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.