussions around 'bios' this week:
1 - it's not your resume. It's what you hope someone from your inner circle would say about you if asked.
2 - therefore your bio can change depending on the circumstance but
3 - it's wise to have your circle review your bio. Sometimes they'll point out they'd say even nicer things than you wrote for yourself!

Put what's important to you in your bio. Add what has made you proud. Make it offer a 'taste' of who you and what you are like. Most of us just list our accomplishments (which really is of interest mostly to our mothers and those seeking a mentor) and never go any further.

- adding your philosophy
- mixing some personal highlights with the professional
- consider the bio as a conversation starter about you instead of a finite ingredient list of your skills

Play with your bio. I have a few versions of a 6 word bio which I can then also use as an introductory statement when meeting new folks. I have a full page bio. I have a bio for print and a bio to be read when I'm introduced to speak.

You're multifaceted. Your bio should open a window on the jewel that is you!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pass me on!

Many folks are working hard at building community these days - networking, talking with mentors and peers, having back-to-back coffee meetings. And yet, many comment on how slowly progress is made.

What might help is letting your current community help you! We often approach coffee/tea meetings as 'one-offs', setting each one up as an isolated incident that may/may not span more than the two original invitees. Why not end these coffee meetings with a question "Who else could you suggest I talk to about X?"

A simple question - but it often leads to introductions to new people.

Don't just meet with your circle, meet with the circles of those you know and offer yours in return!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Volunteering as a means to network

I am sticking to my original belief - volunteering is a great way to network.

Last night, I volunteered at a not-for-profit gala for Mixed Company Theatre's 25th anniversary as the 'stage manager'. Basically, I created the event's flow sheet and made sure everyone not only made it to the stage on time, but felt comfortable doing so.

I met every speaker. I met many attendees. I helped a few folks even if it was simply to tell them which were my favourite hors d'ouevres. With very little effort (except for walking in heels and standing up straight in a fabulous dress from Posh), it was a successful event from both the celebration itself to a networking standpoint. And Suhana Meharchand is a terrific emcee!

Volunteering can take span one event, one committee or one cause depending on how much time you have to give. You start because of a desire to contribute - which of course is the heart of Similar Circles. But it also serves you - developing or highlighting skills and giving you a terrific reason to talk to people.

I ask all my mentorees to consider volunteering!

P.S. It turns out that an over-rotated shoulder makes it hard to type at the computer. Who knew? So I apologize for missing the Wednesday posting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quote of the week

A wonderful Similar Circles participant - who is also a fine jazz singer - killed a bottle of wine with me some weeks ago. She told me a tale which ended with the line "May you live the life you have earned."

Like the proverb "May you live in interesting times", her line could be read many ways. (I have a few old flames for whom that line might not been seen as positive :-)

Like karma, like paying a good deed forward, like simply trying to offer a hand as often as ask - it's easy to see how participating in our communities can only help everyone blossom. Contributing joy, brings you joy. Maybe not in equal measures but still the circle is created. Listening gets you heard. Being open brings you new ideas. etc. etc. etc.

I'm proud to quote those I deem insightful and influential in my life. I'm even prouder when I know them well enough to share food and drink.

May you live the life you have earned.
Julie Michels

Friday, November 20, 2009

Going blank for a moment

What a week: interviews, coffees, mentoring and being mentored. And here it is, 3am, and my mind is as blank as printer paper.

I've given and received useful - and useless - advice all week. The community has passed around articles, quotes and links. We've debated, agreed, disagreed and ignored copious amounts of information. Subjects have ranged from parenting teens (the great mystery) to leadership to just plain grousing (always necessary in small doses).

I've worried, fretted and planned about jobs (me and my friends), values, transitions, nutritious meals, health and laundry.

Sometimes you just hit 'overload'. Sometimes the best thing you can do is play Snood on the iMac till 3am. Sometimes a murder mystery or cheesy movie is all the stimulation we need.

This weekend I'm just going to let life happen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Workshop anyone?

I've been on a new exploration lately. Looking for my next job had me evaluate the tools I use and how well they reflect me. The resume and cover letter, even with my community promoting me and providing me with personal introductory coffees, didn't seem like the right approach.

Following my own philosophy, my application package should:
* put forward the strengths I enjoy over any other strengths I have
* help folks understand my journey is not linear so a resume doesn't tell you what I could do or where I will go
* and help folks understand that all my experience will support my next step, not just the direct experience in a particular area.

With that in mind, I tool my skills list and created a brief PowerPoint presentation that I'm happy to say is my pictorial bio. Plus I parsed the job descriptions, real or verbal, into a chart that mapped back to the skills list, including my volunteer work and my personal passions.

People have laughed, wondered and nodded when they see my new tools but they all have called me in to chat.

I'm thinking there's a workshop in this (and thus the funds for a website...) Anyone interested?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Let's get emotional!!

Do you find yourself trying to act more remote/emotionless in public than usual?

With such stereotypes such as "women are emotional" and "professional means serious and always calm", have we left a critical and strategic piece of ourselves behind?

In the recent Toronto Star articles around the evolving neuroscience and education debate, the issue is raised that folks who have lost the ability (due to accident or illness) to experience emotion cannot make decisions.

And yet, our professional cultures often praise those who remain rational, logical and remove emotion from the equation. Meaning they are not making a true decisions that uses all the tools and faculties required for good decision making?

In our efforts to be more professional, have we forgotten that we are creatures of emotion and need (and that's ok as long as it isn't draped across your desk every moment)?

We feel - from the C-suite executive to the artist in the underheated church basement - every look and remark. We choose to respond or not and how.

I'm not suggesting the Return of the Drama Queen. Far from it. But perhaps our difficulty in making genuine connections across our networks is the limits we set on the emotion we allow ourselves to both express and accept?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Genders apart

I held my first deliberately 'women only' event recently. I've never thought of Similar Circles and the peer to peer networking/mentoring as unique for women. I'm still not convinced we need to separate the genders or the generations or the industries or or or...

The difference doesn't lie in our sex or race or economic status. It’s the difference between folks understanding what a personal community/network is vs. a database of potential clients. *sigh* There will always be those for whom the transaction, instead of the relationship, is a way of life.

Granted, there is the debate around whether or not those of the opposite sex must first go through the 'do I desire them/do they desire me?' before making a connection becomes comfortable. But given that a room full of only one gender does not mean there are no sexual tension issues, perhaps that debate might now be laid to rest as well?

I'm not implying that we've achieved gender equality here in Canada or anywhere in the world for that matter. Far from it. But, as regards the Similar Circles face-to-face events, are we helping or hindering by putting up boundaries?

I must confess, when I meet folks for the first or fourteenth time, my first criteria is 'are you a like-mind?'. I may also glance at their shoes but only out of curiosity :-)

Do you need women-only events if it's not on topics specific to women?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


On this Remembrance Day, I'm sending good thoughts out to the incredible women I've met this year who are advancing microfinancing projects in poverty-stricken and/or war-ravaged areas around the world.

I don't just want to remember - I want to learn compassion and prevention.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Social media - the journey

Going a thought further with my earlier Social Media posts - I wonder if the next generation of social media tools might come from our needs and desires instead of simply fitting the new into our established business practices.

By that I mean that we don't know yet how the walls of communication are changing. Like Brecht blew the 4th wall in theatre or the printing press opened education, we don't know where the journey is going yet.

Many business models are trying to absorb social media instead of use the opportunity to rethink how we connect all togther. Some groups fear its power either because it's unknown or it poses new security risks. Some business fear being left behind or left out. Some folks just don't see past the fact their target audience is using them ...but not really looking at the potential evolution of both the audience and the tools themselves.

Currently, business is 'tool' obsessed and trying them out like everyone once tried Trivial Pursuit. But what are we fundamentally trying to do? Build communities without borders? Share knowledge? Blend our methods of explaining/viewing/exploring the world? Simply reach out?

By need and desire, I still don't mean the transactional interactions (e.g. job hunting) that so limit our capacity to connect. I don't mean consumerism. I don't mean the need to control the unknown. I mean emotional goals such as the desire to build community, learn and reach out.

