Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dear Santa...

All I want for the holidays:
  • 2 mornings to sleep in
  • 2 dinners I don't cook
  • An elf to clean my fridge of the groceries I didn't have time to cook since Halloween
  • Seven lucky lottery tickets winning a minimum of $20 each so I can go out for a 3rd dinner
  • My son to clean his room to the point where he no longer sleeps on the couch because he can't find his bed
  • A ghost writer for when I forget to post a blog
And for all of us to build relationships in our community that enrich us - from our mentoring to our need for a coffee with a sympathetic ear.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time? who has time?

Do you ever notice how, in our mad rush to clear up our 'to do' lists which are there to free up our time to get to the important stuff, we seem to lose time?

Messages go unread/unanswered; phone calls seem like impositions; even the simple task of grocery or errand runs goes by the wayside of ordering in or doing without.

Maybe because those lists are not really helping?

I heard a marvellous speaker the other day who pondered if the lists are not a futile attempt to control outside influences when we should be focused on simply controlling ourselves. What she meant was that we don't actually gain time by organizing what life is throwing at us; we gain time by choosing only to do what adds value.

One of my mentorees suggested that some menial tasks (like updating or rewriting a resume) has to first be understood as adding value or else it ends up on a list. True - so hopefully mentors can explain value for their suggestions! :-)

However, with time so precious, look at your list the way I'm viewing mine: If I could only do 3 things today, which three would my manager/team pick? Or my family?  And which three would I choose? Tomorrow I might do one from everyone's list... today, I'm realizing my three reflect the best for most of them.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Those with a glass half-full see rejection as a lesson from which we can learn. Those with the glass half-empty see rejection as a broken rung on the ladder or another shovel full deeper for the current rut.

Either way, rejection can be a tough thing to swallow. (how's that for 5+ metaphors in 3 sentences?!)

Rejection can be a job not offered, a project on which we're not included, a mentor not found, a "no" for a request.... Rejection is anything where a someone cut us off.

"No" is a fact of life;  we don't get only green lights. However, some rejections are because of lack of preparation.

Before you ask for the "sale", ask yourself:

  • Does everyone have all the information they need to come to an answer?
  • Why might someone say "no"?
  • Will a "no" be a final answer or can we ask for the reasoning and perhaps meet it? (can we even meet it in advance ...see 1st bullet...)
  • If they say no, what are the remaining options? Do we need to put some contingency plans in place?
  • Have we made it easy for someone to say "yes"?
  • Do they understand the what's in it for them (if they say "yes")?
There is a great parenting book that postulates that most of the time, when parents say "no", they really mean "not now" or "it's inconvenient" or "I'm uncomfortable".  Which makes a "no" to be negotiable. In a professional situation, we say "no" for some of the same reasons. Which means we could cut rejection by a significant amount if we offer answers to the spoken and unspoken concerns before requesting our answer.

We're still going to get rejected for reasons outside of our control.... but first let's make sure we've covered all the aspects we can control.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No name tags please, I'm allergic

Yes, I know that - for those of us who can't remember names to save our lives - name tags are a necessity.
But other than being a prompt, there are more reasons why name tags should be left off the event toolkit.

1 - Everyone already knows who the *stars* in the room are. (if they don't, pick them out by the large crowd of folks vying for their attention)

2 - There are probably a dozen "Susans" or "Jims" in the room; we need to find a more compelling reason to be remembered.

3 - I don't want someone to look at my tag; I want them to first look at my face.

4 - Name tags clash with the good jewelry and shouldn't be stuck or clipped on good wool jackets.

5 - Name tags don't help break the ice or start a conversation.

6 - Imagine your grandma in a name tag. Doesn't work, right?

7 - Kids don't wear name tags and they all manage ok.

8 - People will try to remember your name if they want to remember you. Chances are they'll also take it away on a business card at that point.

9 - If you're going to stick a word on me, make it descriptive instead. "Scoffs at Convention" would be better than "Hi, my name is..."

10 - Life doesn't come with name tags. The hospital ties on on you so they don't misplace you but friends and family take the trouble to learn your name.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hello, my name is...

A local artist had a great cartoon in a coffee shop last week: it was Batman, carefully sticking on his "Hello my name is.." tag. What a great comment on both personal brand and a professional culture that insists on labelling us at events like lost kindergarten kids.

Life doesn't come with name tags. Thank goodness - they clash with the good jewelry.

Your smile, your handshake/hug. your clothing and your greeting contribute more to how someone will (or won't) remember you than an label or clip-on tag.

It doesn't matter that someone doesn't know your name. The name tag isn't a shortcut to a good introduction. The name tag doesn't make it easier for anyone to talk to strangers.

Networking is like dating... we  meet someone at a party (bar, baseball game, etc.) and wander up to them because they seem interesting. Why should someone connect with you professionally? Know what you have to offer to your community and the rest falls into place.

Maybe if events had us describe ourselves in one word or two on a name tag that would be a great ice breaker! "Hi, so you're Nervously Networking? I'm Collaborative & Decisive!"  Who says we have to write our names?.....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plain speaking

Some days I find the need to speak carefully to be exhausting.  By that I don't mean being considerate of the feelings of others; that's not a chore. I do mean the normal hesitation everyone feels when expressing an opinion or saying what we're really thinking.

When I pay a compliment, I mean it. When I ask a question, usually I am really asking vs. being rhetorical or sarcastic. When someone asks my opinion, I try to answer honestly.

My mentors over the years have offered some good advice:

  • It helps to be aware that, sometimes, folks don't enter a conversation to be challenged - especially if they are not the initiator. So it's necessary to be respectful of this and bring them more gently into the debate.
  • No one likes to hear a flat "that's wrong" - which is a conclusion to be shared after a reasonable discussion is had which is backed by facts.
  • Speak plainly, openly and simply - but not bluntly or inconsiderately; be clear, don't dance around the topic and offer examples that make sense to the particular audience. 
  • It's ok to disagree or have a different opinion if you offer it respectfully.
It's the last bullet that's hardest. It seems lately that folks don't welcome debate as frequently any more.

It's a great exercise to ask before offering our two cents "Do I really need folks to know that I know/think this?" - but it's not worth keeping quiet just because it might be contentious.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Following your passion

I heard a lovely talk by George Kourounis at the Leader's Lounge inaugural event hosted by Drew Dudley of Nuance Leadership. I have heard both speakers before - especially around the concepts of using fear appropriately and what makes good, everyday leadership.

This time, the conversation also touched on passion and doing what you're good at. However, it wasn't about spending hours defining a goal /a passion and pursuing it. The two men talked about how they simply, in every job they'd had, understood what skills interested them at the time (I call it "what gets you out of bed in the morning"), pursued opportunities to use/expand those interests and how the cumulative effect lead them both to careers that were about all the skills from throughout their careers.

These aren't fellows close to retirement age. It may have taken a decade or two to get to where they are today but they were very clear that neither of them had foreseen the direction their careers would take. They simply followed their true interests - which lead them through many types of roles, all of which were very satisfying at the time.

Which is a great conversation with our mentors and mentorees:

  • Enjoy where you are today. And, if you don't, find something you can enjoy to do instead
  • Know yourself - and let that knowledge evolve
  • Plan ahead but understand the outcome is just a snapshot of what you know/who you are today 
  • Be open to change if it's around skills that interest you even if the direction is unexpected

It's that last one for which I needed reminding. I don't need to control the ride; I need to enjoy it if it comes as a result of things that get me out of bed!

Monday, November 14, 2011

What holds you back from asking for what you want?

The default answer is "fear"... but it is often more complicated than that.

Sometimes, it is "time". With all the hours spent at work, simply getting through the task list, and then the remaining hours spent with personal obligations (equally necessary and important), we run out of time to prepare our negotiation. Because asking for what you want, even if you're assured of getting it, is a negotiation.

