Thursday, December 20, 2012

A belated thank you to Dallas

A wonderful woman helped me have a better lay over in Dallas on my way back from New Mexico.

I have tried to find out who she was but no one else seems to have her card or know her name.

So - to the lovely woman who shared her membership with me and helped my long journey home feel shorter - thank you.

May all of you in the coming new year have a moment where unexpected help makes your burden a little lighter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What holds up the sky?

That's what my cab driver asked me as he drove me to the airport.

He pointed to the skyscrapers and said "They have pillars, supports and trusses." He gestured towards the raised highway, "That has pillars too." He pointed upward, "But the sky?" What holds up the sky?"

I waited. I was sure he had an answer and it wouldn't be just about faith.

"Nothing," he continued. "The sky just is. The sky holds us up."

Everyone is coping with the news of the massacre of teachers and children in different ways. None of us are untouched.

I'm very glad to hear the sky is holding up the world. I just wish it had held it a little closer that day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Networking - a quick oveview

If you search "networking" on this blog, you'll find a lot of information. (Search on Google and there's an avalanche) Recently, I met with a great group of college students who asked for the very beginning. We broke it down to the following:
  • Networking is about building new, or deepening existing, relationships.
  • Networking is opening the door to a longer conversation.
  • Networking is finding connections that matter to you and to whom you matter. (whether it be to take them home for dinner or share a professional coffee)
Job hunting is not networking.
Asking for donations or sponsorship is not networking.

Most importantly, networking is not about jumping into a 'transaction'.  If a stranger walked up to you and asked for $500 - even if the cause was worthy - you'd only participate in the transaction if you had an existing relationship with the asker or the cause.
We network constantly. Through networking we build our friends, our community and our professional circles.

The minute someone calls it "networking", we default to saying "hello" with our name and job title, plus asking for a favour.

Everyone agreed that if they could find a better way to kick off the conversation, then all the above made sense. They tried the 6 words exercise and, in under 10 minutes, everyone in the room had successfully opened a conversation and felt more at ease starting it.

Networking is like exercise - start simple; build in one good habit a week; try to enjoy it just a little.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Building Trust

I just read the blog post "Eight Actions Determine If You Can Be Trusted" on the blog Leaders to Leader.
The author Timothy F. Bednarz points out that:
  • Promises & Commitments
  • Mistakes
  • Loyalty
  • Information
  • Involvment
  • Recognition
  • Communication
  • Confidentiality
are all concepts that create trust.  He inspired me to actually think what an action might be that we could do immediately might look like. Individually, these are aspirational qualities that can take years to evolve. Perfection doesn't have to be the goal - so what might the first steps look like? What might we do today?
Promises & Commitments
  • Offer someone an introduction, an article or an hour of your time and follow up within 30 minutes of getting back to your desk/home.
  • Thank someone who recently met a commitment (personal or professional) for you.
  • Call someone you have been avoiding due to a missed or impending deadline and confess your tardiness/reluctance and renegotiate.
  • Acknowledge if you've been less than supportive of a present program (see Mistakes) and talk about the pieces that do excite you at an upcoming team meeting.
  • Call out a staff member for a behaviour that demonstrate best-in-class for something you, yourself, are striving towards.
  • Forward a relevant email from your manager or peer, with a one-two line summary of how you hope folks will read the attached.
  • Before responding to a problem, first ask questions - and listen to the answers.
  • Identify a deadline with someone to whom you've delegated something. Ask them to give you the dates when they'll expect you to review actions/information with them. Then resist the urge to check in with them the day before the dates they already committed to following up with you ;-)
  • Thank someone who assisted you recently and cc their manager.
  • Book a coffee with a colleague - and make it clear the latte is on you!
  • At your next team meeting, start off by asking folks what one thing was effective/not effective at work last week. Build a list of actionable items and take some of them on yourself.
  • Have you manager come speak with your team about his/her 'view from the top'. It doesn't have to be about any 'news' so much as what the week behind and the week ahead is bringing to the senior tables.
Respect Confidentiality
* While this one seems obvious for the big picture, it's also important in the day-to-day.
  • Use BCC as little as possible - it becomes part of your reputation. When you do use it, let the BCC list know as not everyone looks where their name is on an email and can "reply all" very easily.
  •  Ask folks how they like to be recognized (public? quiet? etc.)  as well as their preferred style of communication (email? face-to-face? phone? etc.)  Supporting someone in their choices can build trust and show respect.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No silver bullet but success is always possible

You own your career.
You own your choices.
You are responsible for any and all progress in your life.