I'd love to see this evolve from desire instead of the fears.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Emotional goals

There’s an interesting series of articles this week in one of my city’s newspapers about the science of the brain and learning. As one interested in education and how we learn - and how that ties to parenting as well as learning through my graying years – I’m eating it up.

An interesting question was posed in the article written on Thursday, Nov. 5. If your intellectual goal and your emotional goal aren’t matched, then you won’t learn/change. “Emotional thought is the platform for learning, memory, decision-making and creativity…This means emotion can be a barrier, or a conduit, to learning….That means making the student feel the goal is emotionally relevant.”

Which made me think about our discomfort with meeting strangers in any setting, attending large events or simply building community around ourselves.

I’ve compared the discomfort to liking/disliking brussel sprouts, which is still true. However, perhaps the difference is:
o if you approach it as a task or transaction which must be done (focused on the event or meeting instead of the goal)
o as philosophy to which you resonate/have emotional ties.

You’ll figure out, through developing habits and tactics, how to deal with those more stressful pieces if building community is part of your philosophy and therefore part of your emotional response to the world.

In other words, wanting to participate is the most important piece even if you’re working through how to participate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A side topic posting...

To unwind, I often watch movies (when not reading murder mysteries) but sometimes I idle before a TV show.

Most TV doesn't stick - it seems meant to be closer to candy than a meal. But the other night I watched an episode of Castle that made a quiet and necessary statement.

The show - a cop hour - unravelled the murder of a young woman who had been sexually abused by a trusted figure. Unlike many shows which have played this plot, profiling the abuser, questioning where to apportion blame or simply titillating the audience - this show put out a simple powerful message.

It showed a 'victim' who tried to walk away and survive. It showed a community unanimous in its disgust and zero tolerance for this terrible offence. It gave a clear message to the abuser (and audience) that there is no excuse ever and that we will support those who ask for help.

I am afraid this message needs a broader audience and frequent repeats.

All children - of all ages - deserve love, shelter and food. I fervently try to contribute to the love - one can't simply ask to help with this through a paycheque deduction.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tales we tell ourselves

We all do it - tell ourselves tales that become part of our personal mythology. From the common ones like "I'm not pretty enough to..." to the ones we whisper late at night when feeling insecure "I'm not smart enough to...", we comfort/cajole/belittle ourselves with tales of who we think we are or snippets of what others have told us they believe about us.

Repeated often enough, like any habit, they become part of us and therefore true.

What we forget is - like any habit - we can change them, whispering new tales and making the new stories of self equally true.

These days I tell myself: I am not disorganized or fearful of excel spreadsheets; I am not afraid to ask for a raise (or a job); I can bake an awesome cream puff; I do hold a political opinion; and I can wear bright colours and still be taken seriously. I tell myself that I do remember names - um...yeah...that one still needs some work.

I know I had this conversation with you recently. Thought I should have it with myself again. lol

Friday, October 30, 2009

What hobbles you?

Yup, an old word originally about stopping horses from wandering away. Today it means “to walk lamely” or “proceed haltingly”.

I’ve been noticing lately that many folks are making plans to ward off what they fear vs. seek what they desire.

It’s not always a conscious choice; many times warding off things seems to be practical, or ‘mitigates risks’.

In today’s economy, taking a job to keep your home is a great reason to be practical and fend off what you might fear. It doesn’t mean within that need that you can’t plan and ask for pieces of your dream that reach beyond the immediate circumstances.

Ok.. I’ll confess, that’s my situation today and I’m trying write where I live. :-)

I still want to make sure I find something to ‘like’ about the people I’ll be interacting with, the projects I’ll be taking on and the things I could learn.

And with every coffee, tea and informal interview I have, I make sure folks understand it’s not just about finding me a paycheque but about somewhere I can make a difference and find interest.

But let’s look beyond that… that’s crisis planning. Look at your long-term planning. Are you hobbled by skills you worry aren’t good enough? By worrying about looking ambitious (or not ambitious)? By not pursuing projects that touch your passion? Is there ever a good reason to be hobbled?

Dream big. Act big. All anyone will ever do is say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Or ‘maybe’ which is halfway to yes!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Event Thursday Oct. 29

Another of the Similar Circles quarterly events is happening this week in Toronto at the Rotman School of Business – sponsored by the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business.

We’re sold out! I can’t thank you enough. For those of you attending – there should be many new faces, no name tags and lots of good conversation.

Consider: what are the two things about yourself that you usually tell everyone, regardless of the situation? That makes a great conversation starter at an event. I tell everyone that I’m really enjoying facilitating and that I’m an unappreciated parent. After folks stop smiling, they usually have a few questions for me.

On the flip side – consider asking someone what was their best moment of the week? That often sparks good stories! Mine, this week, is still all the wonderful emails about the TIAW award – lots of little moments that have made this week fly by. (post – Tues. Oct 20)

For those of you who can’t attend the event this week, the next one will be sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers on January 21 in Toronto. (my apologies to those outside the GTA. It isn’t the centre of the universe but it is where my sponsors have offices.) If you’d like to get on the mailing list, please let me know?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Your online profile

Your proxy introduction
It goes beyond simply creating a 'profile' - it is a great way to offer information.

These profiles serve as proxy introductions and should be constructed carefully. Your friends on Facebook will most likely check you out on other sites as will your work colleagues seeking you beyond LinkedIn.

But, by 'careful', I don't mean that there's no fun and no life!

As our worlds move together, professional and personal mixing both on the web and in our activities, think about the bits of which you're most proud and include those.

Even with our friends, we have a person we're striving to be. So your online profile isn't about hiding but selecting. Don't think of it as the enclopedia of who you are, but the snapshots of your favourite moments.

Folks don't need to know everything about you before a coffee or a project. They need enough to want to have a conversations with you. Leave some teasers, some unanswered questions and a taste for what makes you tick.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A moment for yourself

A few ways to relax this weekend:

It's worth noting that, sometimes, the best thing we can do for someone is connect them to someone else instead of trying to be supergirl.

Trying to make a stellar impression at every turn can be exhausting. Take a break and look to promote a friend instead.

Allow yourself to just be you and let conversations grow naturally. If nothing in particular comes of it, so be it.

Communities are built in increments not perfect moments. Make a small mistake. Cut yourself a little slack. Enjoy the moment instead of wringing every drop of potential from it.

Sleep late. Eat something you enjoy. Thank a friend. Wear a bright colour!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TIAW World of Difference

This week, I had the incredible honour of being in a room with women who are changing the lives of communities around the world. I'm humbled to say that Similar Circles was named to the 2009 World of Difference roster.

Hosted by the CWC, The International Alliance of Women (TIAW) held a part of their Global Cities Event in Toronto. They honoured this year's recipients of the World of Difference Award - up to 100 women from around the world making change in women's lives, large and small. The award is meant to "honour women who have made an impact on the economic empowerment of women through a wide range of endeavours."

Read about their international partners and advocates. See some of the amazing programs being created by women bringing meaning and joy to many. Be incredibly proud that we are contributing in our own small way to the growing tide of change.

Many many humble thanks to those who have helped Similar Circles grow. You've certainly changed my life!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Approaching change

There are two ways to approach change.
1 - you can create buffer zones around yourself as protection against the things you may fear.
Fears can be big or small - fear of job loss, fear of disapproval, fear of extra work, fear of disappointment, fear of failure, etc.

2 - you can approach change as the tipping point to create what you desire.

I'm possibly facing unemployment. Even when it's no one's direct doing, it's still unsettling. I have two approaches - I can start grabbing at jobs because, like most folks, I have rent/mortgage, groceries for a hungry kid, bills etc. My savings were just consumed by the new furnace. I had a weak moment and bought a dress with what little remained. :) Believe me, at 3 am I can be very persuaded by my fears.

However, the immediacy of the crisis aside, I've been building my community and my plans for a while.

