Friday, February 27, 2009

Women and Consensus

I was sent a terrific email the other day:

“I’ve often wondered how many women need to be around the table for the tone/approach/culture to truly shift. 20%? 50%?

I think in smaller numbers, frankly, we’re more effective. Once there are more women than men around a table, I think driving decisions gets a little harder because women (generally) operate on such instinctively consensus nature.

I think women drawn to fields with more men tend/need to be more aggressive and might be more effective at driving consensus when they are still outnumbered.”

Is it our role to drive consensus? Or is it a leadership necessity regardless of gender?

Does an all-female team work slower towards decisions?

When you mentor (or are mentored) does the topic of collaboration - as a skill to hone - ever come up?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

100% Involved

I read that 10% of users are responding to content generated by 1% of users on any given internet site.

That means 90% of you are just reading and 'lurking' in the shadows.

Does it stand to reason that the same statistics apply to in-person events? (Gatherings, meetings, parties, forums, etc. ) It probably does when I think about the patterns I've observed.

And yet I'm asking you all for 100% participation! Not necessarily on this blog (though feel free) But in your own choices - becoming a committed part of the 10% in your own lives.

If you don't choose to engage....and the person next to you doesn't choose to engage....well why bother? If we don't make a commitment to stick our toes into at least that much, then what do we hope to achieve?

Am I unrealistic?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Measuring Success - not

I've spent a chunk of today trying to put 'what I do' in a document by which I will be measured by my boss at the end of the year. I am trying to plug my world into a template.


At some point, we stop measuring ourselves by the output and by tasks. We begin to foucs on relationships, mission/vision and long-term planning. We do this in our household budgets; we do this with our close friends; we do this in our careers.

Evaluting our success or failures doesn't seem to have progressed with us. How do you measure successful relationships? How do you say "look at this bridge I built between these people"? Yes, there is corporate speak developed around all this. But really, am I allowed to write that success was in the fact that people will take my calls? (grin)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bone Tired?

Several folks have commented lately that they are just bone tired of working this hard, flat out, all the time.

When did this happen? According to history - a lot and often. It seems that the notion of a 5 day/37.5 hr work week is a myth each generation thinks they’ll achieve and doesn’t.

A lot of us are finding ourselves in a Dickensian kind of world - weekends erode with spill-over from work; we’re paid on a 35 - 40 hr. week but work more; personal projects slip to the side as irrelevant; ‘where did the time go?’ is a common refrain.

Time to mentor? Time to find a mentor? Time to network (events or individuals)? Pah! We’re too busy with work, looking for work, catching up or trying to let go!

I’m currently working long hours and careening from one minute/need to the next, just like everyone else. Here’s what I have figured out….

Time management is a complex web of obligations, expectations and choices. When it becomes overwhelming, we forget to adjust the expectations and rethink the choices - it all feels like obligation.

Rough definitions and questions to ask:
Obligation: is a commitment
• Will they fire me if I don’t do it?
• Will my family/friends disown me if I don’t do it?
• What happens if I say yes/no? (fire? plague? famine?)

Expectation: is the range or scope of the commitment, sometimes unspoken or assumed
• What happens if I say yes/no? (complaints? costs? inconvenience?)
• Does someone assumes this is part of the package under an obligation? (scope of commitment)

Choice: is the freedom to say yes or no
• If I did it once before, why would/wouldn’t I do it again?
• Does this obligation/expectation fit any of my agreements or goals?
• Can I do it now, defer or avoid?
• Do I really want to do this?

So I sat down and broke all my commitments down again. I looked at the priorities from my goals to my team’s goals and set a few limits.
- I’m choosing to stay late at least twice this week to catch up on my planning.
- I’m unable to meet a few expectations this week because I’ve got other projects and family obligations taking precedence.
- I’ve decided not to apologize for those but simply offer an alternate to those I’m holding up (as in “hold the meeting without me” or “I need one more week or you can ask someone else”.)

Yes, I feel guilty about not being super mom… yes, it feels odd to say my kid’s cat being ill takes precedence over me being at a meeting on Wedsnesday…. yes, I overcommitted myself in the first place and I should have planned better.