People will offer to help and some will be great at helping.
But there is no silver bullet. No magic checklist. No shortcut.

There is a dash of luck which is only useful with self-awareness, and enough preparation to recognize the opportunity and take a chance with it.

Follow your passions, your interests, your drivers.
Embrace change in all its forms.
Define success for yourself and how you will know you're achieving it this week... next month... next year...
Allow yourself to be flexible.
Acknowledge your weaknesses (but don't dwell).
Promote your strengths.
Share your successes.
Open your networks and possibilities will open to you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When you know that you are right

I try not to open my mouth unless I'm reasonably sure I'm right. That doesn't guarantee new information won't prove me wrong but I start from the point of my own convictions and research.

As usually happens when an idea or thesis is presented, someone believes differently based on their research and experience.

Awesome! and the dialogue can begin. But how do you handle it when you've got to convince someone to see matters your way?

The surest way to persuade someone to listen to your point of view is to first show them you care about theirs.

Most folks are not as hung up about being "right" as they need to feel heard. That goes beyond listening, nodding and then jumping in with your perspective on where their logic fails. Many folks will concede a point if you first show you've understood it before you replace it.

Go beyond listening - passively standing there waiting for your turn to speak - to hearing what the other person is saying. Ask for clarification. Repeat a salient point. Summarize. Get their agreement that what you are echoing back to them is, in fact, what they are trying to say. Thank them for thoughtful research, brave ideas, candidness, etc.

Then ask if you can offer a different perspective.

This sounds easy but is actually hard. The more rushed we are, the less time we spend listening.

Actually, it is the most effective way I have found to connect with my family - especially my brothers! I've known they're often wrong since the day they first invaded my playroom. We have better conversations about contentious issues when I hear what they're saying before I tell them how off the mark they might be.

You might know you are right; others believe that they are. Persuading someone to see a different view is about collaborating before pronouncing the final verdict.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Open doors, not closed boxes - your introduction

In the quest to build an elevator speech, or have a great introduction, there seems to be two approaches. The 1st is to try and cram an entire resume into a handshake. The 2nd is to limit information to name, current job designation and company.

Neither open the door to a conversation or create interest. Both simply offer oneself in a tidy (or lengthy) box for the listener to file. Our introductions have become like clothing labels, listing the basic materials and cleaning instruction but leaving out the colour, weight and feel that would entice someone to try us on.

I want to give enough information that I don't seem coy but not so much that the listener can place me in a category. I want the listener to respond - with a laugh, a question, a show of interest.

How does your current way to introduce yourself stack up?

My favourite introduction is still the six words exercise. "Hi, I'm Dennie... IT manager, artist and unappreciated parent."
There is also using descriptors that are the key items for which you'd like someone new to remember you. "Hi. I'm Dennie... poker of holes in plans and keeper of fingers in pies."
Even the first line of your resume could be echo'd in your introduction. "Hi, I'm Dennie... strategist, facilitator, student of transformation."

Regardless of the approach, your introductions should be genuine and not a sales pitch about how perfect you might be.

Like the "Hi how are you?" "I am fine." exchange that has become meaningless as the asker doesn't want a different answer and the responder has no genuine answer, one's introduction has turned into an unappetizing bite of nothing very useful or enjoyable.

Relationships - even when job hunting - start with helping folks understand why to talk to you. Don't throw away the very first sentences you say.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Resumes - is yours telling your story or just the facts?

Your resume will be given about 30 seceonds of a hiring manager's time. Don't waste a bullet point. Every line should tell - or lead to - a story.

In the past week, I've helped with over a dozen resumes and they all did the same thing: listed a job title and then proceeded to list what duties that job required, most of which were table stakes. "Managed a team" "Delivered projects on time/on budget" "Met with clients".


If you hadn't done those basic activities - also known as "table stakes" - then I assume your manager would have fired you. The duties were implied by the job title.

The real question to answer on your resume is:What did YOU accomplish in that framework of duties? What story are you trying to convey? Did you rock the world with a new process? Save someone oodles of money? Gain a new skill? Hire a brilliant successor?