Sometimes, it's hard to put an "ask" in language that doesn't sound like "gimme!" or "just trust me" - neither of which often work once we pass the age of three.

Sometimes, I don't even know what I want; I just know what I don't want. So it becomes harder to figure out what to change beyond knowing that change needs to happen.

Really, I think what holds back most of the folks I know (including me) is making a priority of framing what I want and booking the time to plan and ask for it. It is easier to wish / complain / hope then put yet another item into a crowded week.

I don't know if that's a gender thing - I see men and women both not making time for their own needs and desires. I wonder if it is because we're taught not to ask?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Best advice you'd give yourself?

I would like to know: if you could give advice to yourself from 10 years ago, what would you say?

Would you have listened? And does it still apply?

And to whom would you turn to for similar guidance today? And do you listen?

(Being mentored is hard work! Listening the hardest part of all...)

Monday, October 31, 2011

What challenges have you faced in your career?

That's the question I'm being asked tomorrow during a panel discussion on Women in Leadership.

It's a question often posed to a panel and that can be answered in many ways. I'm thinking about being completely honest in my response. This is hard because, while I've faced certain things, I'm not sure I always dealt with them well. One can only cope as best one can at that point in time; some of my "points in time" were not always very successful.

I've faced being an anglophone, albeit bilingual, in a francophone society during a stressful time. At 16, I handled a bomb threat... by calling my father for advice since at the time I figured the police might not be very sympathetic given the political climate/time/place.

My name is seen often as a man's name so folks expect a man to show up. (some amusing stories behind that statement...)

I've been a single parent for most of my adult life which is hard at the best of times (regardless of gender)... Ever try and make an 8am meeting when a 4 year old doesn't want to go to daycare on time? That job suggested very strongly that if I was going to show up at 8:02, then I should "examine my priorities." I did; I don't work there anymore.

I have had two major depressions - another topic not comfortably discussed in the workplace. My son was being bullied just as I had an opportunity to take a promotion that required some travel. I went through a divorce while working full time. I've had managers who tried to "grab" me and some who just liked to yell. And these are just the challenges I am willing to put to paper!

None of the above is extraordinary. Folks have been through as much if not more. Luckily, it's not a contest. We are the stars of our own show and when life is not going well, regardless of the reason, it simply feels miserable.

I've learned two very valuable lessons though:

  1. I can get through almost anything. 
    • Life will change again. The future will hold more good, bad and indifferent moments. I promise myself to do the best I can at the time and not wish I was more than I am.
  2. I don't have to do it alone.
    •  I have a community. Communities work best when they are interactive which includes letting them help.
I have years ahead of me still in my career and the challenge I'm most looking forward to? ... capturing the stories so I can laugh about them after.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why do it?

I ask this all the time; I hesitate on the brink of something wondering what the point/outcome might be. I'd be so much happier with a crystal ball some days!

It's a great question to ask - as long as it doesn't become the reason itself to not act. "What's the point?" is a sensible question when asked sincerely. Ask it with a sigh and you'll soon discover how much easier it is to stay on the fence/couch/sidelines.

Sometimes, we do it because we need to prove we can. Because the answer is "why not?". Because we don't always need to know a perfect outcome. Because we must. Because we are compelled. Because the only thing holding us back is fear and that's never the best reason.

Unless it poses a moral, ethical or physical danger, why not challenge your assumptions and those of your mentoring circles... Ask why do it? And maybe do it without a perfect answer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Change happens every day. It's the scale and scope of the change that can make us uneasy - or the unexpectedness of it. But change itself is something we all actually do really well.  From choosing fresh clothes to new homes to jobs to careers, big or small, day-to-day or long-range, we seek out and often embrace change.

We, as individuals, are constantly transforming and evolving. As is our world, technology, relationships... So it makes sense that our work transforms too.

Yet, transformation is often seen as 'optional' in the workplace: a choice. Whether a project, re-org or new assignment, scale and scope - the impacts of change - are often overlooked in favour of reciting the 'benefits'.  (And change poorly planned is something about which to be uncomfortable)

Good transformation - personal or professional - isn't about convincing others that the right choices were made. It's about having a strong vision and first committing to it yourself. You are the best ambassador of the changes you wish to see.

Since we know that change isn't optional and that some change is going to happen whether we choose it or not, the trick is to make sense of the of the impacts - good, bad and neutral - and understand how this affects the goals (of the career, the home, the project, etc.)

The real key to transforming isn't living through the change; it's about having a a clear idea of where we are headed which helps us make better choices to guide us through whatever is thrown our way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

If I learned one thing today... is to always allow myself to be surprised.

Much of a parent/worker's life is keeping things in order, keeping track of minutes and tasks and trying to get through a list that is often too long for the day/week/year!

Head down, one foot in front of the other, we can plow through a day. Anything that takes us off course is bad as it will detract from what-must-be-done.

To be surprised means I have lifted my head and taken in my surroundings. Sometimes nothing is different. Sometimes there are people or ideas that stop me in my tracks. Maybe for a second or maybe for the day - but if I allow the surprise to happen, I can only be richer in my thinking and relationships.

Thank you to the lovely ladies who surprised me today with their generosity and insights.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Freedom Thinkers?

Some days it's all about helping folks with change and their fears around it. Other days, it's like-minds who are embracing change - because change happens everyday; it's the scale of change that fluctuates.

I had a lovely lunch with Drew Dudley of Nuance Leadership who runs headlong into change with an open heart. We got into a great discussion on change and transformation, waving our forks and almost stabbing the waitress.

"We can't talk about change like it's happening outside our every day lives!" we cried. And then I broke into a fit of giggles. "Freedom thinkers. We need to form a group of freedom thinkers! Free from fear of change and free to ask the dumb questions that help us all embrace changes."

Except a few days later, the concept of freedom thinkers - while it still makes me smile - seems a thought worth pursuing.

I just need some help defining it....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why we mentor

I'm writing an undergrad course outline about a subject I think I know 'cold'...something I can do in my sleep...something for which I have years of experience. Yet, the blank page is hard to fill.

At what point do we cross the line between:

  • consciously learning/trying to become proficient; and 
  • having habits and processes that allow us to to perform what used to be complex (for us) tasks by rote?
Aside from the old saying "You don't know what you don't know"... sometimes it's equally true that you forgot what you knew and how you knew it!

I ran into this the other day when I tried to explain how to pull together a video script. I can sit down and write one but delegating the effort was hard! Not because I did not want to hand it off to someone (more creative than me these days) but because I couldn't remember how to breakdown the approach that I simply did by rote.

This is why we mentor, teach and coach. Not just to share or learn new things - but to remember what we know and re-examine it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I just found a wiki that I can't decide if it's funny or not: geekfeminism

It's true; it's not true; it's slyly amusing; it's angry and fascinating.

For those women with a career in tech, the debate continues... While the stats continue to show that we're in the minority and paid less, the anecdotal evidence points to a better experience and gender weighting less than smarts. I know I don't feel at a disadvantage as a woman in IT but others do. I do know that seeing women in leadership positions is still difficult but I also advocate the right person for the job vs. filling a quota.

Anecdotally and statistically, it's all still a struggle in many other professions.

So what role can humour play? How can a wiki like that hurt/help the conversation?

The world will never be fair and equitable - the debate over whether everyone should be given exactly the same things regardless of circumstance or awarded based on impartial criteria that not everyone meets will rage on for many decades more. The library will not lower its bookcases because I'm short and peanuts will still be a commodity regardless of allergies.

That doesn't mean the conversations about how to evolve the criteria shouldn't continue. It was not long ago that simply having the wrong gender (colour/religion/etc.) cut us from certain jobs. Criteria has evolved. Humour can be a gentle way to further the conversation.