We’ll never get away from the world wanting every second of us it can get. We can stop for 15 seconds and make sure we’re steering our own ship.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Networking and Mentoring Are Like Dating

It is February after all…. Here’s my top 10 ways networking and mentoring are like dating.

10 - It’s all about making connections. Some will lead to more, some will lead to dead ends, some will take you to unexpected places.

9 - You have to be willing to like the person with whom you are attempting to connect.

8 - You have to be willing to offer and accept criticism - good and uncomfortable.

7 - Food is the best way to start building bridges. Coffee and chocolate are natural conversation starters.

6 - Self-depreciation is not sexy during a first meeting or career discussion.

5 - Intense discussions are best held in daylight.

4 - A common vocabulary and shared experiences are great ways to avoid micommunication.

3 - Someone who insists they're always 'right' will ‘miscommunicate’ with you a lot.

2 - A bottle of Shiraz will not help them change their mind.

1 - Keep your sense of humour at all times!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why a circle?

We all talk in shorthand, offering small snapshots of what we're trying to say or describe. I'm no better - I may proudly try to avoid acronyms but my stories are filled with personal images and a lexicon that isn't immediately obvious.

Think about that! the next time you are attempting to explain something you are passionate about to other people.

I attended a wonderful lecture on leadership and its relationship to the thought process of an architect (check out the Moosewilson Project It was a terrific mental push around the precept that we create our own way forward. Very cool.

We spoke after the lecture and he asked me if I was comfortable with using the term "personal community" as it meant something to him but wasn't it too trite for general use? So I thought, as per above, that I would try and explain.

Communities come in all shapes and sizes. You can have community centres (in neighbourhoods), communities of practices (business), community watch (neighbours) etc. You can build a community around any shared interest, skill or geographic designation.

I visualize a community as a circle. You can put yourself at the centre of a circle but you are also often a part of someone else's - overlapping circles: mutual friends; local chapters of a larger organization; etc. with the overlap being a lot or just on the edges. I call that phenomenon "similar circles".

Your circles can be as wide and as deep as you are willing to maintain. Circles need care and feeding. Some are easier to join than others but all of them require time and attention. Think of the communities where you are not at the centre and see if you don't feel more engaged when you are actively involved or even have simple acknowledgement of your continued participation.

So personal communities are not necessarily ones where everyone is my closest friend. They are the shared concerns (people, career, interests, etc.) that fill my life - it's personal! My circles are small but I strive for many many overlaps.

Seth Godin calls communities - "tribes".

What fascinates me are the overlaps - bridging folks from one circle to another and creating yet a third option. Similar roots, similar circles - personal choices, personal communities.

It may be trite to others...but it resonates for me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Leadership at every level

I'm reading a terrific book called Tribes by Seth Godin. It's about leadership from the point of view of: if you have an idea, then get it out there and find others who can help you develop it. It's not about hierarchy or promotions but about finding like-minds and making a difference.

As you can tell from my blog, that's my core philosophy. I am currently focused on the concept of building personal community through mentoring and networking, but the basic principle is the same.

Leadership is everyone’s business. Leadership is more than being the person at the top of a heap (big or small). Leadership is about speaking up and speaking out about what’s working, what’s not and putting up your hand to lead the fix.

Enough folks talk to me about their discomfort or uncertainty around building a community that I started this blog. It was obvious that we needed a place to think about the questions and the effort.

I went a step further and now have a quarterly event in Toronto (post a comment if you want to get on my mailing list for that) where we meet across industries and hierachies to find connections.

I believe we can all lead - by asking questions, by challenging assumptions, by moving our frustration to solutions. And, if no solution is readily available, at least to keep the discussion and activity going.

This is the topic I'm bringing my mentors this week: how do you define leadership? I'm not looking for the tasks involved but the philosophy and bigger behaviours.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Basic principles stay the same

I had no idea when I first started talking with folks about mentoring and networking - about building personal communities and finding like minds - that I would be blogging during a time of a growing global recession. To me, building community makes sense regardless of time or place. I always need my community and look to add to it whenever I can.