Are you applying for a new role where you'll have to help the hiring manager understand your skills are transferable? What accomplishments in previous roles would illustrate those skills you hope to highlight?

Too often we think we'll get the chance to explain the above in an interview. The real trick is getting the interview by intriguing the hiring manager with the stories on your resume.

Make it short. Make it skimmable. Make it about you and not the job duties.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Calling it mentoring doesn't make it so

Mentoring appears to be the latest buzzword meant to convey everything from coaching to networking to teaching to asking a how-to question. It's like a sauce poured on top of any topic and voila! it's now "mentoring".

Let's be clear:
  • If I ask you a question and you help with the answer - that's not mentoring - that's asking a question
  • If you're my manager and you need me to get better at what I'm doing for you /the team - that's not mentoring - that's coaching
  • If we find we're taking the same course and study together - that's not mentoring - that's studying together
  • If I meet you and we have a great coffee discussion - that's not mentoring - that's building a relationship /networking
  • If I'm looking for a job or sales lead - that's not networking - that's a transaction
If I ask you to help me work through a long-term development plan and view of myself, to be a safe place where I can discuss the tougher questions - anything from heart-held career goals to work/life balance to office politics to self-doubt - then you're mentoring me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's ok to lose a day if you're sick

Is anyone else annoyed by the commercial that says "Life doesn't stop because you're sick"? As though listening to your body's need for rest some how lets everyone else down?

There's often a long list of reasons why we think we can't: parenting; deadline; big event... in fact all the things that make up a full and diverse life. We could make a similar list why we should stop: can't think as well; might infect others and keep the cycle of illness going; might prolong illness; might feel better; might discover no one noticed we took a day :-)....

It's ok to be sick and stop for a day. Raise this with your mentors and mentorees. Raise this with the women you know. Life doesn't have to stop but we can sure slow down for a day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Please, no more shootings of women because they're women

There's been lots of news - and yet not enough - of the shooting of Pakistani girl activist Malala Yousafzai.  The Huffington Post has a good article to start you off if you're coming late to the story.

Standing up for the right to be educated should not prompt someone to pull a gun. I'm sure it would surprise some folks that anyone would even care enough about schooling to be violent. That's because it was not about education.

Malala was shot because she is a girl. Further, she's a girl asking for rights for girls. Her voice could have been raised on working conditions, on wages, on rape... and the fact that it was a female voice created enough outrage in some people's hearts that she was shot in the head.

"In this day and age?" someone said in the elevator.  Yes. Keep in mind that it also doesn't matter that it happened in another country. December 6, 1989 in Montreal, Marc Lépine shot nine women at the  École Polytechnique, claiming that he was fighting feminism. That's only one example. I'm sure many of you can think of less extreme situations that you may have witnessed in bars, workplaces and public spaces even in the past week.

We are each involved in our small crusades to open door to those less fortunate and those who are shut out from basic rights (and some basic courtesies) simply due to gender.

Moving away from victim to survivor... promoting International Women's Day... keeping the conversations going so folks can become educated or join the discussion... mentoring women... cheering others in their efforts... speaking up, out or at all... every voice matters; every effort helps.
Malala, the people around the world are sending you their best wishes. I promise to honour you - and all those who seek to make the world safer for girls and women - by continuing to keep my voice raised.

Please, no more shootings of women because they're women.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mulling things over from the conference

I forgot to mention that on the last day, I was asked to facilitate an informal table at lunch on women & mentoring - the issues, the experiences, the challenges.

Over a great lunch of pinto beans, chicken, rice, sour cream and cheese, I primed the pump reading a post I wrote called WiL the Men Speak Up?  I asked the table for their thoughts and experiences around the following questions:
  * Do we have enough female role models?
  * Does one only encounter barriers when one becomes a parent?
  * Are younger women not seeing barriers because no one sees them as a threat?
  * Why do so many men perceive a WiL issue (even if they can't agree on the root causes)?
  * Why is it easier to accept there's an issue if a man stands up first to validate it?

The purpose was not to reach consensus but to get folks to share experiences and ideas. As usual, the table started as quiet and then, about 20 minutes in, the conversation exploded. By the end of the 45 minutes, every woman at the table had jumped in and participated, sharing a story or advice.

There are no hard/fast answers. There are fewer answers without discussions like that one!