I'm trying to view this approaching change as an opportunity to take a 'next step' that I might have put off otherwise, being comfortable where I am. I am pinpointing the skills I want to use in my next job, the bits I want to learn, the type of folks I'd like to have around... in exchange for which I will try and get up cheerfully most mornings and do a great job (even on those tasks that I would prefer never cross my desk). I'm going to find a job I want instead of just worrying about covering my bills. I might fail - but I will first try.

I approached a slight weight shift the same way, cheerfully choosing clothes I'd wanted to try but couldn't previously justify adding to my crammed closet and limited guilty budget.

New directions and tools emerge when we try to see the opportunities to make - at least part of - the change as our opportunity to seek what we desire.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Assess your desire for change

It seems obvious but we don’t ask ourselves (or our community) often enough: Are you interested in some change and, if yes, how much?

I realized I thrive on change. I prefer the unknown, the point of influence (before decisions are made), and the grey zones. I love sorting riddles and wading through messes.

Not everyone does. Nor should they.
Even me… with my appetite for learning and conquering… sometimes cries “Time out!”. Lol

Your desire for change is a snapshot in time. Some days it’ll be “Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!” and others will be spent (for me) hiding under the bed.

But change comes in many flavours – small steps, pauses, full out whirlwinds and hard stops. We can’t stop change but we can decide the speed at which we participate. Obviously some events are outside just our control: i.e. job loss or break ups. But even then you can decide how much of a make-over that area (and all the other areas) of your life must undergo for the next incarnation.

For the events that are your choice: i.e. changing careers; buying a house; long hair or short…. You decide if you’ll jump in or wade.

The point is that we need to ask at each step of the journey – change? and how much?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thanksgiving/Columbus Day

I'd like to offer a little gratitude and some virtual pumpkin pie to you.

I've had an intense few weeks - writing the book, parenting, mentoring, researching new jobs, and getting a new furnace (a special adventure which included my poor line of credit). Everyone else I knew was having the same trials (without the furnace) and more.

The cheering on, the 2 minutes offered to say "you Go!", the short but upbeat email - everyone pulled together as we struggled individually. I'm awed by how willing folks are to support each other - even if it's just a quick message.

What more could we ask of each other?

You're an incredible community. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Respect vs. Like

"Will you still respect me in the morning?"

Someone said to me the other day "I respect him, but I don't like him."

I had to think about that... One of my mentors had a great conversation with me about how "like" and "respect" were the same thing but respect was the business word. "Ok," I said. "But what about the grey zone where you pick up the phone to offer advance information or have a side discussion because you like someone? Does "respect" cover that?"

Conclusion: you can respect the folks you like but not necessarily like those you respect.

You don't have to want to take everyone you like home for dinner. There's something likeable about most folks - their tenacity, their directness, their choice of tea! Find that point of connection. One or two points allow you to form a bond for whatever purpose has thrown you together. If you're lucky and it's lots of connection points, the maybe they'll cross the wall to friend.

You just need to enjoy them in the context you know them. Like, respect and trust all grow in the same soil. While it's best to have all 3 for a true relationship in any context - I'm happy to build from 'like'.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What role does social media play? Part V

A few caveats
The grey zone is something I think is very cool. We bring more of ourselves to the table the more our worlds/communities/methodologies collide.

This also means you need to exert a little more judgment.

Be careful.

Do you really need the world to see the picture of your dog groomed to look like a panda? Is that part of the ‘you’ that your community(s) need to know?

Everything you post, write, comment etc. can be copied, perpetuated and stored. Like the advice to never write an email while tipsy – don’t add to the online field when you’re angry or tired. Even though the medium has become both location and time agnostic, doesn’t mean you can take an extra hour to think something over.


Respect the privacy of others. Check before you reprint or resend.

Respect your own privacy – there isn’t much left with all the applications, cameras and tweets out there! Somethings are better shared in person.

Understand the basics around privacy laws. Google is a great place to start as are many corporate webspaces.

One tool in the tool box.
Social media tools are valuable. However, they don’t mean you now give up or ignore other methods of communication. Don’t discard what is working; add to it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

What role does social media play? Part IV

The role it plays will be personal

With all the articles, discussions and evolving platforms our there, we are all learning as we go.

Some folks are more advanced. Some are just learning what an RSS feed is. Many are in the middle. Try not to assume the levels of understanding/education in your audience. If the pitch/presentation/discussion is about the tool and not the content, you’re heading in the wrong direction.

There are thoughts that gender, age and learning style all play roles in the comfort and adoption of social media tools. Unfortunately generalizations take you down narrow paths. Grandparents text and teens do coffee meetings. We all want to be able to access our favourite sites regardless of being at work or at home because, chances are, those seemingly unrelated-to-my-day-job sites often are a source of information or inspiration that make us better at whatever we’re doing.

Sidebar….I wrote my master’s thesis on a typewriter! before inheriting a computer the size of a table top and now I can’t think/write on anything else but my iMac. (I once asked if there was a tutorial on how to use a mouse…I’m so ashamed…lol)

The point being that everyone wants and uses this technology. Just as we will justify one person’s expertise over another’s just because we like one person better, so folks will build business cases to get to the tools that help them tap into the greater flow of knowledge that is out there – regardless of on which site it might be found.

Which makes it personal. Personal because we are used to using it (imagine writing a calculus exam without that calculator today!). Personal because it means we can access information with ease to be successful in a task. Personal because it’s our link to the larger community of information and support. (see post June 09 It's not personal)

Which of course goes back to the big grey zone (see post Aug. 08) now created between the personal and professional.

More on the next post…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What role does social media play? Part III

Use the technology deliberately
We definitely should be learning the tools out there today but no one tool is going to be the answer to your brand/career/networking/product/community issue. The tools are part of your plan, not your whole plan.

I hear many conversations debating the value of what social media tool and how to use it – but very few about why do this.

Whether you’re looking to promote brand, product, person, company or concept, if you build a strategic plan around the tools then your impact will never be as fulsome as possible or flexible enough to incorporate new widgets when they arrive. The ‘why’ is your governance against which you make decisions to grow, change or even start.

Part of the ‘why’ is because to not enter the social media arena is to declare oneself or one’s company hopelessly out of date. Part of the ‘why’ is because it’s dumb to ignore another means of reaching out.

Those are the givens.

What is left to you is to ask – what do I hope to achieve and what are all the tools I need to use to get there?

If you’re trying to build a community for seniors who have no regular computer access, you may leave out social media. If you’re trying to include their families, across all generations, you might.

If you’re trying to build your career in your current company, you might just focus on one/one meetings and your resume. Maybe it’s a small community best served by a personal approach and your LinkedIn profile would add little value. Or maybe you are trying to tap into those small communities as they exist around the world to find information to help your small local one.

If you’re casting your net very wide and have created an online persona/brand/product that has no other means of reaching out then you are possibly frustrated with results. If you’ve relied on word of mouth with no online presence then possibly the calls are not flooding in.

Just realize the social media itself won’t generate the real results – the quality behind the promotion will. Good intranets are about good content that helps folks understand corporate drivers, not just process outlines or happy stories. Good websites have good product as well as cool tools and visuals.

So use the tools – learn them – make them part of your larger plan but don’t have them be your plan.

Social media is all about access to information and the people behind that information. If you know what you’re seeking you can pick the right toolset to help your find it.

More on the next post…

Monday, September 28, 2009

What role does social media play? Part II

What technology is out there?
I just read that it will soon be possible to publish 4 second video clips on Twitter. Wow. If video is your medium, then that's got to be good news.

Many of us are using the bigger, common platforms you most likely have heard of like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and Delicious. If you haven't taken a tour of these sites, it's worth a look. It's also worth asking those in your network/community what they use - another method of coming together.

The tools available are changing rapidly. Any list I publish today will be out of date quickly. So don't focus on what's out there now, ask what you need in order to express yourself?

What technology to use?
Like anything else, it is a mix of your style and the needs of your audience.

I prefer words: blogs, emails, comments. I know that some readers of this blog have asked for podcasts (audio files) and more pictures. Many have commented that we need webinars on hot topics (audio, visual, and interactive Q&A).