Humour can also distance folks. I've made many a gaff as a result of finding something funny but hadn't really thought through. That also prompted a deeper conversation.

So I carefully circulated the wiki to my 'choir' and am sharing it with this blog now. I only ever mean to further conversation, not beat any issue about the head with a shovel. Find it amusing or angry, continue the conversation wherever we find ourselves, using the tools as they arrive - including the humourous ones.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thinking hard...

I just listened to Cory Doctorow (you may know one of his outlets: boingboing) speak at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on the twists, turns and evils of digital copyright and the forgotten creator. If the subject interests you, it was podcast live and will most likely be circulating as I write. 

I left the event, as I sometimes do, having spoken to no one. My sole purpose was to hear the speaker and maybe evolve an opinion of my own.

So why make it the topic of a networking/mentoring blog post? Because of something one audience member said. In introducing her question, she pointed out that everyone in the audience was "part of the choir", implying that we were of one mind even before listening to the presentation. 

Now it is useful, enjoyable or even uplifting to be in a room of like-minds. But it got me thinking... as often as we attend/participate in things for which we already have an affinity - how many times do we also seek out the unknown or even the oppposing view? Is it a reflection of insecurity or blinkered approaches that would cause someone to only go to safe/known opinions/events etc.? I know the current North American movie industry is born of this phenomenon but can we as "thinkers"/mentors/ leaders buck the trend?

I had no opinion - as an artist or consumer - on the topic tonight. I felt I should have one and this was the start of my research. But it made me question how deeply I choose to look when investigating issues - and how deeply I press my mentorees to look. 

Would I choose to seek out the other side of the argument (e.g. digital locks = goodness) or, once a nascent opinion is formed, stop there till new information might cross my path? Do I challenge others to do so or encourage them to find like minds to buffer ourselves against challenge?

Of course, depending on the size of the issue and the personal impact, the journey to become informed is smaller or bigger. But is my process to learn/think and form new ideas/opinions based on the easiest access to information or a desire to truly examine issues? How far am I willing to go to become informed? Am I willing to risk having to change my mind if I get enough new information? Shouldn't I be so willing? Am I consciously choosing to keep challenging myself on important issues that way?

I'll have to think about that...

Monday, September 12, 2011


 A little goes a long way. has taken that concept and asked folks to add a little personal generosity in our days. Not with money but with a good deed. Not a new concept but I love the fact they're using social media and advocating a 'movement.'

It takes nothing to be kind - to hold a door; say thanks; share a pen; smile.

The folks I admire most have always made kindness part of their legacy. Some add generosity but, even on a bad day, one can always be kind.

So thanks for reading :-)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Walls, dead ends and doors

Some weeks are not worth clean socks or commuting time. We run out of time, of patience, of ideas... We encounter "no" where we need "yes" and blank stares where we hoped for comprehension. A mistake, bad news, a poor night's rest, unwelcome surprises and even one icky day can skew the week.

We've all had them.

It's easy to see the walls and dead ends during a week like that; I fixate on them. So how to also see the doors?

One of my mentors said  that mistakes and set backs are part of the path so you can figure out where to go next.

So if we have a clear vision of what we're trying to achieve over a year/career/life... one week of ick is not going to be a very big wall or dead end. The vision is the door.

I've got my clean socks ready for tomorrow.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Networking - common questions around meeting new folks

Most of the questions I get are around meeting new folks:

"How soon before I can ask for a job/lead/idea/etc.?"

For sure not at the beginning of building a relationship. While there is give and take in all our interaction (friends, coworkers, family), relationships are not bank machines and you can't build a connection without first establishing a bridge.

If you think about why you answer other folks' requests for help, it's likely because they have been there for you along the way.

I prefer to start by approaching new relationship not for what they can bring to me but what I might bring to them.

"Why would anyone want to talk to me?"

As per above, for what you have to offer! However, the best thing I've seen folks do is offer their full attention and listen.

We don't know just by looking who is or isn't going to be an interesting addition to our circles. Everyone has something to offer but sometimes timing is poor and the connections slips or doesn't happen. This doesn't make you any less valuable/interesting than anyone else in the room.

You can ask your new acquaintances questions (preferably beyond the "so what do you do?" genre) or probe for opinions about the speaker/presentation (work or kid's soccer game), the setting (could be a grocery store line!), the book in their hand... And then be genuinely interested in the response. Most folks will happily talk away to you at that point.

If you are at a formal networking event, consider first why you want to speak to others.  Set a goal and probe the room.

"Do I just walk up to strangers and introduce myself?"

If they are at a networking event, then it's a given that you're expected to talk to strangers.

If you are moving through the various settings of a day, then yes again - however those interactions often start with a shared glance/smile or comment and then one or both of you can choose to carry the conversation forward.

If you prefer, a less direct approach in any situation, consider asking a friend to make introductions for you. (in dating, that's the 'wingman')

"Do I have to meet new people?"

Nope. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to even read the rest of this post! Networking isn't medicine; it's a philosophy.

"Where can I meet new people?"

Everywhere. Elevators, meetings, line ups, bus stops, you name it - folks are there for the meeting.
Keeping yourself open to encounters and enjoying the interaction are all it takes.

I've got lots of networking tips throughout this blog but the best tip I have is take a breath and smile at folks; it's really that simple.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tech and Science jobs

It's been a debate that has come up a lot this summer. The papers often say that jobs are still opening in the   technology sector(s), the counsellors are telling the teens to look at technology; the recruiters tell us there is a 'war for talent' coming and yet many remain unconvinced.

While I believe there is space for women in the IT sector and that just about everyone should do one turn of some sort in a technology area to really look at what's underpinning most industries, there are some interesting arguments around pay, gender and what even defines true technology.

posting by Philip Greenspun (whose blog is up-to-date but this posting is one of his older ones) looks at the financial implications of seeking jobs in mathematics or scientific fields - more on the academic and research (R&D) side but still interesting. He examines a "fourth possible explanation for the dearth of women in science: They found better jobs." Greenspun then goes on to examine how a career in R&D math/science tracks against other choices.

"Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it." -- Albert Einstein

Toss into the mix the current saying that one should follow one's passion and the money will come. What if the field doesn't have the money? Pure arts, pure mathematics... As a mentor, do you counsel folks to follow their heart or their wallets? Are we forced to choose between the two? 

Daniel Pink and Richard Florida both write about how money cannot be the prime motivating factor for any knowledge worker. While we need to feed and shelter ourselves (and our families), not all the reward can come from the paycheque itself.

So - are careers primarily a matter of being very practical or a path with chosen meaning?

I think steps/jobs along the way of a chosen path should be done with your head -  but the overall career/direction should come from your desires and dreams. (Which means that a side journey or deliberate path through technology can still fit a plan)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Talking to strangers

There is no magic pill. Mostly, it's a deep breath and "just do it" decision. Our mentors will encourage us. Our networks will support us. But, in the heat of the moment, it's just you and a big world full of strangers.

There are some terrific blogs out there on this topic - some with great perspective and some with checklists.

For large events, the blog Do the Work has a great post about meeting folks at professional events. My blog has covered the topic over many posts. Feel free to leave your favourites here for others.

But why start swimming at the deep end of the pool? You meet folks every day. Do you find yourself hiding in corners at work? Ducking behind the cereal displays at the store? Lurking behind a tree when someone walks down the street? <grin> You might even nod and say hi.

Try not to think of meeting strangers (or acquaintances) as something you only do at events. It's a daily practice and, like all well-cultivated habits, you can master it till you don't remember how not to smile and greet new faces.

I can write about how to do it till my keyboard wears out. You first need to simply decide you will try.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Connect today

It's summer. Patios. Sunshine. Better moods. And yet we're still avoiding eye contact, using our smartphones as defence mechanisms, and rushing by before any one can say "Hi, nice day, eh?".

