Tuesday, March 31, 2009


"Every rule can be challenged, except this one."

There's so many boxes out there. Some are necessary. Some just get in the way. I am amazed/amused/astounded by the boxes we put around ourselves.

We have boxes about what we will/won’t eat, the music we will/won’t listen to, the jobs we will/won’t aspire to, the people we will/won’t find interesting, etc etc etc.

Recently, I challenged myself - I also have a list of things that define me because I will/won’t do them. Some are carefully chosen and some are just from habit or discomfort. I broke a few of my own ‘rules’ yesterday (and suffered through the ‘what have I done?’ moments). I realized this morning that no one had even noticed the changes and the only real impact is that my world-view is a bit broader.

The thing about rules is you have to ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do/don’t do X?” You then state the feared outcome and ask “What will I do if that should happen?” Amazingly, potential outcomes are less terrifying when we take the time to think through our options in advance. Even more amazingly, friends will wonder what took you so long to make the leap in the first place.

A sample conversation with myself often goes something like:
“What is the worst thing that could happen if I talk to a stranger?”
“They’ll laugh at me”
“So then?”
“So then I’d tell them to stuff themselves.”
“What’s the next worst thing.”
“They’ll reject me with a cutting comment.”
“So then?”
“So then I’d tell them it was obvious I’d wasted my valuable time.”
and so on.

I’m always a little shocked at how easy it is to do reverse-psychology on oneself…

So I’ve challenged my habits a bit this week.
Terrified? a little.
Unboxed? getting there.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Context to Imperfection

“A good relationship understands and gives context to imperfection as a human phenomenon – There is nothing better than being able to honestly express fear, uncertainty and anxiety in a safe environment.” Rodger Harding

There are many things I love about this quote from Rodger (see "interesting sites" on the right side for a direct link to Rodger) First, we all need safe zones - places to express doubt or to come clean about mistakes without fear of finger pointing or being thought of as less than capable. A good friend, a mentor and a mirror can be great safe places to have these conversations.

Perhaps what makes this statement really come alive for me is that not only do we need a person/place where we can express ourselves freely - we need a context in which to consider the implications and reasons.

Having a person/place in which to express our worries, errors and concerns is a great gift. Even greater is the ability to discuss them, create a context for them and make sure doubt and worry don’t loom larger in our perspective than they should.

The old cliché “everyone makes mistakes” is truer than we’d like to think. One mistake shouldn’t define you. Doubt shouldn’t paralyze you. Criticism is feedback. Your safe zone should reflect all of you - the imperfect and the joyous.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things we consider at "hello"

I've been out a lot this week and was musing on this subject on the subway home...

These are personal. It was interesting to me where I look and what I consider.

1 - Are they smiling? I hate meeting folks who looked worried to meet me.

2 - What shoes are they wearing? I can't help it!! I look!!

3 - What colour are their eyes? Or do I get distracted before I really look at them?

4 - Do they immediately ask me a question or do we sit in a short silence before one of us has to break it?

5 - Are their hands rough or sticky?

6 - Can I make them laugh right away?

This is about the first 10 seconds of meeting someone. I've been monitoring myself all week. I'm not sure if this is criteria I've chosen or my default/gut approach. It's certainly worth exploring. And even worth exploring how I might stack up if someone asked the same questions when meeting me...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Personal Brand …again

Personal brand … just when I think it’s not about the PR, then PR raises its head as a necessity.

The problem with PR is that, these days, many see it as hype, exaggeration or down-right lies.

The solution is to base your self-pitch on fact…which can be tough to do if you haven’t examined your facts lately. Work through these issues with your mentor/mentee and see if you both don’t come up with some new thoughts!

What are your key messages and themes?

• These can range from your personal philosophy (on the topic at hand) to your interests and passions. But if you haven’t examined what those are - taking it from the back burner to the front - then you may not be prepared to present them.
• My key message, regardless of context, is always about relationships: establishing; deepening; tapping. Relationship are the centrepoint of my world view.

What tools or reference points are relevant to your audience?

• I don’t jump in with a theatre story when I’m talking to an IT guy if we haven’t established that he’ll understand my analogy. The onus is on you to do the preparation and reach out to your partner(s) in language they’ll understand.
• Finding a point of common ground - from the personal like being a parent - to a work story - can be a great way to assure your audience and have them feel you have something in common. People tend to relax at that point.

If you had to use 3 adjectives to describe yourself in a professional capacity, what would they be? In a personal? Examine the difference in the lists and decide if you would like them to be more similar.

• Most folks get the first two points above and this one always makes them tilt their head and look puzzled.
• You are your own best advocate. If you can’t comfortably tell folks what you do well, then you’re losing opportunities to make connections.
• I call myself an artist, facilitator, strategic thinker. I amend that list depending on my audience but it’s not that far off from what my friends think either. (I’ve edited out the bad words they added)

If you could make only 3 new contacts this season, on what would they be based? (profession; skill; reputation; personality; etc.?)