This is a topic about which I'm passionate. Feel free to search "women" on my blog and leave me comments on such posts as When Should We Act Like Men or Let's Get Emotional! ... or any other post that you may find.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My tweets from the conference

For those not on Twitter, here were my 'real time' Ah-Ha! moments at the conference.  Strangely, the conference had no hashtag set up. Several of us simply used #unmmc12.
  • "Understand your stand, then seek to understand" C Pettit
  • Closing style drives trust & comfort in a mentoring relstionship
  • "People do not resist change, per se. They resist loss." Dr M Searby
  • We need to acknowledge the sense of loss that comes with any kind of change
  • Success = know outcome, reasons, plan ACT...but beginning is most important
  • If one can't express an idea, one should pass selling it to someone who can...doesnt dimish credit, keeps brand clean
  • The kind/strength/nature of relationships around you contributes to success
  • The common variable for those who succeed against the odds is "a mentor" 
  • omg "mentoring" is Not a buzz word to represent daily/normal need to ask questions and find team solutions to immediate need!
  • Framework for online mentoring needs prior face/face relationship and/or face tech (webcam etc)
  • Coaching is for success today; mentoring is for success tomorrow
  • We learn best when we perceive no threat.
  • Nothing is less inspiring than someone telling you how smart they are and how vast their references vs sharing their smarts
  • Great conversation on mentoring in business. real world mentoring is messy! 
  • "sageliness w/in & kingliness w/out" is Confucious view of mentoring 
  • The issue of direct mgr as mentor is Not nepotism but TMI, confidentiality & support past immediate job/duties
  • Outdated statement? "women need mentors to teach acceptable behaviours in male world"
  • Cultural/social/emotional intelligence in mentoring - does MIT Center for Collective Intelligence have any research on this?
  • Are folks worried about "liability" if they mentor? (is this like good samaritan worried about being sued?)
  • How many business mentors think about learning styles when mentoring? should they?
  • Mentors choose mentees pick those like themselves...bad for women given it's men above the glass ceiling?
  • Mentoring = your actions speak so loudly I can't hear what you're saying
  • Road a yellow schoolbus into 1st morn of the mentoring conference. Like going to camp but with more suits and less singing.
  • Mentoring is listening.

Monday, October 29, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - last day

It should say "last week at the mentoring conference" as it appears I drafted my last post but - alas - never posted. I did, however, make it home and slept for 18 hours.

The final day of the conference was probably the best. Folks were freely talking in the hallways and debating ideas; no one was a stranger anymore. We understood how to pick sessions, reading between the lines of the abstracts to find presenters with topics that mattered to us. It was a bittersweet day because the week had generated so much energy and passion that it felt like we needed one more, larger, facilitated discussion to create some concrete "next steps"... both for the conference and for ourselves. (I should have put that on the evaluation!)

Three notable shout outs from Friday:
  • Christy Pettit of ODScore gave a great presentation on an algorithm they've developed to help mentoring pairs (and teams in general) navigate the communication gaps that can occur with conflicting agendas and approaches.
  • U of Colorado talked about "Including Mindfulness in the Mentoring Relationship" which acknowledged the need for helping people move through emotional stress and refocusing with purpose.
  • U of Massachusetts presented their efforts on "Supporting Faculty of Color and Women through Network-Based Mentoring". They found peer-to-peer and having a community around one made for greater career success. (I am not alone!)
Then we packed up and took advantage of the late Friday afternoon sunshine to drive to Sky City and visit NA's oldest continually inhabited pueblo. At almost 6900ft above sea level, surrounded by pinyon shrubs, wild sage and rocks, it was an incredible experience.

All that was left was to gather up the business cards, let the airline lose my luggage (I just knew it!) and fly back along the advancing edge of hurricane Sandy.

I am humbled by the reception of my fellow attendees. I felt at the heart of the activity and discussions and I look forward to deepening a relationship with many of you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day four

Ever have a day that shines? The people, the events, the food, the sunshine.... all remarkable.  The conversations sparked new conversations sparking new ideas which drew in new people....

Great quotes from today:
"People don't resist change; they resist loss."
"I'd rather deal with chauvanism than a surfeit of estrogen."
"The coffee is cold but the topic is hot."

All this around hot debates on mentoring and what it really means - and how it relates to the diversity agenda, the glass ceiling and how the brain learns.

