Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Saying thank you

I worked for a manager who had his issues - he was abrupt, impatient and directorial. But if you did something for him, he always responded with "thx".

Some cynics may feel this was simply to acknowledge receipt of the work. Some have said it was simply a knee-jerk habit that held no meaning. Regardless of the motivation (and I believe he was genuinely saying thanks), he said it.

It isn't a raise. It's not a big hug. It doesn't touch the extra hours it took or how I juggled my schedule. It's certainly not a gift certificate for shoes. Heck, it's not even as a good as a handwritten post-it note.

The value is in acknowledging that I contributed - every time.

In this current day of 10-12 hour work days, online language abbreviations, multi-tasking commutes and compressed sleep schedules, things slip. At the best of times, we can only present snapshots of our thinking to each other. In today's craziness, we're reduced to a few choice pixels.

Make 'thank you' one of them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thank you notes

I love cards - sending them, receiving them, even buying them. A dear friend gave me a box of cards that are cut-out cupcakes and each week I find a reason to send one to someone.

Aside from the novelty and (sometimes) quirky humour a card can bring to a day, it's a great way to send a thank you or follow up to a member of your community.

Most folks I know say they don't know what to write when sending a thank-you. You don't need to be a master in the art of letter writing. You don't even need a cool card collection. A simple "you made my day... thanks" in block letters on paper can do it all.

Now before I launch into a tirade of the lost art of thanking folks... lol... For those of you who already have experienced the power of a simple act of gratitude, consider how lovely is the handwritten thank you note.

It's unexpected. It is tangible. It takes no more effort than an email yet is more thoughtful. It's personal. And I will keep it at my desk much longer than your call stays in my v-mail or your email in my inbox.

And someone just gave me cards with wildflower seeds in the paper.... cool!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Kid

Today is very personal post. My kid turns 19 today - the last year of teendom, the first year of legal ordering beer with mom, the beginning of so many beginnings.

I'm incredibly proud of him, even as I despair at the teen male mind some days. :-)

And I'm grateful and humbled by all of you who have helped me and therefore him over the years. To those managers who gave me time to run to daycares and school concerts, to peers who helped with a deadline or didn't mind when he came to do his homework at my desk, to the volunteers who taught him how to work the door at an event because I couldn't afford a sitter... all of you taught me the value of what I'm trying to show others.

He's hoping to become a middle school teacher for learning disabled kids. He's building a network that crosses the country and includes folks from all walks of life.

We taught him that. He's now teaching others. Networking and mentoring are not just about finding a job - networks and mentors raised my kid with me. Communities are powerful.

Thanks for being part of mine as his birthday arrives.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Work/Life balance

For some reason, every spring a new rash of articles makes the rounds on work/life balance. HR folks weigh in. Leadership voices an opinion. Journalists and career coaches lay out the arguments and ideas.

I confess: I don't understand the concept.

What is ‘balance’? Is it about less working hours? Less expectation of long hours by a manager? Ability to get personal things done during working hours? Not being tired when you get home? Angst over not having much to get home to?

Is this really a weird backlash about how women are told we can have stellar careers and functional nuclear families with lovely homes and time to volunteer while baking cookies with great hair?

Our daughters and nieces are watching some of us heroically keeping all the balls in the air and wondering if that’s really the life for them.

Here in North America, we're not in the Industrial Revolution any more when even young children worked 12 hours a day or more, 6 days a week. While I agree we're quietly working long hours, we've been complicit as a workforce in allowing this to grow. (to wit the woman at the next desk who clearly should be in bed with a hot mug of something but who Must get out a powerpoint deck before collapsing)

Maybe work/life balance starts with a decision about how you want to run your life – before you agree to work for someone who might try and sway you from your decision?

I'm not saying corporations shouldn't do their part. I think we need to also speak up and articulate what we want when we say work/life balance… and maybe we need to take the time back.

Monday, March 22, 2010


We have so many boxes and boundaries around ourselves. How many of us take the time to sort through them and re-evaluate?

Some boxes were put in a place a long time ago. They served a good purpose. "Don't put your finger in a light socket." "Don't drink tea straight from the tea pot." All good restrictions to apply to myself.

Some have become part of my personal mythology ...and may no longer be true. "I look better in long hair." "I could never work for a large corporation." "I'm not good in a crowd."

Like purging your closet of outfits that no longer work - and your fridge of food no longer fit to eat - we should sort through the "I will" and "I won't/don't" stories that are part of our decision-making process.

Stretch your boundaries a little each week - you change; so should your boxes.

You can't give advice to folks if you're not practicing what you preach!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The "F" list

Exploring the different kinds of mentors there are... We either do these things for others or we seek them for ourselves.