Currently, words suit both my style and my audience. Eventually, we're both going to evolve.

In every case the tool should suit the desired end and the content offered. So that goes back to your style - how do you offer content? How do you like to receive it? How should your community view it? Choose the tools that reflect those preferences and needs.

More on the next post...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What role does social media play? Part I

Yesterday, the power of social media at its simplest (and therefore finest) was demonstrated. I attended an excellent webinar, hosted by the CWC and featuring Leona Hobbs talking about personal brand. Over 100 women across the country came together through a simple online tool in an effort to understand building a brand in this new technology age.

The questions from the audience were as good as the presentation - but one question/theme in particular has been under my skin all day: what role does social media play?

Whether you are one person or a team, asking from a personal or corporate perspective, looking to build brand, reputation, career or community – chances are that you’re engaged in that question across many forums.

Let’s look at the technology first
It’s simplistic of me to say “it’s just one more tool” (though it is). It’s also technology that is very new and no one has any real idea where it will all be in 10 years.

People argue about the value of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. Those are just gizmos like the Viewmaster was a toy of the 60s. Viewmaster is still fun today but it no longer is changing the way we see our photos! Nor did the Viewmaster replace the storybook – another old social media tool that is still around. And, while bands are no longer cutting vinyl, some folks still swear by their 33s.

The point is we don’t know where the tools will lead us or what new tools will be coming around. We’ve just cracked open the door.

Experiment with the tools. You don't have one colour in your wardrobe and you shouldn't still to one method of reaching out. Don't be afraid to make a mistake in learning to use it. Google definitions and demos if you're a researcher like me. Jump right in if you're able. Talk to people about what they're using and what they like about it.

You wouldn't buy a computer without talking to a few folk. The social media tools are an extension of the computer on which you already rely.

Just remember, like computers and Viewmasters, it's all evolving.

More on the next post…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Young women & body image film festival

In understanding what ‘building a personal community’ can mean – I’m encountering terrific stories from across the Similar Circles members.

From the smaller action of offering 30 minutes of time for a coffee, to running events, to social media forums, to film and video, everyone is contributing to the body of expertise and thought that is changing the world as we know it.

It’s challenging. It’s incredibly personal. It’s making change large and small.

Recently, some of our circle focused their attention on how young women are influenced by body image. Soap companies explore this issue as do families every day. Sponsored by another community - The Girl Guides - the video festival used a network of like-minded folks to create a body of work on a topic that concerns us all.

I’m happy to add a post to help raise awareness.

Link to all videos and an excerpt from the press release:

Talented female artists from across Canada, including filmmakers,
writers, animators, directors and orators donated their time and joined Girl
Guides of Canada to bring the various issues young girls face to life, through
dynamic short films for the Perspectives on a Girl online film festival.

Experience the online film festival by visiting

Monday, September 21, 2009

Be remembered

How do you wish to be remembered? I don’t mean when you’re dead – but after you’ve left the room?

First, don’t confuse remembered with memorable. You don’t have to stand out and shine every time. Memorable might best be saved for speaking engagements, great nights out and a great shoe score.

Being remembered can be that
• your name is kept in mind
• your idea was considered
• your personality was noted
• your offer was mulled over

Being remembered simply means you made a sincere emotional connection with someone. It doesn’t have to be life altering. Perhaps you made them smile. Perhaps you offered sincere comments or made eye contact. Maybe you just listened with all your attention.

Part of your impression comes in your introduction, some in how you participate in conversation and some in your follow up to a meeting or coffee. You have three clear opportunities to be remembered. Plan for them. Make the most of them. Like any good habit - do it all the time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

EyeWriter is why P2P works

The power of community blows my mind.

I attended the evening portion of CaseCamp in Toronto last night. Kudos to the folks who run it. The principles by which they drew a crowd together were bang on! They crossed hierarchies, industries and levels of expertise. Artists, IT, business came together in an ‘unconference’ to talk about social media as peers in the exploration. Peer-to-peer mentoring and networking at its finest.

And then came the icing on the cake.

I went to hear presentations on social media – I saw a combination of a big companies talking about how they’re using it to make money; small companies talking about the ‘democracy’ of the web; and then one artist stood up and showed us this…

Zach Lieberman – artist, programmer and self-proclaimed preacher of the power of art to change the world – gave a demo of Eye Writer last night. A community of folks from the Graffiti Research Lab, openFrameworks and The Ebeling Group have made a low-cost drawing device that tracks the eye movements of ALS patients, freeing them to express themselves in ways that can change both our physical landscape and influence what it means to support and share in a democratic community.

Affordable to all. Developed by a diverse peer community. Shared openly. Explored creatively and without traditional boundaries. Art, science, computers and some very cool people coming together to change the world.

PS. Check out Zach’s and his communities and their other projects - the iQ font and upcoming work with Sick Kids Hospital and a renovation http://

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Take a Chance

I am known for being willing to take a chance. Whether it's speaking up or asking a question or trying a new idea without foolproof guarantees - I'll be there to help. Life doesn't come with guarantees and sometimes you just need to stick your foot in it.

Which means I make mistakes. Sometimes many.

I don't make them because I'm foolhardy. I think things through; I just try not to overthink them. And I always have a recovery plan.

Because if you spend all your time trying to avoid making a mistake, you'll only do safe, careful things where others have already ironed out the wrinkles. Perhaps, in banking, that might be reassuring. In our lives and careers, it doesn't begin to tap into who you are and what you can do.

So... deep breath... present that new idea, go after that different job, talk to that stranger in the coffee shop. What's wrong with looking a little foolish ...don't you really look sillier for not trying?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Deepen Existing Relationships!

Oh my goodness! Stop thinking of networking as meeting *new* people only. That’s constantly buying fresh fruit and letting the old stuff rot in the fridge!

Spend a little time this week deepening your existing relationships! Coffees. Emails. Thank yous. Follow up. It’s not the quantity of folks in your community; it’s the quality of your relationship with them!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't wait - approach!

I was at an event this week (gasp! I know) and was there to help a friend promote understanding around her product. This basically meant I talked to folks about my experience with it and quietly networked on her behalf. Terrifying - but I’m getting better at it.

What fascinated me were the other folks who were there to help her out. They clumped. They sat apart from the crowd. They waited for people to approach them and ask.

I’m not sure if this was a reflection of the old paradigm: “Information is power” or a natural reluctance to offer information that might be rejected. Were they feeling like they had a gift to bestow on a lucky few or a lack of confidence in the information?

We approach many situations the same way – especially when it comes to introducing ourselves. It can become either a ‘why do you need to know about me’ or ‘I am not sure you’ll listen’ scenario.

I deal with the former by making sure I know my own limits around what I’ll share with strangers when I first meet them. (I do have a tendency to blurt things out). Coping with the latter is by making sure I understand what I am willing to share and how to phrase it in an introduction. And I never expect that everyone will want to listen. But, surprising, more do than don’t!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Networking 101

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people.”Robert Kerrigan

Plays and films have explored the seven degrees of separation that supposedly link us all around the globe. Courses and coaches have created a lucrative industry helping you find these connections. Corporations and not-for-profits continually seek these ties through their boards and members.

And really, it all comes down to you… chatting in a grocery store or coffee line up, offering a suggestion to a friend or your time to a cause or project. Whether you’re paid or volunteered, meeting people and re-meeting people (otherwise known as building a relationship), a key to success is simply about talking together.

Building on that – the most amazing communities are those built on helping each other instead of going solo in our quests to get ahead (however you define that). Call it community spirit, manners, generosity or common sense – helping others helps you. That’s the essence of peer-to-peer networking and the true value of mentoring.

“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person's needs ahead of their own.” Bob Burg

Friday, September 4, 2009

Filters II

Filters can keep us from connecting. If we’re so busy sorting and discarding information in mentoring conversations, then we are not actively listening.

Of course we will filter. But you don’t have to do it immediately. You can sit and think “ah, that’s an interesting point. I should ask why she is raising it.” instead of “Interesting that she thinks so but it doesn’t apply to me.”