Resolve to smile at folks as you walk by them today.
Respond to "How are you?" by actually halting in your tracks and responding "Great! And how are you?" and expect an answer.
Share an eye roll with a stranger when that teen pushes through the crowd forgetting about the massive backpack that swings within inches of your phone.

I'm sure you've got a better list than mine but you get the picture :-)

We don't have to take everyone home. We do need to be a bit more open to meeting the folks who share our path.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Everyone is creative

Really. Everyone.

The issue is in how we define creativity. Most folks associate it solely with the arts and large acts such as writing a film or composing music.

Think of creativity as either producing
1 - something from nothing (e.g. a script; a painting; etc.) or
2 - something new from something existing (e.g. problem solving; repurposing everyday objects; etc.)

This puts the idea of creativity on a scale and takes some of the pressure off having to be dazzling with every effort. Not everyone will be a concert pianist or executive (virtuoso levels) but everyone can potentially play some piano and add value to a team (craftsmen levels).

By the same argument, given there are only 7 notes in a music scale or only (supposedly) 7 plot lines, perhaps creativity is more about repurposing than anyone imagines! lol

We need creative thinkers. They figure out how to save projects, the environment and health risks. We need visual, emotional and cognitive stimulation from our artists.

Creativity is, ultimately, about offering perspective. (Mentoring is therefore a creative act.) And so everyone can be creative.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The matrix that is your community

Yes, it was a movie title. It's also what a good network /community looks like. Mirriam-Webster defines matrix as "something within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes form"... (which I admit I had to read a few times to work it out)

Matrices are all around us. It is the web (pardon the IT pun) through which we navigate to achieve ends and in which we participate. You build your own, large or small. (However, you are not a spider in the centre waiting to take advantage of unwitting prey!)

Our own network is simply one of many intersection points. In theory, we're all part of one global network if we can just find enough connections points. It's the six degrees of separation theory.

One person can be part of and move through many points across the matrix. This allows your question/request/idea or even influence to be spread wider than you could possibly do by trying to reach everyone yourself.  

Which means a few things:
1 - everyone can be of some value to everyone else unless you're a hermit on a mountain top (and maybe even then...) so it's less about hierarchy or finding only folks more senior to you (in age, rank, social standing, etc.) and more about building some honest relationships in your matrix
2 - the folks you have around you today may ebb and flow into other circles closer/farther over time but, if you have a good connection, they will always be part of your network
3 - everyone is part of the matrix /network whether they believe in networking or not. Those who actively cultivate relationships will simply have a broader reach across the matrix but everyone (unless you're that hermit) is in a network every day.

Networking is not about the big event and schmooze. Networking is simply how the world works.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Life gets in the way

My kid is "camping" in the home office this month. He's renovating his room... which really means excavating 7 years worth of clothing on the floor, odds bits of wood/string/mechanical parts/guitar pics and probably some dishes with mummified remains. So he is crashing on our spare couch and graciously asking me if I need computer time just as I get ready for bed.

All of which means it's awkward for me to get to my computer (as I prefer to write this blog at home - lol).

And then Blogger keeps having issues and locking us bloggers out for a day or two at a time.

Which means I don't write a post.

And then... it's summer... and... well... you know...

Which means I don't even remember I write a blog.

All of which made me realize how easy it is to let life get in the way.

We all tend to gravitate to what is convenient, simple or quick. From email spelling (u no wht I mean) to a 'to do' list (more fun to write than tackle), we allow ourselves to be gently steered off course.

Some days, that's just fine. We need a break or a moment of reflection or perhaps just a nap! As long as the detours don't sabotage the life you're hoping to create, go ahead. Our kids/friends/parents can take precedence over a meeting! Our health can trump an obligation. A good book can circumvent laundry sorting.

Life is meant to be lived and not planned to the last second; life is a freestyle event. Things will arise and you will need to 'go with the flow'.

As long as you don't let the little things pile up in your way too often that you get off course - whatever a "course" means to you.

I can share my home office for a while this month; there are books to be read on the porch while the sun still shines after dinner.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Failure is an option... the first time

"If you at first you don't succeed, you're running about average." M H Alderson

The world has become risk adverse; for good or ill, it has. We're more careful about the jokes we make, the way we bank, the food we buy, the environment we effect, etc.

As individuals, it has been argued that we are also more reticent to experiment in our day-to-day lives and make a potential mistake. The word "mistake" has often become synonymous with the concept of "disaster". 

No one gets it right all the time. No one - if you actually ask them - expects us to get it right each time. Should we be more careful and deliberate with the big projects and decisions that can ripple across many folks? Absolutely!  Should we be tiptoeing through our daily decisions? Probably not.

Every week, I try and challenge myself to do try something new: a food; a process; talking to a stranger... often it doesn't result in any great insight, rarely does it give me a rash or nightmares , usually it's just me pushing at my own limits.

And regardless of how it turns out, it's ok to make a second attempt. We can't predict the perfect outcome each time; we can only improve on what we've learned from previous attempts.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Small changes; more choices

So - I've been in Newfoundland recently (thus had no idea that, once again, blogs were not posting...sorry!). It is a beautiful province - rocks, whales, cliffs, trails and a sense that one can take time and 'catch up'. I put away my Blackberry, used the iPad only to watch a movie/read a book and challenged myself to tell time by my hunger only.

And I watched folks in summer finery when I wasn't distracted by the greener scenery.

20+ years ago, no one would  have shown a bra strap (which made spaghetti strap tanks/dresses a more difficult option). Then Madonna made underwear into outerwear. And now bra straps of all colours and ilks peek from sleeveless garments across the land. It's marvellous! It is a 'hang up' no more!

15 years ago I taught a class where, in a film clip, an advertising executive stated "Hair colour? Ah, once we have you there, we have you for life!" (one of my grandmothers dyed her hair coal black till her 90s) Today, colouring one's hair is no longer a secret. Roots are a fact of life. Highlights, low lights, rinses and full out colour - it's all about choice for women and men. Even green or blue streaks are found across our country.

Bare legs. Ah. I remember one job working in front of a fast fryer where "all ladies must wear nylons" which melted against our legs with the grease spatters.

It's little changes that have created more choices for women. Things our daughters take for granted (as they should) - open toed sandals and green or purple nailpolish; public belly laughs and acknowledging that not only do women "glow" but we perspire! (heat wave anyone?)

My bra strap today is mandarin coloured, my toes are coral and my legs are bare so my new tattoo can heal better. These are my choices; thank you Madonna and all the women who continue to pave the way for more options.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


It's time. Time to break out the book, the chair, the cold drink, the beach shoes, the hiking pack...or whatever means summer to you.

It's especially time to have a long chat and reconnect with the most important person in your circle: you.

So kick back, out, or in - whatever works! - and give yourself some sunshine thoughts and a moment to breathe.

Networking and mentoring are best when part of a routine that includes: you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The only lens through which you can understand someone else is your own. Which is why it's often hard for us to understand or connect... but not impossible.

Building your network, connecting, making friends, soliciting champions, getting closer, understanding those who won't move closer... it's iterative and slow and often unfolds in unexpected ways. And yet, no one with a solid circles of companions and peers around them ever seems to complain :-)

Sometimes we wonder about the 'hidden' motivations of those around us when things aren't going well ... or assign not-so-nice motivations to those not supporting our efforts or style.  But really, we are simply attributing our own 'what-I'd-be-meaning-by-that-if- it-was-me' or even thinking the worst because we assume others think the worst of us.

Really, sometimes it is just the best the other person can do. The choice remains ours to keep trying, to explain, to decide to shrug it off or to actively retaliate to the perceived situation. But I always try to remember that, short of hiring a mind reader, I don't know why someone is not playing 'nice'. I can guess... but I don't know.