Continuing with "F":

1. Feoffment-or: In the true apprentice tradition, passes you the reins

2. Ferment-or: Gets folks excited

3. Figment-or: Helps folks imagine

4. Firmanent-or: Helps reach the skies

5. Foment-or: Offers radical ideas

6. Fulfillment-or: Uncovers desires and dreams

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The upside of hypocrisy

"Oh, I have a high regard for hypocrisy...It pays lip service to an ideal which must, therefore, exist. It recognizes that there is a Good. In its own way, it is a token of civilization. "
Ariana Franklin, The Serpent's Tale

This made me think.

'Pretending' to be kind and/or genuine, means you are paying homage to that ideal which must therefore be the true base of relationships.

And it takes 10 repetitions to create a habit. Ignorning your discomfort with networking - or most anything - by going through the motions can change your comfort zone. Going through the motions can bring you closer to the ideal.

I have a new respect for the concept of hyprocisy. lol

Monday, March 15, 2010

Event follow up

Event follow up is part manners, part organization.

At the end of an Event

Thank people. Thank the speaker(s) you found enlightening. Thank those who asked questions that made you think. Thank the organisers of the event.

Be accessible. Try not to rush out of the room. Take the opportunity to exchange some opinions and find new contacts.

Review your goals for the time spent. Did you meet all the contacts you set out to? Did you find someone that you could assist? Did you ask the questions you had? Do you need to spend a little more time before leaving?

After an Event

File new contact information. Don’t leave it at the bottom of your bag. File notes and cards in an appropriate manner. Make notes so you will remember why you kept a card.

Follow up! Anyone to whom you offered a follow up (introduction, information, coffee, etc.), follow up by mid-week. You’ll look considerate and you won’t have time to forget why you were supposed to follow up.

Leverage your new contacts. Call, send information, book lunch, pass on contact details, thank you notes, organise a follow up discussion or lunch for two or ten of you ….. do something valuable for your new contacts.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Making Small Talk

Small talk is a dilemma that isn’t reserved for large events or only with strangers.

We struggle for the balance between small talk and genuine connections. Between selling the services, products and ideas that keep the roof overhead and our desire to just enjoy others.

Traditional approach to small talk is to make it about them – ask the person in front of you questions about who they are, what they like, etc. and appear fascinated by the answers.

Sometimes that works but usually I find it tiresome. It’s hard to believe (when someone does this to me) that anyone could be that absorbed by my life. While I love talking about myself and my kid, I don’t believe you want to hear it – unless you’re my mother :-)

I say let’s make small talk about us, together.

Use the circumstances that brought you together: the speaker’s topic, the food on your plates, etc. There’s a reason you’re both in the room; start there. You don’t have to pretend an interest since you can start with a real one.

It’s not the small things you have in common that build an initial bond - it’s your attitude towards those things. That’s why sharing a laugh or a knowing glance builds a relationship much fast than finding out you both work in Insurance.

Imagine you both speak the same language but different dialects. Small talk allows you to catch each other’s rhythms before trying more complex discussions.

Small talk simply allows you a mechanism to share your humour or perspective and build some credibility before you try to borrow on that credibility.

We’re impatient – wanting folks to trust us and wishing we could skip the interview part of getting to know someone. However, even with good friends, spending the time to talk about the little things and place ourselves in the same emotional or mental space as our companions brings more rewards and deeper connections.

Small talk is more than social lubricant – it’s the human element. You don’t walk up to a friend and launch into a tirade or request or offer (not if you want the friendship to continue :-) It’s equally important not to do this with strangers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stepping into the room Part II

I get a lot of questions around:
1. How do I interrupt a group that is talking?
2. How many people should I meet?
3. How do I know who are the senior people?
4. How do I make small talk?

1 - At a large event (specifically for networking or not) it is understood that folks are there to meet and chat. You don’t need special permission. It is socially acceptable to walk up to strangers. It might be uncomfortable to do so – but you’re not breaking any unspoken taboo. (I have no idea why the Victorian notion that one must have a mutual acquaintance perform an introduction before two people can speak together still endures.)

Don’t think of it an interruption; you’re there to join the conversation. You might spend the first 5 minutes listening (always a good plan) before offering an opinion.

2 – How many folks do you want to meet? How many areas in your network require filling? For many do you have capacity to do follow up?

It’s not quantity; it’s quality. Why you are there is more important than how many business cards you carry away at the end.

3 – Talk to everyone. Senior people were junior once. The way to senior people is through their teams. And if you are only looking up in your search for information/ideas/mentors then you’re missing 99% of the resources available to you.

4 – You’ll have to wait for the next post :-)

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

As one friend said, "Yay Women!"

Today is a day that means different things to many folks. It is a a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

Some will gather and be inspired. Some will miss the day all together - being more occupied with creating change than stopping to celebrate it. Some will trade stories or statistics, marveling at the progress (or lack thereof). There’s a lovely timeline here.

I’m attending one happy gathering in support of a local women’s shelter where I have been asked to say a few words about how wonderful that we – men and women – are building a better legacy for our daughters.