Did we reach any conclusions? Yes - the much of the research out there is not inclusive or does not map to the real (messy) world. And that it isn't important to nail down one lexicon or one meaning that applies to all... as much as it is important to state expectations and assumptions for each situation. Success doesn't come from control; success comes from flexibility.

To all of you who were part of this shining day: thank you.

This week at the mentoring conference - day three

(with a shout out to @delta_dc for the blog post I will write...) 

Nothing is more fun than debating with smart people. (ok really it ranks in my top 10 but it took top spot today)  After a disappointing key note, I wondered if I had stumbled into the wrong conference. With ideas like "women need mentors to help them acceptable behaviours in a male-dominated world" or "the problem with having your direct supervisor as your mentor is they could be accused of nepotism"... well, you can imagine the sour face I was starting to make :-)  Then it hit me...the problem with some research (and researchers) is that the conclusions often only map to yesterday's question.

So, understanding some of the folks presenting live and work in a 'bubble', I relaxed and mined for the gems.

One presentation on E-mentoring limited the concept of using technology to email (I would have called it 'text-based' mentoring?)... but the in-depth look at mentoring coupled with the study's struggle to understand the medium it was hoping to unlock gave me all kinds of ideas to bring home. Further, the study reinforced that either a prior face-to-face relationship must exist or technology should be included that allows for relationships to be built (web cams, phone calls, etc.)  Obvious to those of us practicing; new to some folks still trying to bridge the gap between the checklist and the messy reality of mentoring in real life.

The emotional intelligence discussion - once the fellows got past their hard core sales pitch on how brilliant they are and how one should buy all their books - was a terrific level set on the expectations one can have for creating EI and how nothing can succeed without it.

Kudos to the Mentoring Institute Director Nora Dominguez who has brought together such an eclectic and passionate group of people. It will be worth watching how this conference continues to grow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day two

It's odd ...the things we notice first about new places... Albuquerque has made its first impressions on me as a series of endless Walgreen pharmacies and lots of tattoo parlours. Mountains in the background. Not much traffic. Lots of sunshine.

Had breakfast at The Frontier - an institution here. As a wuss, I couldn't even handle the red sauce (most prefer the hotter green)... though I did have white bean and green chili soup for supper. In between, I did some calls for work, got an internal campaign kicked off and finished my slides for my 1st presentation. I walked the campus (so I know where to go tomorrow) and did some networking with a few conference attendees. I'm very glad I came a day early - arriving now after the 15 hrs to get here would have been cutting it too close!

I also took a stroll down a few streets and talked to shop owners... finding out where they're from (met someone from Quebec!), why they came here, what they love about this neck of the woods. It's amazing how willing folks are to share their story if you just ask. One fellow drives in 4 hours every day to sell silver bracelets on a blanket. (they're exquisite) He explained his entire process and how each piece was made. I could have sat with him all day. One shop owner told me about each trip she has taken this year - where she went; what she bought - and how she needs to be surrounded by beauty. Another woman made her studio into her sanctuary and it was a priviledge just to stand there and appreciate the warmth and silence in which she grows her art.

We talked about 'mentoring'... since many asked why I was in town. The word "mentoring" has no real meaning in the worlds outside business towers and academia. I explained it as a form of teaching and sharing between master/student or equals - depending on the need and the approach. Many of them explained how many "mentors" they have had to become proficient on their chosen path and thought the idea of a conference dedicated to talking about mentoring sounded kind of silly. We don't need to be taught to be mentored or to mentor, was the general thought...only to listen. "Unless, of course, you want us to follow a bunch of rules and all do it only one way," said one woman.

I like it when the world lets me know it gets along just fine without me and my ideas. Makes me laugh. Makes me have faith that goodness and sharing exist and it's really only a struggle if you complain about the delivery mechanisms.

Monday, October 22, 2012

This week at the mentoring conference - day one

This week, the posts will be a little different. I'm going to blog (and tweet if I can get my ipad back up and running) as I attend ...and present... at the UNM Mentoring Institute's 2012 Mentoring Conference.

Day One

Got everything into a carry on - I'm paranoid the airline will lose my luggage on the transfers and I'll be stuck presenting in jeans and a sweatshirt :-)  I decided to forgo real shoes in case my ankle swelled with the traveling so I'm still in the bright red sneakers I've been wearing since the walking cast came off. My cat refused to "speak" to me all last night onece she saw the suitcase. My kid slept on the couch so he wouldn't miss saying "bye" at 4:30 am when the car came to get me.

