Thursday, January 29, 2009

Networking - things to ponder #3

Plan ahead
As I’ve said before, if you only start networking during a crisis then you won’t get very far. You need your network in place before you have a need.

I am always amazed at the amount of folks who need to change or find jobs and call me, a stranger, because they heard I help folks.

I’m not a head hunter or job placement agency. I help folks network and understand mentoring. Yet folks just assume, because they call me, that I’ll ‘connect’ them with someone who has a job and that's the only reason to meet folks, unemployed or not.

Think about planning as the foundation of a house; building a little extra stash of cash instead of living paycheque to paycheque; or having the right tool in your toolbox for the days you might need it. (whatever image works)

Have the relationship built before you call on your community. The relationship is your tool, your stash and the foundation for reaching out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Networking - things to ponder #2

Why is networking important?
Building a community and contributing to someone else’s is how things are done. I’m not referring to hidden job markets. Think about finding a good babysitter or chiropractor or restaurant. We ask others we trust and like for their recommendations. If you have no one to ask and nothing to throw in, you’re stuck with guessing solo.

So really, you build your networks all the time. It’s only when we put it in a work context that it feels awkward. (And I’ve already ranted about how we should just acknowledge we’re looking for folks to like. See November 08 - Please Like Me)

Not a transaction but a relationship
Just because you meet someone in a work context, does not obligate them to help you with your career or work questions. You have to build a relationship with them for those conversations to happen.

Would you give a reference - your name and reputation - to a stranger? Would you expect a stranger to offer you a job lead?

People are not bank machines whereby you can walk up to them and expect to take something away. Networking is not a transaction. Building a community is about building relationships.

By the same token, it’s not quid pro quo either; you don’t have to only take out what you put in. That’s why I call it community. It’s not that everyone gets the same amount of support - it’s that as a united community we all put in what we can and take what we need.

Networking matters.
If you think about what we can do for each other on a regular basis: listening, feedback, ideas, and especially helping connect others, then it’s not a disengaged business issue but a long-term plan for yourself, those you consider part of your community and how you want to develop your reputation.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Networking - things to ponder #1

I get asked all the time to define networking. I usually start with what networking is not. (See posting November 08, Networking: How Not To….)

I suppose the one I left off the original list was:
• Networking is not a time to be insincere (don’t offer your card if you don’t want to connect!).

That’s key - you have to want to connect. Actually, you also should like people as a general rule…but that’s for another day.

It’s no fun for anyone to stagger back to their rolodex (mine is a lunch pail) clutching a plastic wine glass and business cards that you don’t remember why you took them or the faces of who gave them.

What is networking?
My latest definition: it’s about finding people you like with whom you feel comfortable asking for or giving information. These people become your community, your network.

By that definition, that’s how you find both friends and colleagues. The difference? You don’t have to bring everyone in your network home for dinner - that’s reserved for those who become friends. You should be happy to sit through a coffee with the remainder in a public place.

Networking is simply linking your relationships as a larger personal community.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poor First Impressions

Can you recover from a poor first impression? Oh my yes. If you couldn’t, there be a lot less babies in the world! (gents, take heart!)

Of course, it’s more work to recover and, depending on your level of self-worth, you might always feel like you must re-prove your worth.

Consider too - sometimes it’s not that you made a bad first impression but maybe the person you met was having a bad day. It’s hard to take note of new people when we’re distracted or worried. I can’t tell you how many people I ‘re-meet’ who either don’t remember me or I don’t remember them! It happens. Have a sense of humour and realize that everyone is the star of their own show and therefore you can’t always count on folks recognizing your cameo appearance in theirs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


As I sat at the desk this afternoon, I wondered aloud what I should blog about. My son, who was working on his homework behind me, suggested I post that he is a "poopy pants" (having just vetoed my idea for supper).

As tempting as that was, it did point out that "reputation" is something I've not directly addressed. This blog has been about building it (personal brand) but not how simple it is to lose it.

Reputation is built on how folks perceive our actions. Consistency in our actions builds trust. Trust is what we can draw on in times of uncertainty.

But once you leave consistency behind - not one isolated incident but multiple times - you can lose the reputation you have built. (However, that means you can lose a bad one too with patience and deliberate control of your actions.)

Again, it comes down to choice. I have a reputation of being creative and 'out there' at my work. Some days that gets in the way of folks taking me seriously. I evaluate that reputation I wish to change how I dress? reference sources? add to meetings? I choose to consistently come across in a certain manner but I could change it over time with a different approach.

Parts of our reputations are easy to lose and harder to build: trust; dependability; honestly; willingness; etc. But again, you can choose how you would like to be perceived and deliberately build to that reputation.

When you are networking or mentoring, keep in mind that your community is part of your reputation and that you contribute to the reputations of others.

Our reputation rests mainly in the minds of those in our community. It only takes one loud voice for folks to question their perception of you.