Take notes instead of reacting and rebutting.

A sure sign you’re not really listening? Starting your response with “But”. Or forming your rebuttal in your head while the person continues to elaborate on their point.

Listening is hard – the hardest of the leadership skills to master. I will probably be very very old before I learn to stop interrupting when I get excited during a discussion.

You can at least acknowledge your filters and use them later, rather than during, a mentoring conversation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Lately, I’ve been having conversations about the filters we use in processing information.

It started with discussing the filters one needs to evaluate content for a website. If you don’t understand the goals of the site, then acceptance/rejection of content is random. It is good governance to have filters/criteria.

So why doesn’t it work that way when we think about how we filter information for ourselves?

On the surface it does… not a parent? Tune out the parenting advice in your coffee klatch. Not interested in golf? Not participating in social media? Filter out the commentary (maybe keep the good jokes?) We do know what we want (in general) and our interests. Good filters to have.

It breaks down when it comes to mentoring. Our filters can get in the way of listening (for both mentor and mentoree).

We all have treasured self-mythology that acts as a filter – (I am a… single parent/ good friend/ conscientious manager/ b-movie junkie/ haphazard daughter) – the stories we tell ourselves we feel define who we are. Information and advice that doesn’t fit easily into our self-parameters is sometimes discarded.

Sometimes it’s worth revisiting your filters – especially if you’re hearing information that surprises you (good or bad).

Recently, a good friend who is also a fabulous peer mentor sat me down firmly and pointed out that I had been short-selling my abilities due to the fact that I was not acknowledging my own recent growth. (She’d tried to tell me gently but I hadn’t listened) I had to rethink how I was packaging myself in the corporate world with her *new information.

On the flip side, my son gently had me revisit my conviction that I’m a great mom when I pushed a joke on him too far publicly.

I’m obviously far from my goal of being perfect.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rotman Oct. 29

Hey Similar Circles folks in Toronto... Rotman School of Business and their wonderful women's program is hosting my next event!

If you're not already on my mailing list, then check out the Rotman events calendar for October 29.

Sorry guys...this one is women only but since I rotate the guest list with each event, hopefully that's ok? Or, if enough of you want to have a mixed fall networking event, post a comment or send me an email.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don’t ….

So here’s a few “do not do” thoughts for today:

1 - Don’t seek advice unless you actually want it.
2 - Don’t seek advice because someone else tells you it’s the ‘right’ thing to do for your career unless you believe it to be true.
3 - Don’t seek advice unless you’re prepared to try it.
4 - Don’t seek advice only from those who will tell you what you want to hear.
5 - Don’t seek advice in areas that don’t truly hold your interest.

I'm not trying to be negative! But really, sometimes it's ok to simply go it on your own if that's what you want to do!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Finding a mentor

I find it amazing when folks tell me how awkward or strange it feels to ask someone to mentor them.

We seek mentoring constantly in every other area of lives – parenting tips; home improvement know-how; negotiating a loan; relationship advice; sporting expertise – everyone gets a support at some point along the way.

It’s only in the business context that it seems to become all twisted up with formality and repercussions.

You can follow the same guidelines you use in other areas of life:
• Figure out if you actually want to change something or add to it
• Find someone whose ideas and opinions you respect
• Ask them nicely to talk it through with you

Depending on the topic, it may be one session or many months.

If you’re working your way through a career plan, you might even want to approach several folks who hold different perspectives on your strengths and habits.

If you aren’t sure who to ask, then start with your inner circle. Your communities combined will lead you to your first/next mentor in a just a few coffees.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Who is a mentor?

Traditionally, it has been believed that a mentor should be a senior individual, with influence in your company or industry, who is willing to open their network (and good name) to you.

This raises several assumptions:
• that a mentor is someone senior
• that a mentor is only for the particular challenges found within your industry
• that the issues you face in your career are particular to your company or industry
• that your skills and ambition lie in only one industry

There’s no right or wrong answer but part of the choices you have to make for yourself include:
• Do you want mentoring around a specific industry?
• Do you want mentoring from a different industry perspective?
• Are you comfortable looking outward for guidance as much as ‘up’? (peers can be as valuable a tool for the ambitious as a very senior person)

I strongly believe that mentoring can come from anywhere if we first understand the questions for which we are seeking answers.

Anyone can be a mentor. You can have a mentor and be a mentor at the same time - the two efforts are not exclusive!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Everything is personal

There are lots of us 'bloggers' out there. And even more networking gurus. Thousands of 'hits' on mentoring. Loads of advice. Buckets of articles. Associations, groups, societies and every kind of gathering in every village with more than 3 people.

Which got me thinking about 2 things:

1 - I'm writing as much for myself as I am for the questions I get. Mostly I figure no one is reading this but me :-)

2 - Most folks are on the same quest - buying or selling or trading tips on how to live a more blended life with returns closer to the dreams we all have at 2am.

It's all personal - this search for strangers who have a doorway to somewhere we need to be is both intensely private and the most exposed one can feel outside of a first date.

I no longer kid myself there is a way to make it easy. Relationships are hard. I'm just determined to enjoy the journey and not worry if you actually get to know me along the way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mentor Day

We need a Mentor Day. We need a Hallmark card, flowers and candy designed!

I want custom truffles in the shape of a handshake filled with champagne, Pear William and dark chocolate flavours.

Let’s have flower arrangements in coffee mugs and tea cups – brilliant blooms in all shapes and sizes.

And the card. “It’s Mentor Day! Thank you for being an influence and allowing me to influence you in return.”

I decree September 1, Mentor Day. Send an email, leave a phone message, drop a card… reach out to those who influence you and let them know it’s working.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Linking In

Yes, I’m on LinkedIn. I’m also on Facebook – but my picture there is a baked potato (get it?). I don’t tweet but I sometimes read them. I ‘google’ and sometimes ‘bing’. I think I do my RSS feeds incorrectly. I definitely blog. I’m on several discussion boards but often ‘lurk’. I attend events and usually wander away vaguely dissatisfied with them. I prefer coffee and tea – one/one or in small groups. I’m constantly emailing. I attend lectures and sometimes give them. I avoid the phone and conference calls seem to be the bulk of my work day.

I figure I meet hundreds of new folks each month and remember at least five of them.

I write several thousand words each month and enjoy all of them.

I work a long week, parent every minute I can, include my friends in everything I do outside my house and spend quiet time (me, no kid, no phone calls) every weekend.

I’m not exceptional; I’m organized. I’m not unique; I’m deliberate in my choices.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I know what I want

We all walk into meetings, coffees, committees, volunteer situations, grocery stores… thinking “I know what I want”.

I should hope so. It’s much easier for folks to help you get what you need if you can articulate it.

But there’s a next step in that thinking. Ask “what do he/she/they want?”

Putting yourself in the shoes of the person (or committee) across from you and articulating their needs is very powerful. It makes them much more inclined to offer you what you want. Notice I didn’t say you’ve given them what they want… you’ve merely shown them that you understand their situation.

I won’t go into negotiation tactics… though that’s a great review for parents and business folks alike. But if you’re building relationships – long-term or short – then including all interested parties in the process can take you to unexpected and wonderful new places.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Similar Circles is something I started with no idea of how wide or deep the ripples would be. I had no grand plan; I merely wanted to share my opinion and encourage others to do the same.

It was an amazing experience yesterday to be in a room filled with folks who regularly attend the events (and listen to me rant between them) and who had strong and terrific thoughts around what Similar Circles now stands for.

It was an ad hoc ‘steering committee’ meeting at which there was no consensus on a particular plan of action. But the entire room was supportive and vocal about the sentiment and philosophy that brought us together in the first place in 2007.

I am filled with gratitude today for their words of wisdom and support. And for your support, dear reader.

Real connections with real people that support your professional growth – and, by extension, your personal communities too. I believe in that.

My life has changed as a direct result of the Similar Circles crowd. I am so excited.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One step at a time

Let’s go back to my earlier dating metaphor (see posting Feb '09)… Marriage doesn’t have to be the next development from a dating situation. Mentoring or a job offer is not necessarily the next step after a coffee.