• I’m still working through this one. I want one person who can challenge my first thought to get to a stronger one - probably in my circle of friends/peers at work. I want someone to work with me on understanding a deeper level of organizational design - probably a professional connection. I would like one person who will drag me out of the house more often - a new friend or reconnecting with a dear one.

What are the tools you use most often to let people get to know you?

• Phone calls? emails? Web posting? Word of mouth? etc.
• Get your friends to critique your tools.

How do you measure success?

• When people have the same 3 adjectives as the ones on your list?
• When they pass your key messages on to others without coaching?
• With a paycheque?
• An audience?
• A request for a repeat performance?

• We often are looking ahead but rarely take the time in our own lives to just appreciate how far we’ve come. (See September - Winter Prep blog post)

• It’s also much easier on us to quantify success. When we have a measurement (vs. we ‘think’ it worked), we don’t seem so reluctant to tell others! And your community definitely wants to celebrate the ups along with supporting the downs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Be Specific and Do Homework

I have been hearing a lot that there are no job openings out there and folks are afraid of leading you on if they agree to a “coffee”.

My suggestion is that you be very specific about how someone can help you (this applies even during good economic times). Believe me, if folks like you, they’ll ask you if you’re interested in potential future gigs without you having to fish.

Disguising a job hunt as a vague search for information can hurt you. Be sincere, direct and open about what you want and that makes folks more comfortable about helping you.

My suggestion: forgo the job hunting approach at this time (unless you’re actually unemployed); and change your approach - use specific asks to get someone’s time and attention.

1 - Is there a particular piece of an industry for which you’re seeking information? Identifying that will help you identify individuals to approach. Asking for a coffee for general or non-specific information can sound like you’re very junior and looking for an easy line into someone’s job file.

2 - “Seeking advice” ….on what? (on how to be better at a job, find accreditation, find a mentor, etc.?) These two words are often listed in requests for meeting but the meaning is vague.
FYI - “advice” vs. “advise” is a very common mistake in an email!

3 - Are there individuals in your industry you admire? Can you reach out to them? Can you tell them why you admire them and what their advice on those particular skills would mean to you?

4 - Are you targeting a specific industry for which you want to *whatever it is you do*? For example, a writer can write for technical, for government, for TV. Picking the industry to which you want to apply your talents would help. Your contacts might be able to least find folks who might know folks.

And, finally, don’t be lazy. Don’t call in personal favours for things you could first deal with by working with your mentor and/or plumbing the websites, meetings and events of related associations and organizations. We know how busy folks are - you can’t expect them to help you with this refining of your ask - spend some time thinking about it before sending the first email request for help.

Remember, good networkers you can call on for connections are Not headhunters, career counselors or matchmakers. You need to show the efforts you’re making on your own and be respectful everyone’s time. You are your best champion. Don’t push the responsibility into someone else’s hands unless you’re paying them (and even then!).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What do I talk to my mentor/mentee about?

In my attempts to avoid the ‘how-to’s, I present yet another one…

Discussion topics to raise with a mentor/mentee
• the "ins and outs" of industries or organizations
• locating other folks in other industries or organizations with whom you could have a tea and build your community
• a ‘safe place’ to discuss concerns or ideas around community, career, etc.
• share guidance, advice and encouragement (and the occasional smack to the head as I required this week - thanks Paulette!) for career, balancing work and personal, being a woman in the work force, etc.
• get invited other networking/mentoring opportunities through events, meetings, etc.
• practice “communication skills” - listening, questioning, offering feedback, introductions, etc.
• learn about a specific business, not-for-profit or personal endeavor / environment

Fun things to do with your mentor/mentee
Other than having time just to talk about what’s on your mind… well you can try one of the items below
• attend meetings, planning sessions or events together (golf, networking event, bowling, seminars, theatre, etc.)
• meet for coffee or a meal (I love breakfasts!)
• introduce each other to others in your communities
• give feedback- openly, honestly and with respect
• role playing (e.g. mock interviews or introductions) - I hate this but once or twice it has been helpful
• involve each other in a project
• "shadow" the mentor for a day
• bookclub approach - articles and books to discuss on selected topics

Monday, March 16, 2009


Humber College’s Arts Administration - Cultural Management Program, Class of ’09 is presenting a unique event on Monday March 23 at the Tranzac Club in Toronto.

They’ve called it “Babble-On” where guest speakers from across not-for-profit arts organizations will come to expound on quirky topics (based on the format “Trampoline Hall” by author Sheila Heiti).

Kudos to the class who took an assignment to put the theories of sponsorship and fundraising and created an event that is all about their community. Yes, they’re trying to raise funds. But what has me excited about the event is the many ways they’re looking to bring their communities (friends, peers, students, teachers, deans, artists and art enthusiasts) together with an eye to offering meaning and value.

It’s a terrific networking event without ever stating networking as a goal. The speakers are all experts in their field and yet asked to step into the unknown with unusual topics. The room will be filled with activities (including a silent auction) to keep the energy flowing.