So maybe the anger or bitterness or just plain obtuseness has nothing to do with us personally. The only thing to do is make sure those filters are removed from our own lenses and choose how to move ahead. Our own motivations are the only ones that we can control.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Women and technology jobs

It's a perfect fit. I'm not being sarcastic.

I don't know what careers/jobs/projects in any sector exist that are not touched by technology unless I count Roller Derby Queen or Ice Cream Taster... both of which I hope to do one day...

Women are huge consumers of technology - buying, using, developing and championing. We are some of the drivers behind the growth of social media. (Nevermind that LinkedIn doesn't think so)

While many folks still look at IT as being about math and engineering skills, it's much much more than. It's understanding your audience/customer. It's the tools that employees need to do their jobs. It's the way we exchange knowledge, money, goods and a key arena in which we deepen relationships.

Not all technology jobs are for technologists; why aren't more women applying?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hidden rules - continued

Great emails, intriguing comments, even a few phone calls.

Terry Doner noted that: "I was recently reading about a noted gender difference, specifically that females tend to value 'relationship' more than men. If you accept that as a frequently truth, then rather than just being a 'hidden rule', it could also be that women care more about those details and so are likely to pursue them."

This may be so. Which makes it potentially a strength and worth discussing. I believe men and women value relationships but maybe it's fair to say that men value more the results/outcomes of having them while women value more the development of them? We need both approaches.

Gary Zavitz wrote " might depend on organization size, particular work culture and prevailing attitudes. Key issue is qualifying the term, 'workplace': SMB? Mid-sized? Large corporate? Public or Private Sector? Profit/Non-Profit?..."

Yes, variables always influence things. Dress codes in non-profit might allow for more self-expression. Larger companies sometimes have hidden pockets of better/worse examples. etc. But hidden rules are across all industries regardless. That's not a bad thing; hopefully in some areas/industries there is better conversation around the issues too!

One reader pointed out that her hidden rule was around women apologizing for or qualifying prior to actually coming out with their idea. I worked for a woman once who had us all put a dollar on the table every time we did that. We had enough to take the team for drinks in 4 meetings (not-for-profit).

Do men also get pushback on self-expression? Perhaps they don't seem to mind it; they ignore it or choose to work within it?
An anonymous comment speculated that "...complain, complain, complain. What people without real talent do. Get the right skill set and compete, instead of complaining about being held back by men- wasted energy"

Which of course is the point. Have the conversation. Make the corrections/add the skill/face the challenge. Make it your choice vs. the unspoken expectation. Together, we can help others understand the expectations.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

HIdden rules

A recent discussion around "hidden rules" for women claimed there were none; that any lurking in the background were the 'culture' of the specific company/workplace and not about gender.

I was floored. I think there are many unspoken expectations of women in the workplace. I also believe most are more habit than done out of spite but we still need to point them out. Perhaps we may even choose to keep some of them - but that's choice vs. silent pressure.

So what rules do you still see in your workplace?

My list (to grow with your input) that women will:
  • Take the notes/minutes of the meeting
  • Dress gender neutral
  • Sit on the social committee
  • Provide the cake/goodies for celebrations
  • Not raise her voice too loudly
  • Have an extra pen /tylenol / tissue
  • Not call attention to herself (wild hair style, big jewelery, unpopular opinion, loud laugh, etc.)
 Anything to add?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Don't take your eye off the pot...

So there I went... happily assuming that my timed posts would publish last week as planned. I had pre-populated the blog so as to focus on another project.

Imagine my surprise this week when I saw that none of them had posted.

Delegating is key to survival these days. The amount of tasks in a given day/week/month is very large and we need to call on our communities to get everything done. From my kid doing my laundry in exchange for me remembering to buy groceries, to my team keeping projects going when I'm called away on something unexpected, team work is everything.

However, you can't just set a pot on the stove and walk away. Aside from the fire hazard (lol), you do need to poke your head back in the kitchen throughout the process. And remember to turn off the stove at the end.

Losing a week's posts reminded me that no one and nothing is infallible; it's always worth keeping an eye on things.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Nice" doesn't mean "soft"

My kid asked me the other day why folks sometimes try to push me around. (sigh... it happens to the best of us...) It was a great discussion that lasted all the way to the fish & chip place and back.

The words "nice", "kind" and "thoughtful" get applied to me. Don't get me wrong; I'm proud to be described as such! I think being liked - or at least tolerated :-) - is a great way to have better relationships. But having those qualities doesn't mean that I will want you to like me any any cost - including when things need to be done.

I believe we should treat folks equally; say "please" and "thanks"; encourage people to feel valued through their input and actions; and offer a gentle approach whenever possible. We should be sincere in being kind and considerate in discussion.

But if you then turn around and tell me to get stuffed (nicely or otherwise), or become an impediment to a project, I can firmly (and yet still nicely) push back. If you get rude or pose a risk to the community's decision, then I reserve the right to bypass you.

I think the cliche that if one is kind to folks, one is a pushover is finally becoming dated. You can lead with humour and grace and still get things done. A kinder, gentler world can still be an efficient world!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finding a mentor - part 2

Always select a mentor based on how you define success; they should embody one or more of those criteria.

The issue can be that many of us don't define success for ourselves beyond a title, rank or span of control. (If that's all it took, success would be easy!) Defining success is also part of knowing what we value.

If we don't define success for ourselves, how do we know when we achieve it? I'm not talking about the years-from-now vision...but today, this month and this year.

Today's success for me was going to be about better time management (an ongoing battle). This month, success will encompass strong people management. 

Currently, I have one of my mentors coaching me on people management because she's very very good at it; I consider her to be a successful people manager - and she prizes that skill. That's one of the reasons I picked her. I believe my success this year will be to add "great people manager" to my reputation. We share a definition of success in this area and thus she becomes a potential mentor - our values align here.

We hear about folks because of their status, reputation and past accomplishments. We get to understand them through their values. We should pick mentors who reflect our success criteria - which is a reflect of our values.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Networking is part of all events and meetings

Networking does not happen only when the title of the meeting says "Networking" or when it's specifically called out in the agenda.... Actually, when it's in an agenda, that's when most folks slip out of the room to check e-mail or catch the train home!

Networking isn't an activity outside of our regular days. Networking is every greeting, every meeting, every chance encounter and every time you have the chance to introduce your self/team/purpose.

We are constantly strengthening existing connections and making new ones. While setting aside time in an agenda to do this is terrific - we should realize it is happening constantly and make the most of the opportunities.

I am planning a business meeting for 100+ folks Wedsnesday! (thus only one post this week) I expect the attendees to talk as a table, as a larger group, as peers and as friends. I'm mixing up the seating so folks will find themselves with the know and unknown. I'm driving conversation in groups of 8, 100 and 2!

Nowhere do I use the word networking - not in the agenda, speaking notes or subjects. Yet, I know if this event is successful that networking will be the piece that makes it so.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

There is no checklist for networking...

Of course there is... there is a checklist for everything. But what I really mean by the title is that a checklist is not going to make you a master networker.

A checklist can list tasks, outline a plan or serve as a "reminder" but it can't build a relationship for you.

The shelves are full of 'how to' books on networking; some of them are even worth reading. :-) However, if an instruction sheet could solve our hesitations, fears and (sometimes) missteps for networking, we'd all be masters of the trade by now.

It all starts with "why" you are building a network which, in turn, informs "how". If you're not using a checklist to build friendships, then consider building professional relationships in the same spirit?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Looking for a mentor - part 1

The debate about how senior a mentor should be to a mentoree is a tough question.

Does seniority make that person any better than someone else at anything?
Does their seniority reflect their experience, their luck or a combination?
Is mentoring better first established through the lens of seniority vs. experience?
Does what we seek from mentoring require hierarchical mentor or an experienced one?