Friendship. Work association. Finding an idea for a project - all viable alternatives.

We don’t need to know the outcome in advance. Continually meeting up with folks (new or known) offers a chance to try something and find it (not) to your taste. If you don’t leave room for experimenting, you can’t be sure your end result is as fulsome as it could be. You also don’t have a breadth of experience from which to gauge situations, advice or opportunities.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Social media is just one more toolset

This social media stuff really gets folks riled up - as though one is questioning the integrity of their mothers!

It’s all tools. And tools are only valuable if you need them and use them. And only as good as the plan for information and usage that surrounds them. They don’t solve anything in and of themselves … they're not inherently amazing or awful. It's all in how you - personally - use them.

Computers, social networking tools and all the tweets in the world will not do your networking for you. You still have to share information. You still have to talk with people across the various media. You still have to have a need to share information or find folks with whom you can discuss information.

I like these tools. I use them. But they are not my religion. I don’t even believe they’ve evolved fully yet and here we are trying to box their uses.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Words of the Day

Network - [net - work] real effort (work) to weave a web/net of folks around you.

Mentoring - [mentor - ring] creating a ring of people and information around an individual you like.

Handshake - [hand - shake] nerves prior to speaking engagements or large events full of strangers.

Habit - ['a - bit] francophone pronunciation of "a bit" as you increase your skills one step at a time.

Advice - [add - vice] what folks will offer you and which seem unpalatable at the time.

Peer2Peer - [you -To- me] using what your neighbour/friend is doing if it seems like a better idea.

Personal Brand - [me - me] being who you are for all to see; like a tattoo only bigger.

Proliferate - [multiply - lots] bad habits, dandelions and smiles all start from one seed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

So you think you can dance

I am a big fan of "So You Think You Can Dance". Not a closet fan - an upfront I-hate-reality-TV/instant-fame-shows SYTYCD convert. Me - who believes in the power of words and the magic of music. I have succumbed to the raw emotive qualities of dance.

I have seen two amazing moments this season on SYTYCD. The first was a short piece by Mia Michaels called "Addiction" that caught me off guard and left me silently crying. The second was a depiction of a piece of the breast cancer struggle: the woman trying to deal with it and the friend who gave his best to support her.

And what (you ask) does this have to do with mentoring and networking? A lot if you're one of the artists in my community. And perhaps even more if you join me from any of my other circles.

That's my point today: We trap ourselves in our heads. We think through situations - simple or intense, career or personal. We talk about it - the theory, the probable.

We think through how to connect with each other. We think about points of reference, shared experience and tactical requests for support. We often keep how we feel about it to ourselves.

Sometimes, it's simply about the body. Your real smile. A true puzzled look. An impulsive hug. The non-verbal that says to the person listening/watching: I'm really feeling this moment with you as large or small as it may be. A non-verbal cue that is more genuine than all the compliments and advice there is.

And beyond the physical (which we, in the business world, try often to forget exists)...

Mentoring and networking - really building a community with ties that span beyond the project or the immediate need - needs more than thinking. It begs honest self expression to create a shared experience.

I'm not saying go dance :-). I'm saying your emotions have a place - however small or big - in creating connections.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Always On?

It happens to everyone. The day you don't want to pick up a phone. Or have another cup of social coffee. Or read email. Or even grimace at folks in the elevator.

I think today I don't even want to talk to my kid. (lol)

Always 'on' is not a necessary state as a mentor/ee, networker or even human being. Everyone retreats and refreshes in different ways. I read murder mysteries or watch B-movies. I definitely don't always want to interact every waking hour (or even some waking days!).

I build blocks of silence in my calendar the same way I pencil in the coffees. I'm not terribly organized. I am a terrific procrastinator. The one thing I do is keep an agenda going so I can keep a balance between on and off. Or know what to shuffle when I need an 'off' day.

Today is a book-reading day. Tomorrow I'll keep up my quest for the perfect soy latte.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Being Connected - III

The term "being connected" often also refers to someone who knows the power brokers (money, information, people, etc.). Folks will often say the term with a sneer or a wistful sigh depending on where they are in building their own communities.

May I just point out... You are connected. Already.

You don't live on an island without a phone or computer (if you do, I apologize). You have networks of folks you use regularly for fun, for work and for all the other interests and passions that make up your life.

Perhaps you feel you are missing a certain type of connection? Something or someone you wished you knew or could explore?

Have you identified it? Created a plan? Started asking questions?

The only thing standing between you and the missing connection(s) is your willingness to find a path to it. There are only a few degrees of separation between you and the person/information you seek.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Being Connected - II

Ok.. so about all the channels I use…

It is getting silly. In one hand I hold a Blackberry (know as a BB with which one ‘rims’… lol) on which I get work email and work calls. In my purse is a cell phone, the number only known to my son (whose frantic voice singing out “Mom!” is my ring tone). In my messenger bag is my laptop where personal and work files get mingled no matter how much I resolve to Not Do That. I have a work phone; a home phone; a whiteboard, a blackboard; and a cardboard box on my back porch with dead technology piled in it.

And I still carry a pen and a notepad because, ultimately, that will be where I write things down for me.

While I write, my Instant Messenger is pinging, the landline is ringing and the kettle is singing (had to finish the rhyme)! And my son is sitting beside me, texting furiously - an approach he feels is sure to win the heart of the girl on the other end of the phone.

Depending on what we’re trying to do, we need to store and/or share information for someone, or with someone. I have a full toolbox to use and I do use it all.

The problem? This approach keeps me connected to the information but not necessarily to people. Technology can isolate you as much as it might help you spread your voice beyond it's physical limits.

I often feel like I’m communicating all day … only to arrive home to a message from my mother or a friend asking if everything is ok because I haven’t called for a chat. Yes, they’ve received the article I sent. Yes, the gift for my nephews arrived intact. No, they don’t feel like I connected with them.

Where’s the disconnect?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Being Connected - I

Being connected to some folks means 'always available'. Technology can find you anywhere it seems and people expect answers immediately upon asking for information - day or night.

Many wonder if I ever flip the switch to 'off'. Certainly. Try to reach me after 9pm and it's difficult. Assume I'll see your email to my personal account or FB posting the evening it goes live and you'd be wrong.

So let me ask: Do you believe that being connected is about how many technology conduits you have to information?

Being connected - to me - is about how I am part of the flow of information. Sharing it. Passing it on. Listening to it. Using it. Changing it. Passing it on again.

If that's being connected, then I do require the use of as many channels as I can handle. Not so that everyone can reach me at all hours. But so I can accommodate how others prefer to be reached. Phone. Email. Text message. FB. This blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Informal Mentoring is Collaboration

The previous post generated an email which asked "by your definition of informal mentoring, have you just described consensus?"

Ha! Nope. I suppose that would be true if I believed that the opinion/viewpoint gathering was meant to dictate the outcome. But, as I've said before in this blog, sometimes everyone else is wrong when you're right.

Maybe I didn't say it quite that baldly.

Mentors, formal and informal, are not a committee who must all agree on what you should/should not do. They are guides and offer guidelines. Heck, I don't even want my son to take all my advice at face value - if he's not thinking for himself and challenging my assumptions then it'll be a rocky adulthood!

Mentors are part of the collaboration that exists in any community. Folks offer input. One listens with respect and interest even if the end result is discarding the idea offered.

Mentoring is a collaboration.

Which prompts me to ask: what have you done for your mentor lately? And is there a Hallmark card for Mentor Day?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Informal Mentoring

I just had a breakfast (my fav way to have a 'meeting') with a fellow who offered me a terrific alternate view into a problem I've been chewing over.

Was that the main goal of our breakfast? Did I ask directly for the input? Nope. But it was a a fabulous part of the exchange. He appreciated the bits I brought him and I, in turn, got a nudge in my thinking.

That's informal mentoring at it's best - simply being open to what folks can offer you and not dismissing good information simply because you didn't ask for it directly.