You could show up not knowing a soul and find many friends in the room.

This isn’t a ‘please-support-Humber-and-our-program….come-and-we’ll-tell-you -why-we’re-special’ event. This is a true gathering of like-minds that will *also* result in funds raised for the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation.

I do teach one of their classes. I am incredibly proud of this group of individuals who are doing their best to take the program's wisdom at face-value and then make it their own.

Check out their Facebook page or email humberspecialevent@gmail.com for more information.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Networking - My “How To” for Every Day

Networking isn't hard. It's discipline which becomes habit. It also isn't relegated to events only. You are probably already networking and calling it something else.

Networking is simply connecting. How deep you wish to make a connection is up to you. Ample opportunities to connect appear every hour. You don't have to seize each one - you should be at least open to the possibilities presented.

And being mindful of the things below may not solve how to 'work a room' but it does make talking to strangers more of a regular occurrence in general.

It's all choice.

1 - Everyday I say “hello” to people - my neighbours; their kids; my co-workers; people emptying my garbage cans, etc.

2 - After I say “hello”, I listen to the response - sometimes even have a brief conversation.

3 - I make eye contact - even briefly - entering elevators; walking down the street; with store clerks - this can result in more of #1 - 10.

4 - I say “thank you” - to people holding doors; processing my requests; bagging my groceries; giving me feedback; etc.

5 - I apologize - when I’ve made a mistake; forgotten something; been inconsiderate.

6 - I follow up on calls and emails - to acquaintances; friends who wait patiently for me to get my schedule together; requests in or out; etc.

7 - I offer thoughts and perspective - offers of help; random compliments; timely critiques; etc.

8 - I keep my calendar up-to-date and block time throughout the month for informal coffees and email catch up. (if I don’t need the time, then I have free time)

9 - I try not to rush in and out of every room, meeting and encounter so I appear approachable.

10 - I keep a sense of humour and look for like-minds who do the same and make sure I follow #1-9 with them when I find them!

Monday, March 9, 2009

How to vs. Why to

The world seems to fall into 2 camps… those who plan ‘how’ to do things and those who explore the ‘what’ we’re doing and why do it’. A few talented communication specialists manage to embrace both sides of the question but they’re often shouted down at the table.

Most people ask me ‘how’ to network or ‘how’ to mentor. They ask for my Top 10 lists, my 5 Step program and my analysis charts.

Valid questions and requests.

And I know I frustrate them when I ask them what they’re hoping to accomplish. “Networking, of course!” they say. “Mentoring” they reply. To what end? I ask. Usually it’s because someone told them it would be a good idea. But why is it a good idea for you?

How will you know you’ve been successful? Because you did all the right things from the list? Ha! say those who know me…. it doesn’t work that way! If it did then we wouldn’t have all those folks out there who keep asking for better lists.

Of course I have lists. My lists reflecting my ideas and what I want to accomplish for myself and those around me. I’m happy to share them but I bet several of my items might leave you thinking I was a bit loopy.

We need the ‘how’ in order to achieve the what and why’. If you really want to start with a list - start a list with this question: what am I doing this for?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Can’t Fake Relationships

I teach a class at a local college around the issue of ‘sponsorship’. The main theme emerging is that it all boils down to relationships - creating, enhancing and managing them. Real relationships - not sales pitches or insincere overtures.

I am amazed how people still want shortcuts to developing relationships - as though folks are commodities to be labeled and shelved. As though they are predictable and have no needs and focus of their own.

I can’t tell you how many times I find myself saying lately - people want to work with people they like. (November post - Please Like Me) No one wants to be used though we often are pleased to be useful.

Sponsors are not ATMs where you withdraw money and move on. Sponsors are a partner in your journey whether they are mentors, peers, references or donors to a particular event.

I hang my head when folks ask me how to fake a relationship. No one wins in those situations. You can usually tell when someone is being contrived about listening to you or asking for your input. There are no ways to sneak past someone’s need to build trust or speed their journey towards it - no magic bullet and no way to avoid mistakes along the way.

People/relationships are messy like a spaghetti dinner. If you don’t have sauce on your shirt, you weren’t eating!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Consensus and Collaboration

We don’t have a democracy at work or often even in our families. We try and make sure everyone has input but ultimately someone makes a decision and it’s rare that everyone agrees with it.

When working within a community of any kind or definition, most participants want to feel their thoughts and ideas are valued.

The dictionary says that consensus is a “general agreement of opinion” and collaboration is to “work jointly”.

Can we collaborate successfully and not need to reach consensus?

Which is more important?

I’m noticing how, in the name of consensus, one person (or a small few) go do all the effort and then everyone else gets to veto it. Hmmm. Conversely, I see folks working together well but unable to reach an agreement and the project/idea stalls.

If I had to pick, I’d say that collaboration is more important than consensus. There are often too many agendas at play for me to trust in a group decision. I’m often moved by what a single visionary, willing to take a risk and speak out, might propose.

But then again, I hate to be outvoted.