I have been having complete attacks of self-doubt around presenting. I've never attended this conference and here I am with 3 papers. Of course, the outcome either way probably won't resonate back to my life up north but, being an overachiever, I still want to knock their socks off.

The last leg of the flight - in the last hour - saw my face pressed to the tiny airplane window. The landscape was light brown, like bloom on dark chocolate. Strange circles of green and tan were scattered below. Some divided like pie slices with greens and some incomplete. It was like a giant had carefully placed confetti. The circles passed away and the ground below resembled frost patterns on a window...but in black. My mind kept trying to make sense of what I was seeing but it simply looked like imprints of 2-dimensional tree shadows on the land. Is that the desert of New Mexico? I had a sudden desire to call my manager and tell her about this... which is when I realised how stressed I must be :-)

My laptop has gone silly on me and I'm trying to recreate my slides in the business centre. Really I want the chair beside me to burst into flames with a disembodied voice saying "They'll like what you have to say"... however, all I hear is the guy next to me complaining about a sales call.

This is what it means to be discombobulated. I hear a glass of wine call my name....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Large events and being able to hear...

Most people don't know sign language. I know only a few signs; I certainly can't hold a conversation. Since my fall from my scooter in June (thanks for all the good wishes...I'm walking just fine now), my hearing in my right ear is almost gone.

As a former musician, I could hear flies buzz in another city. Over the last 10 years, I've been limited to flies in the same room as me. Lately, I can't even hear my cat purr next to my head on the right side.

I attended a meeting where the executive speaking had his hand over his mouth. I panicked because suddenly I didn't understand what he was saying! Seems I've been lip reading.

Which begs the question, how do those of us with hearing impairments function at large events where the noise level is high and we can't understand half of what's said to us? I now miss names, questions and certainly if you come up on my right side (but out of my peripheral vision), I tend to scream in fright as you grab my arm :-)

Part of the onus is on me to explain that I'm unable to hear well. Yes, that gets tiresome for me but the person to whom I'm speaking is hearing it for the first time. I also fake 'hearing' since the conversation in large events is rarely in-depth or very personal. A smile and nod goes a long way. I make a note to follow up with the folks I found interesting and talk with them in a quieter setting after the event.

I'm starting to feel like my deafness is like being short... can't hear properly... can't see over anyone's head (usually I can tell you if they're wearing deodorant though)...but I like people and a smile goes a long way in a loud room and I'm able to slip through a crowd pretty quickly.

Because it's not likely that my ear or the noise level of events will change.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Leading from any level

One of my role models just asked the question around what does leading from any level mean?

Leading from any level strips the restraints of hierachy away from the leadership concept. It asks folks to speak out from all their perspectives/experience/view points. It requires not just offering a good idea - but ownership of the idea and its execution. It's a collective approach to keeping the ball rolling.

It also is a clear message to women (or anyone feeling disempowered) that the opportunity is there to be seized.

I wonder though if there doesn't  need to be 2 conversations - one about leading a situation (project issue, niche idea, problem solving)... and one about leading in general - relationships, inspiration, big picture. I think women hesitate over both those aspects - and for different reasons.

Situations often stall due to lack of ownership - which is a form of leadership - someone who steps up and says "I will help and make sure this happens."  General leadership might entail no problem solving but gentle overall steering/cheering/mentoring and long-term guidance.

If leadership is personal, situational and an evolution - then folks need to understand what leadership means to them before they can take the 'permission' to do it from any level?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I lost my book

I lost my book - halfway through the story - left it in a hotel lobby. It was an excellent book about a magical circus; the dust cover is in my suitcase so I can find it again. I hope whomever picked it up enjoys it as much as I did.

Grousing about losing my book just before getting on another plane, someone asked "What was so good about it?" The image that sprang to mind was how the author described a "wishing tree" as part of the circus. In the middle of the craziness a night at the circus brings, there was a tree covered in candles. Each candle was a wish and one candle lighted the next wisher's taper.

The tree was a network of wishers and wishes... which is exactly what a good network contains.

I probably don't need to belabour that point :-) 

A professor once said "Why read business books when the real mysteries of human nature can be uncovered in literature?"  That weird little book of the fantastic was affirming my beliefs while taking me outside the drab world of airport lounges and delayed flights. I feel a little lost because the story was cut short.