By that definition, informal mentoring can happen all the time.

Of course, it's hard to keep one's mind open. I know mine operates at half-mast most days. So there's another way into informal mentoring that's more deliberate: asking someone you respect/like to coffee and asking their opinion.

Asking someone for their opinion works for everyone. You're not asking someone to solve the problem, just offer insight which you are free to accept, reject or alter. The more opinions you collect, the more insights you may gather. By deliberating seeking the viewpoints, you are (hopefully) keeping an open mind - which is better for those half-mast (rhymes with..) days.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Can you make it feel like Not networking?

I can't. I'm sorry. Brussel sprouts will taste like brussel sprouts no matter how they are cooked. You will have a taste for them, acquire one or suffer through the dish at family dinners and no amount of cheese sauce will change that fact.

I can tell you how to make it simpler. I can offer you ideas on how to set your expectations. I can suggest that a good friend coach you on how to showcase your personal style. But, if you've deemed networking as something important that must be done - then it will not suddenly become as fun as a water slide or as easy as unknowingly eating an entire ice cream sundae while having a good conversation.

I will offer a few rays of hope:
1 - like any habit, it will feel less awkward with practice.
2 - if it's part of your personal philosophy of building a community, it'll feel less artificial and more about you breaking out of your shell.
3 - see networking beyond the lense of job hunting. Networking is something to do everyday, all the time. Networking is how you find a new restaurant, a better yoga studio, a more interesting squash partner, a key business study/answer.
4 - Networking is not about the schmooze or the fake. Networking is giving and recieving within your communities to everyone's gain.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Know your skills - the ones you enjoy!

Like taking a seasonal inventory of your closet, you need to poke into the corners of your mind on a regular basis.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when a wonderful lunch turned into an impromptu and exciting job interview. Some of my answers were rusty ... shame on me!

I usually ask myself the questions below. My answers change like my taste in shoes - I'll always wear a pair but somedays it'll be Birks and others a pair of patent leather tomato-red heels. Regardless, I should always know what is in my closet!

Knowing yourself at this point in time:
1. What can I do? (list job skills, hobbies, interests, volunteer experience, etc.)

2. In which of these things do I excel? (subset of #1)

3. For which of these things would I like to become more skilled? (subset of #1)

4. Which of these things do I love to do? (subset of #2)

5. What do I think others come to me for most often? (subset of #1)

Note which skills (if any) are not picked up from #1 by the end of this exercise.
* Stop including them in your self-promotion.

Note which skills might be using to create a training plan that could reading, mentoring, networking, courses, etc.
* Draft that plan.

Note how much of an overlap is evident between list #4 & #1. Between #4 & #2. Between #4 & #5.
* Try to shorten the gap between 4 & 1 and 4 & 2.
* Try to promote yourself from your areas of joy.

The next time someone asks what you have to contribute, you can take your top 3 items from list #4 and back it up with the other lists ... instead of the other way around like we usually do!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Collaboration is best

I’m back on the whole consensus vs. collaboration debate. Someone remarked to me that women are great at consensus. She then leaned closer and confided quietly that it was a great opening line and what did I think?

Ack. It made me firmly stick to my belief that ”consensus” is right up there with “accountability” as my least favourite buzzwords this year.

I think the fairytale that everyone will agree - finally - on everything discussed is silly. I also don’t think that women are any better at consensus than men. I think most of us are just not willing to voice strong, doubting opinions in public as readily as our facial hair-endowed counterparts. I know I get royally pounded when I do (but I keep doing it…).

Collaborating, on the other hand, implies you were at least heard (if you voiced an opinion) even if your opinion was discarded. I think women are great at collaboration. Most days I just want to know that my opinion was considered before it was discounted rather than feel uncomfortable voicing an unusual/unpopular view when everyone else seems to be ‘agreeing’.

Half the time I think consensus is achieved simply because no one is speaking up. And that’s not good for anyone.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Having it all

Can we have it all? Motherhood, careers, family, friends, ‘me’ time, health, wealth and vacation time?


Yes because we all define these things differently and can therefore choose our own standard or expectation to which we want to aim.

Yes because having it all doesn’t mean doing it perfectly. Mistakes will happen. Poor choices might be made. So what? Who doesn’t make mistakes? We all know it is how you recover from error that counts.

Yes because all those things are available in life and no one is saying there is a pre-defined portion that is smaller for some women than for others.

Of course my life has sometimes seen poverty, illness and unemployment… to mention but a few. But those are the flipside of “all” and I’m willing to learn, embrace and try it again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Social Networking Technology and Similar Circles

Similar Circles is the philosophy.
Similar Circles: Tea & Networking is the face to face quarterly event. Obviously limited by geography.
Similar Circles: Tea & Blogging is what I do 2 - 3 times a week.

Similar Circles: Tea & Discussion is the next iteration possibility. (and I would dearly love your comments and concepts on this one)

Tea & Discussion could be podcasts, webinars, face to face groups with teleconferencing, discussion boards... The technology is there to allow us to connect.

I want to play... anyone care to join me?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Social Networking Technology 2

So, as a set of tools available to my journey of building personal community, where does social networking fit in?

* If you look at my kid, the entire teen world appears to be in constant tech mode with non-stop texting and online chatting.
* The adults seem to be finding old school mates on Facebook and looking for dates via the virtual world.
* There's LinkedIn and Plaxo and Twitter and host of online sites and tools that add to or distract from the day.
* There are articles telling you that social networking will help/hinder/host your career and life.

My philosophy is never turn down extra help. Social networking tools are one more way to reach out to your community. They are not, however, a replacement for the intimacy and trust-building of face-to-face. They can bridge the gaps between the phone calls and coffees.

My favourite example today is the one my teen realised... having a zillion friends on Facebook didn't mean he had a date for Saturday night. And asking a girl out via Facebook didn't win him any Romeo points either. Having prior chats via Facebook did break the ice. Having friends and events/bands in common did create some reference points.

I think that social networking tools haven't gotten out of their infancy yet. Technology is advancing to the point where we may see bigger grey zones between the face to face/high touch meetings and using technology to have them. I encourage folks to play with them and see how they work. Use them to reach outside your geographic zones for resources, information and counsel. And, please, also still be willing to offer your actual physical presence and time to your community.

Mentors - this is a great dialogue with your mentorees. What do either of you use? What's working? What can you teach each other?

Networkers - success stories are missing at this point. There are lots of examples of why it should work but few are out there at networking events talking about how it's worked for them personally. What a great conversation opener...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Social Networking Technology

Lately I've been involved in an in-depth analysis of social media/social networking technology. I've come to a few conclusions...

1 - The technology can't create or drive the behaviour. The need - or desire - to connect needs to be there already. Giving folks a new tool doesn't suddenly make them want to network. That's akin to buying someone a screwdriver in hopes they gain the will to do home renovations.

2 - Folks seem to respond to the need or use of the technology tools with an emotional response over logical. They seem divided in feeling that the tools answer some visceral need or that they cut into productivity.

3 - Most folks don't seem aware of the public nature of the tools - they think it is as private as a phone call.

4 - Most folks arguing for use of the tools feel they also serve a need to make work life more interesting, more like 'real' life, or more 'comfortable'. A qualitative approach while asking for the ROI or quantitative case.

5 - Most folks use the technology to either find information or find someone to help with information.

#5 is by far the most interesting for me and the work I've been doing around mentoring and networking. Because it points out how the technology is simply one tool in the philosophy and approach.

Yes, we can approach mentoring and networking simply to find information or people to use the information. But in our community-building, hierarchical-agnostic, grey zone approach, we don't always have such a specific agenda. Sometimes it really is just about opening ourselves to new people and experiences and not searching for something in particular.

But, when we do need to search, the tech tools are valuable!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's not personal...?

Other than how to work a large event, I think the question I get asked the most is "How do I keep my professional and personal lives separate?".

Short answer? You can't. Not really.

I don't mean you should want to take everyone you meet home for dinner. But you should be at least willing to have a social coffee with them, even if the conversation revolves around business or career issues.