My friends are losing jobs. My family has seen savings dwindle. My son and his friends can’t find part-time work (it’s drying up) and some can’t get into colleges, competing for spots with more seasoned folk who are finding themselves in need of jobs or retraining. I'm happy in my new job but I know it's a finite assignment. It’s the same for everyone - not quite a terrible situation but touching each of us somehow.

With the immediate needs, someone asked me how I can still say: build your network before you need it.

It’s obvious many more folks currently need support than in the previous months and years. We all know this and share job leads as we find them. For those still working, keep building for the future. For those of you unemployed - remember there is a difference between a job interview and a friendly coffee. As long as the person you’ll be meeting is clear on which it is, then do what you do best.

Asking for help is never a bad thing - in any context.

Besides, every job interview can still become someone in your network if you make the right overtures.

And you can still put some time in to building a network and mentoring between job interviews because solving the problem of today doesn’t give you a safety net for later. This won’t be our only challenging time (personal or global) and our only time to help each other.

The basic principles stay the same. Reach out as best you can and try to keep looking ahead when the daily challenges weigh you down.

With great respect for all our struggles and successes, no matter how large or small,


Monday, February 2, 2009

Networking - things to ponder #4

How to network?
I approach networking like a first date (I hear the snickers but I do remember dating).

There are two simple things I look for:
#1 - must like people
#2 - must like me
I’m always willing to compromise on #1 for #2 :-)

Remembering that this is not a transaction but the start of a relationship that might range in possibility from “share an interest” to new good friend.

I’ve talked about ‘how to’ network before across several posting but here’s the summary for which folks keep asking.

1 - Look over your career and life needs. Create a plan that reflects how you will build those areas and your time frames against goals or milestones. Sounds like work? Well, it is but since it’s also your life and choices, then it’s probably worth it?

2 - Within that plan, figure out your skill set - what you have, what you’d like to have, what you need to have, etc. That will help you on the mentoring side.

3 - Choose events and assignments (jobs, volunteering, social gatherings) that support the plan. Don’t do everything that’s out there. Don’t worry about only doing things that support your plan (yoga is just for me!). Have a yardstick by which you decide what to include and what to turn down.

In general - everyday
4 - Approach everyone as a person rather than as a transaction.

5 - Learn and practice different ways to introduce yourself.

6 - Don’t worry about making every connection count. Like dating, some will be duds.

7 - Listen. This is the best way to build trust and show folks you are genuinely interested in them. Listen to what they have to say. Ask questions and listen to the answers.

At an event
Remember why you’re there - supporting your plan. Remember what you’re hoping this event will contribute to your plan. Talk to people.

8 - Ask questions. Questions do more to kickstart a relationship than a monologue ever did.

9 - Do the “hot potato” (see November 2008).

10 - Make a commitment (to them and yourself) to follow up on likely connections.

Try to enjoy yourself. Whatever that means to you. Would you want to introduce yourself to someone who looked miserable or uncomfortable (especially if you’re feeling that way)?

After an event or chance meeting - Follow Up!
Keep in mind that if you don’t maintain your network, it can die. Don’t start what you don’t wish to maintain.

Follow up doesn’t have to be elaborate; it’s common sense and manners.
• I call or email the person with whom I wanted to have a more fulsome conversation and suggest a time for coffee.
• I send promised information or make contact within 48 hrs of the promise.

Follow up is also a nice way to just check in with folks.
• I call or email with a seasonal hello and suggest a check-in with tea or coffee.
• I offer a tidbit of a good book, website or article as a new ice breaker.

Follow up is important if anyone does any of the above for you.
• Promptly return a call or email (I have a 48 hr window that I think is still polite).
• I write a hand written thank you if someone shares a contact or bit of information that turns out to be valuable for me.

Follow up doesn’t mean you suddenly have a job interview. Many folks turn a follow up into an open invitation to send a resume. Suddenly, it’s a transaction again and we’ve not even left the gate.

Follow up is good manners and a good foundation. It’s a foot in the door. Now you have the opportunity to build trust.