I think many of us approach the seniority of a mentor in two ways:
1 - with a secret hope that, like a fairy godmother, the senior person will personally champion our cause and shepherd us to stardom (like an apprentice or favoured pupil)
2 - with the assumption that the because the person has seniority in an industry, that they are self-aware

Sometimes, #1 can come true. But not often. Mentoring - both sides of the relationship - involves hard work. Good mentors often have several mentorees, leaving the individuals to find and define success for themselves. Mentorees often have several mentors - who can't all take you to the top of their ladders. So #1 isn't often an ideal way to approach mentoring.

#2 still puts the onus on the person seeking mentoring. When you select a mentor, if seniority is your first criteria, you may not be clear on what you're actually seeking. You may be stuck on the #1 dream :-)  A good mentor is self-aware in order to be able to share why they are successful - or at least self-aware for the areas you wish to explore.

I'm not saying that seniority isn't part of your consideration in selecting a mentor or agreeing to take on a mentoree. It just should not be the first consideration?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Twitter: Notable one-liners

Some kids wanted to be firemen or doctors. Some wanted to be great chefs or teachers. Me? I wanted to write gory murder mysteries and be immortalized like Oscar Wilde for a few great quotes.

Fast forward to 2011 and the rise of Twitter. We're learning to introduce ourselves with "elevator pitches" and be pithy in 140 characters or less. I'm becoming a big fan of the concise!

Below is a list of the Similar Circles philosophy done in Twitter-sized bites:

1. I'd rather wear heels than date them.
2. Not having women around your leadership table is like having only third basemen on your baseball team. Or only eating with a knife.
3. Employees and customers are the same people. Women are employees and customers, not an afterthought or third consideration.
4. Being 'thin' is worth more salary for women? But my brain is so fat!!
5. It's never too late to speak up - icky things mostly grow in dark quiet places - raise your voice and make it harder for ick!
6. Why is 'artist' a less respected way to earn a living than 'engineer'? Why is 'emotion' a female weakness and 'logic' a male strength?

1. Food is the best way to start building bridges. Coffee and chocolate are natural conversation starters.
2. Give folks a reason to give you 15 min of their time - long enough for a coffee, short enough that they don't feel the pressure...
3. My next living room will be a coffee shop :-)
4. For some, a handshake can be the only actual touch in a day. And people wonder why I prefer to hug...
5. Relationships are the heart of everything - from crisis mgmt to parenting to careers. It's all about people.

Leadership & Change
1. What are we doing today that we shouldn't be doing?
2. Having an interesting idea is not leadership. Getting folks to try that idea is!
3. Voicemail is not a productivity tool - floating messages across sea of coffee works faster.
4. Persuasion is a great leadership skill even if it's also practiced by con artists.
5. Isn't true leadership: finding the greatness in others and helping them use it?
6. Does the end justify the motivation?
7. My debate today: Change needs a catalyst but does the catalyst define the change?
8. Would you rather follow a cause or a person?
9. Discomfort with change doesn’t make change go away.
10. True leadership, like parenting, sometimes means sitting in the backseat ...far from the controls and trusting the student driver.
11. Critical thinking needs creativity.

1. Intense discussions are best held in daylight.
2. Someone who insists they're always 'right' will ‘miscommunicate’ with you a lot. A bottle of Shiraz will not help them change their mind.
3. What spurs more personal growth - pain or joy? Tradition says pain but then why are so many folks caught in past hurts?
4. Don't wanna be known as 'original'...everyone is original...wanna be 'sincere, intelligent, talented, effective and interesting'!
5. Take flight - the best ideas come when you're in mid-air
6. We can't strengthen our ideas if we only talk with folks who agree with us.

Wishing everyone joy to share and community to spare.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is it networking if you have to shout?

Call me silly but I don't know that one can really network in a room so loud and crowded that you can't hear the person shouting next to you.

The room was hip. The sponsor was on the ball. The crowd was eclectic. But there was no room to move - folks lined up down the stairs - and then the music started playing. The lack of space and noise level kept folks only talking to those they already knew and could comfortably yell into their faces.

All of us who hold events wrestle with the same things: how many is too many? how much fun? how much facilitation? what exactly is a networking event to a particular crowd?

If folks will mostly talk to those they know - do events need some hands-on guidance beyond simply being thrown into one room?

Call it "facilitating" or being a "hosting", would you prefer an event where:
  • Someone actively introduced pairs around the room throughout the event?
  • Room chatter was periodically broken with a message, a door prize or a piece of information to give a natural break in which you could circulate?
  • Attendees were guided and encouraged around networking before and during the event beyond simply being in the same room?
I don't know that there is a one-size-fits-all answer. I am interested in what you think makes a successful event!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's ok to make a 'break' part of the plan

Yes, there was a lag on the blog. Sometimes life gets in the way - most notably when we celebrate the end of someone's life. We take a deep breath and then pick the daily pieces back up.

It shouldn't take a major event to create permission to stop for a moment. In our planning and networking for careers and lives, a breather can be as refreshing as achieving a milestone.

So a once-in-a-while breather should also be in your personal development plan.

Before my friend died, he pointed out to me that it was ok to stop now and then. If you have truly achieved some momentum in life, coasting for a moment will not have any harmful effect. In fact, coasting might provide some perspective and the capacity for a fresh idea. (I have a mentor who calls this "shower time" as he feels the only time he has to free-associate is in the shower.)

So the last 2 1/2 weeks I let the internet and world drift by without me (it seemed to do fine too... drat!). I'm recharged and you're here reading so perhaps the break was as good as a post for us both?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mentoring and networking - all about relationships

I'm sure I must have gotten on this soapbox before?

Mentoring and networking are relationship-based and value-driven.

Seems obvious in theory but harder in practice. Relationships take time to establish trust and common goals and identifiers. Value is hard to define and very tied to an individual's goals. Usually, folks ask for mentors or start to network during a crisis when time is short and that's why the exercise gets the 'insincere' or 'grabby' labels.

I also read a lot about the process of mentoring and networking (sometimes I even write about it). But, like any process, when it hits a snag or a unique situation, it doesn't always leave you with any other tools at hand.

Basically, one falls back on relationships - the overlapping circles of your community that support you and are supported by you. The community you've been building for months/years. Everyone wants to help. Everyone wants to do the 'right thing'.... but when we're inundated with requests, we'll help those with whom we have a relationship of value first.

So practice your introductions. Know your goals. Make a long-term development plan. But understand none of this happens in isolation and all of it requires a community around you for success. So, first and foremost, build relationships - with genuine interest and caring all around.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Whether an activity to kick off a large event or just as a simple line to start a conversation, people struggle to find fun and sincere ice breakers.

Because I feel artificial and struggle, sometimes I forget that this is also how most folks feel. Sometimes, it isn't important how terrific your opening as much as someone just needs to create one because then, with relief, everyone will start to participate.

My favourite ice breaker is to introduce an open ended question that either must be debated, considered or requires more than a one word answer.  "How are you?" does not work because "Fine" is the standard response :-)  "What do you do for a living?" does not work because either someone doesn't wish to be defined by their job or is now worried you're looking for one.

I have used - with success - "What brought you here today?" "Where did you get those shoes?" "This is a big crowd - do you know anyone?"

Of course we stay within our comfort zones when choosing a question - mine might not work for you!

For large events, I try to encourage folks to mingle and talk by giving them an excuse to do so. Like a glass of wine, an ice breaker at an event is a social lubricant. Some events, it's a group quiz; others I will pose a challenge.

Folks want to mingle; they just don't want to feel like it is forced when they approach someone. So make it easy for them by swallowing your own discomfort and finding a simple way to create an opening. Chances are, everyone will follow your lead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't hesitate to ask someone to be a mentor

Hesitation is a great thing to have: you look twice before crossing a busy street; you double check lists; you ask an extra question before agreeing.