I would like, here, to add my own personal take on International Women’s Day.

Today is the day I actually mourn the Montreal Massacre. I shake my head that some folks answer my emails and letters because they believe (and are more comfortable believing) I am a man based on my name and reputation. My heart breaks for the women – teens and adults - who still barter sex for favours. Whose families have deserted them, sold them or abused…here in Canada and elsewhere. I am shamed by the disgust with aging and impatience with expression of emotion.

We are some of the world’s great artists and thinkers over the centuries. Doctors and world leaders. Village elders. Neighbourhood Watch program captains. Microfinance agents. Inventors. Mothers. Daughters. Friends. Contributors. Conveners. Collaborators.

The list is endless.

Imperfect? Definitely. United? Not really. Ignored? Often.

We all count. We each have a voice. We are all capable of leading change. Freewill or fate, women are the creators and keepers of the fabric of life.

Ani DiFranco – thank you for the song “Blood in the Boardroom”. It’s a strong statement but sometimes we need to remember different aspects of our power.

The world can’t go on without us.

And each time a woman is lost to us, we lose a piece of the world.

May this International Women’s Day offer you a moment to reflect on what is important to you and how you can keep it safe and thriving.

With respect,

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Large Event – stepping into the room

So you’ve prepped. And planned. And now you’ve walked through the door.

For all your pep talk, it still looks like a wall of people who all seem better at networking than you do. Pshaw! They don’t do any better – they simply hide their discomfort.

Your practiced introduction now seems falsely hearty? Your teeth feel gummy? You feel like you’re in gr. 3 and the entire recess playground is involved in a fun game except you?

Deep breath. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen? And if it did, what could be done about it?
(more planning I know, with you on the threshold of the event)

See someone you know? Start there. Just don’t stay there and hide with them. Or, better yet, get them to circulate around the room with you. It’s almost enjoyable to introduce someone else as your excuse to meet folks.

See someone standing alone? Start there. They’re probably feeling like a wall flower too.

Sometimes I stand on the side for a few minutes to observe. Who is animated when they talk and might be interesting to meet? Who is laughing? Who looks like they need rescuing?

Yes, it feels artificial. It is. The genuineness comes not with changing the situation, but in how you handle it. Like a dance, you step into the pattern and add your moves.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Too much information, too many tasks

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”
Gertrude Stein

It’s true. We’re overwhelmed daily. From remembering a multitude of passwords to the errands and tasks that fill up our working and home lives, we juggle thoughts like so many plates that sometimes fall to the ground.

I have a dear friend who uses his shower time as ‘thinking time’. Another plots on her daily train ride. I read murder mysteries and marvel at the insights into human nature to help me navigate elsewhere (not all characters are murderers).

But either we’re so busy Doing - or busier Thinking - that the ability to instinctively, easily walk through a task can be lost. We talk AT each other. We distrust the simple. We don’t have time to listen to our inner voice, our common sense.

When I’m tired I just follow these guidelines:
• It doesn’t have to be complicated.
• It can wait till later unless a life/livelihood is at stake.
• Listen before responding.
• Don’t jump to a solution.
• Assure the person in front of you that you’re there with them.

And often problems resolve, people stop spinning, and the obvious, sensible solution presents itself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Managing is Like Parenting

The scene: a teen who won’t get up on his own for school. The parent standing outside the bedroom yelling, “Are you up? Get up! You’ll be late again!”

Depending on how long this scenario has been playing out at this house, the parent might be red in the face or weary and the teen oblivious or sulky.

Off the teen goes to school complaining. “Man, my parents suck. They don’t get me. They aren’t helping me. They don’t understand.”

(the parent is … if they are like me… whimpering quietly in a corner at work not wanting to go home and start phase II “Do you have homework? Is it done? Did you talk to your teacher?” *sob*)

You’ve tried everything – pleading, punishing, reasoning… nothing works. Why?

Because folks can only motivate themselves.

We become 15 years old at work. I don’t know why and I’m no exception. We expect our managers to support and build our careers and reputations. We complain if we don’t like things. We roll our eyes at the photocopier when peers ask “How’s it going?”.

Uh huh.

So here’s what I did. I now ignore my teen in the morning. It took about two weeks till he realized I really wasn’t going to wake him up – that it is his responsibility. It’s not a big one and I don’t know why I wasn’t giving it up sooner. I am no longer screaming like a wild woman as my first act of the day. And my kid now is very proud of owning his mornings (yes, not only does he get up, he gets up on time!). I bet my neighbours like the new regime too.

I also now tell folks that they own their careers. I’ll offer to share the tools at my disposal but if they don’t want to do the work or the planning, their advancement/development/satisfaction is solely their problem.

Managers can coach. Managers can help. Managers are part of the solution - but not the entire pathway to the resolution.