If you're not willing to share even the smallest personal details about you and trade a few stories, you're not going to see much reciprocation in your other asks. It's a grey zone for sure - but one you can easily manage. You just can't avoid it.

I really believe there is something to enjoy about most folks I meet. Sometimes I have to dig for it (lol) but finding a point of connection always works out for both of us.

And grey zones aren't just about those we would rather didn't cross our paths. Eventually, many mentor/mentoree relationships evolve into friendships and/or business opportunities. You then know a great deal about each other and you have to manage the boundaries more deliberately.

Sincerity in networking requires a crossing into the grey zone too. If you ask me how I'm doing but don't really care or listen to my answer - skipping ahead in your mind to what I can do for you - then I'm not likely to play in your sandbox.

So it's personal. You'll run into each other in line at the coffee place. You'll care enough about your contacts in ways that will range from "Let's have dinner" to a personal email that says "I heard the news...".

My November post - Please Like Me may be the most controversial posting I've written in light of this question! Why spend any effort avoiding connecting with people if you really wish to build a community?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Connecting regardless...

I spend my life doing too much. It's almost a badge of honour except I wear it as bags below my eyes. And just when I pat myself complacently on the back about how I hold a management job (I mention that it's management so you will know it's 45+ hrs a week), sit on boards and committees, write plays, direct a few, hold a few workshops, do some teaching, parent an ungrateful teen, keep up with friends, keep the house in groceries that sometimes require actual cooking vs. defrosting AND manage to keep up with the dirty underwear and socks pile (teen reference again)... well just as I'm doing a pat, I trip over my feet and sometimes go straight down.

So lying on the rug.. or sidewalk... facing the sky/ceiling/piece of something under the couch (I never said anything about vacuuming)... I get a new perspective. Today it was that even when we've listened really hard, we've only heard a snippet of the whole conversation.

You can't know what's in someone's head because words are only part of the story. As is body language. Your gut can fill in some blanks but really, Sandra Boyton (children's book author) put it really well in a greeting card which I just gave my wretched child "You and I are very different. Although I guess I'm even more different than you are." We listen in sound bites. We process against the only frame of reference we have - our own.

And yet we manage, with some folks, to learn enough to connect. It's fascinating. I'm going to go make chocolate mousse for the pot luck dinner tonight and think about this one some more.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Influence is Viral

We've heard about viral marketing campaigns... we know rumours are viral.... we know germs spread while you're not even looking (sleeve sneeze anyone?)...

But really, your influence is viral. The recommendations we make, the comments we offer and the ideas we share are often repeated and spread. Ok, not always in their orginal form, but usually with the credit attached.

So you're not just affecting, supporting, helping one person. Your participation creates a ripple.

Be generous with your influence; infect your communities thoroughly and with good cheer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Open Conversations

I spend lots of time talking about greetings ... but yes, there's a whole other piece called the actual conversation that probably needs a few words.

If you think about the better conversations you have, they probably feel like you both listened and shared in equal measures. The problem comes when you try and figure out how to make that happen deliberately.

You've heard of open questions - a great technique for getting teenagers to talk with their parents more (lol)? The premise is that you only ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".

Sometimes even that fails as folks still answer with one or two words and no explanation. You can't change someone else's behaviour but you can monitor your own.

The next time you're looking to really engage someone in open conversation, try a few of these:

If you're asked a question that merits a one word response... follow with the word "and". Allow "and" to be a link to an explanation of your answer - a story, an anecdote or even a follow on question. That way if you're faced with someone who is also fumbling in the conversation, you have an easy technique to keep it going till you reach easier times.

Make Everyone Look Good
Chances are you won't agree with much of what folks tell you. When you meet them, is it more important to connect or to debate? You don't have to agree but you don't have to point out the obvious flaws in their logic either. "Thanks for bringing that up. It reminds me of an article..." "You've obviously thought about this. So have I. Do you think we're the only two?" etc. Keep it light and keep it moving till you know them well enough to get into the finer points.

No Perfect Answer
I'm still working on this one myself... There's no perfect/right/wrong answer to a question. Conversation is discussion - not closed proclamation to closed proclamation. You can explain yourself. You can elaborate. Speak from your gut. Fumble a bit. That's always more interesting. More nerve wracking, but interesting.

Keep the conversation flowing like a good tennis game... and don't worry about being an ace player.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Helping your mentor

Just because your mentor is an expert in somethings, don't assume she knows everything and everyone. As mentoring is supposed to be active on both sides of the relationship, here's a few things you can do to help.

1 - Don't assume your mentor has already combed their network for the right connection for you and your current questions.

Always ask your mentor "Who else could I talk to about this?"

On the flip side - don't be afraid to offer your mentor new people with whom they can connect. We don't know everyone in the world... yet...

2 - Don't assume your mentor is an encyclopedia.

Always ask your mentor "What associations/groups/websites might be worth exploring on this topic?" Don't assume your mentor will hand you everything in one neat package.

On the flip side - bring your mentor good sources you find! We're always looking for fresh insight too.

3 - Don't assume your mentor's network is boundless.

Invite your mentor to explore some of the events and meet new people with you.

On the flip side - make sure you've investigated the sources your mentor has offered you before suggesting exploring the unknown.

4 - Don't assume your mentor is a strong networker.

It's a difficult skill at the best of times. I am the consummate "reluctant networker" and people come to me for advice!

It seems to be an assumption that with mentoring comes networking and invitation to new folks. But, sometimes, the focus is on a one on one discussion of the subject matter only.

Discuss your questions around networking and ask for advice... but on the flip side... ask your mentor what their challenges and hesitations have been and how they've been overcome (or not).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Laugh a little

Consider this... humour is a wonderful networking and mentoring tool. It breaks the ice, relaxes folks and offers a small bridge towards the grey zone (see Oct posting: Grey Zones).

I'm not talking about stand up comedy or poorly conceived jokes. Just the little quips, observations and silly asides that can liven up a conversation.

It's using your 'inside voice' judiciously. It often has a grain of truth to it. And it creates a point of connection between you and the person who also found that something humourous.

Networking events and one on one coaching sessions can be so deadly dull! Folks can come away feeling disconnected, bored and/or overwhelmed. Laugh a little together.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mentoring & Networking

#1 - Mentoring and networking are two sides of the same coin.

#2 - You can possibly network without being deliberately involved in mentoring (giving or receiving) but you can’t deepen relationships purely through networking.

#3 - Networking is a key component of your personal ‘brand’. Mentoring can help you examine that brand.

#4 - Networking takes preparation, practice and commitment.... as much as mentoring does.

#5 - Mentoring and networking are vital to any person doing anything at which they want to excel.

#6 Both mentoring and networking are your choice. There are many folks who are very happy not doing either. Mentoring and networking don't guarantee you success but they sure can help.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Questions excite me

Someone tried to pay me a compliment (publicly) last night and I did what I always do - I shrugged and ducked. I said, "I just ask questions and then folks credit me with the answers; it's a neat trick."

As I walked up to the streetcar an hour later, I had a small epiphany. It is all about the questions.

Questions excite me - challenge me - inspire me. Questions are the journey.

Don't get me wrong - there are answers out there too (some of them even good!). But you don't know they're good unless you've been asking - and trying - other variations.

Ask. Listen. Try. Ask some more.

Friday, May 29, 2009


There were two pieces of that local news segment that bothered me ...

It called networking "the big schmooze".

What a word... sounds slimy on your tongue... has a root of "ooze"... implies a complete lack of sincerity.

No wonder folks shy away from the concept.

They did enforce doing your networking early and often, building a community well before you might have to call upon it. Can't disagree with that.

But it was all proposed within a context of self-interest. And, I'm hoping since you're on this blog, that you agree with me that networking from that standpoint is true schmoozing. Oozy, insincere and slimy.

Similar circles - a true personal community built from overlapping networks - serves all its members. We all contribute to and we all use the support. (See Oct post - Peer to Peer and Dec - Networking, how not to) We're not schmoozing; we're living our lives and including new folks along the way.