Hesitation doesn't work as well when seeking a mentor.

Too often, we find ourselves waiting for the 'perfect' mentor... or the right moment to approach someone... or just until we have an 'in' ... or the right introduction. Any number of things can have us talking about how great having a mentor would be and even more reasons why we haven't asked someone yet.

Yes, sometimes a great opportunity will present itself if you wait patiently. More often than not, you need to create that opportunity. What's the worst thing that can happen? They might say no. (gasp) But no one will think less of you for asking.

We only hold ourselves back when we don't ask for what we want or need. Hesitation helps us evaluate risk; don't use hesitation to avoid doing something that carries much more benefit than downside.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When should we act like men?

It was a hot topic the other day on a few sites. It generated some great discussion.

I believe our behaviour is situational. I'm not a 'mom' all the time, nor am I lady (no snickering :-) - though I try not to swear like a sailor when I'm not at a pub with my IT peers.

However, I am consistent in my ethical framework at all times even if how I deliver my message takes differing forms.

My brain has no gender. The "right action" to solve a problem has no gender. Negotiation is less about gender and more about creating opportunity for dialogue.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think it's all a bed of roses to be a woman or that there are not some serious issues still to face even here in Canada. Sexual harassment, rape, abuse, misogyny are all still kicking.

But we were asked when women should act like men and I'm still struggling with what that really means. What are unique female or male behaviours? I have been known to be a girl on a date. It has helped to have a man's name sometimes. But I am the sum of my ideas and actions; I find it hard to identify any of those as uniquely female with the exception of birthing my child.

Oh! and as a woman I can hug a friend without anyone flinching.

Maybe the real question - that no one asked  - should have been: "When should men act like women?"

I would have been most interested in that answer!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What if...examine your excuses

We all have excuses for not doing things. I am a prime procrastinator; I'll happily spend hours talking about why I can't do something when it might only take me a few minutes to actually do it.

So when mentors or mentorees tell me how they hesitate to do whatever... I tell them about the "what if..." game. It's how my son prepped to ask for his first date; how I got up the nerve to ask for my first mentor; and a great way to realize how silly some of our fears and stumbling blocks can be.

This is how it works:
Imagine the situation you have been avoiding.
Ask yourself "What if I actually do/say/try this, what's the worst thing that could happen?"
Then answer yourself "What would you do if that worst thing happened?"
Then imagine the next worst outcome... and so on.

 This is how it worked with my son...

What if you actually ask her out?
She could point a finger at me and laugh.
And what would you do then?
I'd die of humiliation.
Really die?
Probably just be embarrassed.
And then what would you do?
Walk away probably.
What else could she do?
Tell her friends I'm an idiot.
Then what would you do?
Probably agree with her and ask someone else out.
What else?
She could slap me.
What would you do then?
What else?
She could say "yes".
What would you do then?
Ask you for money to take her to a movie....

He got the date. She liked his confidence.

I got the mentor.

A friend talked her way into a job. Another started approaching strangers at networking events and just introducing herself.

If you're not prepared, your fears will get the best of you. Take a good look at what's really stopping you and walk yourself through it. You'll be surprised how many barriers "what if" removes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Listening - a lost art

if you’re asking questions or drawing conclusions you’ve stopped listening.

Does that make listening passive? No. It takes effort to keep focused, in the moment and absorbing the information before attempting to process it.

I'm a terrible listener. I interrupt. I get impatient as I can see the conclusion coming a mile away (makes it hard to read poorly written murder mysteries). Non-sequitors pop out of my mouth as ideas flow. I want every moment to be a two way conversation.

Listening is part of having a conversation. Listening provides a mirror; allows the other person to complete a thought and prepare for yours; listening offers a means of showing respect and building trust. Listening is a great skill to offer as a mentor and to use when networking.

The next time there's a pause in a conversation, don't jump to fill it. See what happens if you simply nod and say "Take your time; I'm listening."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Influence the outcome

Some folks call it the butterfly effect. Some say 'karma'. Today, let's call it dominoes.

Each action or choice opens a new set of doors. Each interaction can create chains of reactions. Each idea ripples beyond the initial impact.

Every time you share an idea with someone - suggest a perspective - support a person/project - you can't always control the outcome but you do influence it.  And leadership isn't about span of control as much as it is about influencing outside that span so that people and projects mesh better and more broadly.

So what does that mean in terms of mentoring or networking?  It means that you can create change one person at a time. The little discussions that resonate with folks - that are deliberately sought or not - are the ones that become embedded in plans, philosophies and attitudes.

Which always makes me feel that I should be more deliberate in my interactions... but it's really not about that. It's about approaching everything while being true to my passions and beliefs and being open to the input of others to change/shape them further.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

FYI - National Mentoring Month... missed it again...

National Mentoring Month celebrated its 10th anniversary during January 2011.

I missed it. Did you?

We're swamped with "day of.." this and "month of..." that. Even the causes to which we're attached get lost in the shuffle.

However, as terrific a cause as promoting and celebrating mentoring is... the main idea is to participate - year round!

Check out this Canadian site that looked at mentoring month and offers some resources.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day 2011

Another year has passed. Do you think the world has changed for women?

Women are a moving force behind the economy, societies, creativity and so much more. We inspire men to love, to hate, to think, to feel... as they inspire us in turn. We can grow life in so many ways.

We're not perfect. We're not all the same. We don't have the same dreams and aspirations. We come in all shapes and sizes.

WiL men share more in 2011? WiL women speak up more? Is the gender difference disappearing or requiring more debate?

Today is a celebration of a fertile global community which includes everyone.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The “R” list

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

Continuing with "R":

Rapprochement-or: Leader of harmonious relationships

Ravagement-or: Aids in rebuilding after a large setback

Readjustment-or: Support during the first stages of change

Realignment-or: Politically savvy ally

Reconcilement-or: Helps to make whole again

Recruitment-or: Shows the best in networking skills

Refinement-or: Polishes and finesses

Regiment-or: Teaches good habits

Repayment-or: Knows the fine art of the the “thank you”

Rousement-or: Pushes you out of your comfort zone

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Being direct and being "nice"

I had a great conversation this weekend with a very talented woman who felt she needed to become better at "sugar coating" things so folks would listen more.

This made me think... I've seen both pure candor and "spin" help someone take advice or hear a new idea with a more open mind. But really, isn't candor what we're seeking most often?

Perhaps we associate straight talk with being "pushy" or "bossy" or just sometimes serving no one's interests but those of the speaker.

It's all in how you are trying to share information. If you present information from the point of view of your audience, you have a great chance of getting their agreement - even if you are telling it to them 'straight'.
For example: "You should read these books - they'll give you the insight you're missing" could change to "I've found some great books that might offer some insight into this issue."

Move from the directive and the blunt to the direct and the considerate. That's not sugar coating; that's just making sure everyone at the conversation still has a voice!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another thought on gender

In the day-to-day interactions, I think it's less about gender and more about balance of power and/or understanding differences (in colour, belief, attitude, idea, etc.).

When folks are faced with the unfamiliar, they often mock or denigrate it. Those faced with a threat to their power (perceived or real) often beat with their power (limited or vast).
Unfortunately, even in Canada, many women have less power and are seen as 'different'. I kind of revel in that as there's joy there as well!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Your resume is your story

Resumes are a horrid way to get to know someone - a rotten 'cold calling card'.  Some read like over-hyped ads, some like unedited novels and chronological resumes!... don't get me started on how misleading those are! :-)  From the fact that they create the assumption that if you haven't done "it" before, you're not qualified now, to the problem of missing time, to the inability to see how a patchwork adds up to the skills of a leader.