So I ask - is reputation therefore out of our personal control? Not entirely; we can choose our actions. A dissenting voice or two will never eliminate our long-term record of behaviour, good or bad. Folks may examine the record but we are in control of what we chose to put in it.

For the record, my son is not a "PP". He is a teen who lives in his own fascinating and instructive (to me) world and to whom I am grateful for the continued inspiration.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Resilience is a skill. I've read that in a lot of places - lately in an article my dad sent me by Dave Thompson, author of A Healthy Mind. Resilience starts as an attitude - a desire to be resilient in the face of setbacks - and is honed as a habit, a mind-set and a skill.

For networking and mentoring, I define resilience as a chosen habit to keep looking forward regardless of a seeming lack of choices. Even if I don't like a possible 'next step' I add it to the list for consideration. Even when I feel the world is working against me, I make it my choice to respond positively (even through the private rant inside). And I plan and plan for contingencies (which often never happen) so in the middle of a crisis, I can feel the angst but trust the logic I found earlier. That's the real truth of resiliency for me: it is planning - for my career, my needs and my community.

My 'resiliency habit' is getting better but it isn't perfect (yet).

Resilience is important in our approach to networking and mentoring. Not every connection is successful or grows. Not every request is met with an open mind. Not all advice is helpful.

This has all been foremost in my mind as I navigate my way through a new, undefined role and make new relationships. I am worried about being successful; I won't let that keep me from trying to really enjoy the process.

Of course community plays a role in all this. Our communities are part of how we find new ideas and provide a cheerleading section when the positive view is harder to find.

Thanks to all of you (and my dad) for the cheering lately. I can't stop bullets but I'm healing much faster when I can't duck fast enough!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Someone asked me why I don’t write about how one is perceived by others when networking or mentoring. I tend to focus on how I/we, as individuals, are feeling and reacting to the world.

We are told many times a week to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It’s a good perspective to have and one I spend a lot of time pondering when I have pondering time.

But that’s the point… when we’re stressed or nervous, we revert to our core habits. I doubt it is the knee-jerk reaction of many folks to try and take the opposite view beyond thinking “Aack, did that just come out of my mouth? They must think I’m an idiot!” Which is still, really, all about how we’re feeling and not really considering anyone else at all.

So my focus is to help us all (me included) coach our knee-jerk reactions. If yours are going well, please call me as I’d like you to mentor me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Who is a mentor?

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

This raises several assumptions:
• that a mentor is someone very senior
• that a mentor is only for the particular tasks 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 it’s part of the choices you have to make for yourself.
• 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)

Don’t let any of the questions stop you from starting to get advice. You won’t just have one mentor in your life so you don’t have to start with your perfect scenario.

Don't assume you aren't ready to mentor at any stop on your own path. Your experience and perspective are valuable all along the way!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Your life - your choice

I just read a headline that said “is your spouse saddling your career?” The actual content of the article aside, immediately my brain went to “are other people dictating your choices?”

I know that there will always be folks out there trying to get us to do what they want. Some will manipulate; some will negotiate; some will ask; and some will demand. There is nothing inherently wrong with hoping folks will do what you ask. What bothers me is when people command. There may be times in a project where that is required but never around personal choices.

It’s not just our partners who might try this type of power game. It’s family, friends, managers and co-workers. It’s anyone who has a vested interested in our success but might be afraid our choices will not reflect well on them. It’s a hidden reason why some people are uncomfortable with the concept of being mentored. Some folks see it as relinquishing control rather than having a caring place to sort out questions for which ultimately they must own their answers.

That’s what it comes down to - understanding and believing that YOU own your choices and answers. No good mentor should force you to take their advice (though hopefully it's good advice to begin with).

You can choose to relinquish control but don’t let it be taken away. Especially when it comes to your career and the years of your life those choices will reflect.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Coming Year

Here's the wager: A year from now… will you be leading a tribe of people? Will you be creating stories, connecting people, giving them a platform and making things better for people who care about each other? I'm betting you will.
Seth Godin

I’m a fan of Mr. Godin and his new book Tribes seems to speak to ‘where I’m at’ these days.

Everywhere I go hear, folks are talking about a ‘reset’ and a ‘do-over’. It’s exciting and scary because change always sounds good in theory but requires sacrifice of some sort in practice. And I don’t like giving up anything to which I’ve become accustomed. Who does? I like having a car, buying fresh fruit in January and exotic tea from around the world.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to the personal sacrifices. I am enjoying how folks are coming together to fix or create. We’re joining forces, sharing experience and helping each other. That’s the essence of peer-to-peer networking and mentoring. (I get excited just writing about it!)

Whether it is about the economy, the environment, careers, parenting, cooking or world peace - “like minds” cause things to happen. Networking is about finding those minds. Mentoring is sharing the information available.

A year from now will most likely see a great deal of change that is out of our immediate sphere of influence. But how we choose to incorporate change and react to it…. how we support each other… how we know we are a community that pulls together … will be where we can find joy and the caring that makes those potential sacrifices a bit easier.