I've tried all kinds of things to supplement or replace the resume. Most of it has stood me well and has helped, but not resolved, the issue of of the resume.

Part of the problem is, as above, in the creation of the resume. The other part of the problem is that most folks have no idea how to read a resume properly or the time to do so.

The other day at the discussion around leadership and storytelling, some one said something that I hope may be of use to you and your mentors / mentorees. 
Every bullet point on your resume should be the starting point of a story you'd like to share.

If all we do is edit our current resumes with that statement in mind, imagine how many extra doors might open?

Investigated social media issues to develop a company strategy
Investigated social media issues - including collaboration concepts  - to create an NA employee experience

Suddenly there is a story, an implied opinion, a focus.

Instead of closed statements or vague assertions, get the reader to want to discuss how the exciting thing you did / skill you showed will help their team achieve new heights. Not as hyperbole, but as fact.

Tell your story!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A handshake

I will confess, I prefer a hug to transfer true intent and emotion but the handshake will do in a pinch.

It's something we do every day without a second thought. We don't practice it (well, we may have when we were very young) and we don't count how many times a day we do it.

It's a great mentoring topic actually - when to shake, how to shake, what a shake means. Different cultures and circumstances make this seemingly innocuous act rife with potential to connect or confuse.

"A simple handshake. A ritual performed so often and with so little conscious thought as to be practically an instinctual reflex. Although the exact origin is difficult to pinpoint, there is a widespread belief that in its oldest form the handshake signified the handing of power from a god to an early Egyptian ruler. Centuries later, it was this magical aspect of the handshake that was so magnificently rendered on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In Medieval times, it might mean anything from a friendly greeting to a quick check for concealed weapons. In the twenty-first century, the handshake had evolved into an important social custom, a symbol of honor and good faith, it "sealed the deal." But could it be magic? What exactly was exchanged in that special moment of pure personal interaction - a little sweat, some exfoliated skin cells, a warm fuzzy feeling. What else?"
Ken Altabef - excerpt from "Pleased to Meetcha" published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Aug. 2006

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So... what do you do?

If someone asked you "What do you do?" - do you have a prepared answer for that?
  • Is it one that opens the door for conversation or one that offers as little interesting information as possible?
  • Is it one you can use at a party or just a meeting where everyone knows why they are in the room?
  • Is your answer just your job title and where you work?
  • Is it about the value you hope you bring or the work you find exciting?
  • In short, is your answer a story about you that invites others to want to turn the page?
  • Can you deliver it in 3 sentences or less?
None of the above is easy - not the choices, not the telling. Certainly, I'm stumped every time someone asks me that simple question and I mentor others on this subject! :-)

I prepare three versions and hope I'm not tongue-tied when asked. If a bottle of wine is involved, I give the long version....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Truth or Dare...

I have a few friends who love the chain emails where you fill out lists of questions that ask: what you're reading; what you'd take to a desert island; what job you'd hold if you already had a million dollars...  Then there are similar lists on social networking sites - even the professional ones - that are awfully similar when it comes down to it.

Most of us fill the emails out (if we participate at all depending on the friend, the list and the hairiness of the day...) with a few flip remarks designed to make others laugh.  We fill the questions on the social media sites very seriously - thinking through answers designed to impress those who might take the time to read our profile. In short, we cater to an audience.

There is nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing. It's just that sometimes, blogging late at night, I wonder what we'd put if we thought no one was looking. What might we say that may not impress but might reveal? I may very well be reading The No Asshole Rule (thanks Taavi) but I am also reading a book of fantasy stories - and that's the one you'd find in my purse.

We are trained to impress. However, deeper connections with your community come from a revealing moment. So when it is appropriate to do one over the other? Have you thought it through? Talked it through with a mentor?

Revealing can be impressive in and of itself...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is the gender differences debate largely an excuse?

There always seems to be a lot of articles on why there is a gender gap... why women and men think differently... why we react differently, etc. The debate between nature and nuture - how we are wired vs. how we are socialized - rages on.

I know that uncovering the root of a mystery, helps us towards a resolution. Finding a cure comes from seeking the cause. Correcting a behaviour is tied to pinpointing the source motivation.

But sometimes we can just start fixing and changing. While I'm just as fascinated with why as anyone else, it starts to feel like the research is an excuse to stall (how can we change a generation's thinking) or shrug in defeat (we're just wired that way).

Do we really need to know in order to see more women considered for top executive positions? Do we need to prove we can all get along to see a better mix on boards? Does our wiring matter when it comes to protecting the battered?

Colour should not matter. Race should not matter. Age should not matter. Gender should not matter. We need everyone's skills and all points of view to solve the big issues like poverty, peace and hunger.

Get over it, as my kid says. The debate is one piece of the puzzle... do more than debate; be an agent of change.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Where to go for mentoring tips?

I was asked to pull together a monthly digest of all the sites, blogs, articles and videos (etc.) that have caught my eye each month on the topic of mentoring.

Of course, no one mentioned that they read this blog... LOL

I realised that much of my inspiration comes from conversations and emails with you.

I am not about to put folks' email addresses and say "Go forth and converse!" though it would be an interesting approach.

I did do a few hours of internet searching - found lots of sites selling me their course, listing the Top Ten Tips (which all look the same and don't really help), or talking about mentoring "youth"... because of course the rest of us are too over the hill to learn or need a community? ha!

So where are you going for inspiration on mentoring as either a mentor or mentoree? Who do you go to? How often? What inspires your conversations? What helps you become a better mentor/mentoree?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gathering around the 'story fire'

The storytelling session I described has left me with some wonderful musings around leadership.

One I've been thinking about how to use better is: If the campfire is the oldest "story fire" we know, how can we use the concept of townhalls and conferences to share and/or create stronger stories around the issues driving us to gather in the first place?

In this age of matrixed teams and consensus, it's harder to define leadership. So how can we use story to influence? And how does that story create a point of influence that allows one to influence a decision or been seen as the compelling voice?

A great discussion to have with my mentor and mentorees?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The “P” and "Q" lists:

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

Continuing with "P":

Parchment-or:  Shows you how to wear your brand like ink on your skin
Pavement-or: Builds a road with you to wherever you're going
Payment-or: Demonstrates how to barter and exchange with value
Pigment-or:  Helps you discern shades other than black or white
Postponement-or:  Stops you from leaping before looking
Preferment-or: Offers you the next promotion or big project
Presentiment-or: Someone whose response is always "tried that..didn't work..won't work now"
Puzzlement-or:  A great partner for solving riddles and finding ways out of dead ends


Quiet Enjoyment-or: (thx Anne!)  Can sit in silence and relax while you both think
Quibblement-or:  Argues every nuance with you

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Letting someone else be the star

As an 'opinionate' person (I hear you laughing...), I often find it hard to sit in meetings and not interrupt. So as a measure of whether or not I should speak up, I ask myself "Who needs to know that I know that?" and "Is it important that they know I know this? Now? Later?"

It has stopped me from interrupting many times. Not often enough...but more often. :-)

Recently, I attended an excellent discussion on leadership and storytelling - hosted by Rick Wolfe of PostStone. The point was made that one difference between a leader and someone aspiring to leadership is the switch from being the hero of one's own story, to offering the listener the chance to be the hero.

Interrupting and ensuring that the room knows that you already knew the fact/had the idea/like the idea/etc. is about you being the hero. A legitimate part of establishing brand and sometimes necessary thing to do (especially if the guys are not listening to the lone woman in the room as can happen). However, a good leader knows when it is better to let someone else be a star. Leadership isn't all about shining brighter; it's about encouraging others to shine more effectively.

The next time I'm tempted to interrupt, I'm going to remind myself that it's better leadership to sit quietly sometimes. My mentors are daring me to try...