Monday, October 8, 2012


It is not easy to make conscious choices every day. If you agree that most of what we do is choice, then a lot of what we do out of 'habit' is simply choice we are not stopping to think about any more. Preference becomes a 'must'; habit becomes 'need'; change becomes 'can't'.

Some days I would like to slip into my habits and blow off anyone who finds them annoying, unhelpful or mediocre. (anyone, including myself)

Some days it takes a nudge to help me find the excitment of discovering something new or re-choosing something deliberately because it works/ brings joy/ makes sense.

But if we surrender to habit and consensus, if we relinquish choice even in the little daily routines, I think we die faster - inside and out.

No one said it isn't tiring some days. No one said you can't take the occasional holiday. No one but you can make this choice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Interviews - the pre-screening

If you've ever been called to the Principal's Office... an interview feels much the same. You sit in a chair waiting for someone to see you who may, or may not, be swayed by what you have to say. You make sure your hair is brushed, your buttons are buttoned and your palms unsweaty.

Preparing for an interview happens well before the actual appointment. It starts with a well-crafted resume and is often preceded by a phone interview. Most folks are happy with hearing they have a phone interview and usually spend most of their effort convincing the interviewer to let them move to the next step. (at least, that's what I do :-)

I also use the pre-screening call to prepare for the 'big' interview and to ascertain that the company will fit me. It sounds pushy but it creates a more engaging conversation to do more than answer questions (a passive conversation). By having some questions of my own ready to roll, I can appear more interesting and more of a leader.
  • First, I make sure I know my current skills for which I wish to be most known. Then, not only can I answer the question of "what skills do you think are your strengths" but I can ask "What skills are currently the hardest for your company to find?" "What is the most valued leadership trait in your organization?"
  • I have an answer ready for "what do you want to be in 5 years"...just in case they ask. Then I ask "What's the company's philosophy on moving people around internally?"
  • Then, depending on my connection (or not) with the phone interviewer, I may ask: "What's the one thing your company did this year that made you proud to work for them?" "What's your company's involvement around Women in Leadership?" "Are employees encouraged to blog either within the company or outside?"
You can google many ways to do a good pre-screening interview. Just add a few questions of your own and make it a two-way conversation; create a connection and stand out for your people skills.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Resumes are hard to write. They're also complicated depending on with whom you're talking - mission statements; making sure there are no "hidden" years; formatting issues; CV or not to CV....

The chronological resume seems to be the format of choice these days. That's where everyone makes a list, starting with the most current, of the jobs held and the main duties involved. It's factual; it's consistent; it is a terrible way to sell oneself.

Of course most folks seeking to hire aren't trained how to read a resume either - so if the resume writer can't tell a good story and the resume reader can't infer one... opportunities are lost.

Use the accepted chronological format but ask yourself a few questions as you write it:
  • Do I want to only be seen as capable of doing a job I've done before? If no, then what skills and accomplishments can I highlight in each section that will let the reader see how my experience transfers neatly to this new role I'm seeking?
  • Does each bullet point below each job title tell a story?  Does it create an opening line for conversation around a skill or an accomplishment?
  • What line merely reflects the table-stakes...the basic expectation of the job title above it...and do I really need to explain or include it?
  • Have I included lots of adjectives or have I given concrete, unadorned examples of my skills and accomplishments?
There's a lovely blog post about things to not do with your resume on the Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog. I would debate the last point about hobbies & interests though - sometimes discovering someone has a passion for something that is linked to an internal company project (Habitat for Humanity volunteer) or shows a skill for which there was no other place on the resume ("volunteer wrangling" is my favourite so far), can tip the scales towards getting the interview. (in a matrixed organization, wrangling those volunteered is a valued skill!)

Most of all, a resume should reflect the professional "you" that can be substantiated and enthusiastically endorsed ... first and foremost by your own stories and insight.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I can't tell you how many times this month I have had to ask for a seat as I stand there with a bandage and cane on public transit. People visibly lower their heads in an effort not to see me.. or look about in a game of chicken to see who might cave first to my unreasonable demand. It is really hard for me to ask; I feel slightly ashamed of taking someone's seat.

This is not a rant about accessiblity or manners (though I am tempted). This is more a parable about how, even with an obvious "visible" need, folks hope I won't ask for help and I feel like I shouldn't.

Suppose I was working on a project and I was over my head. Would I ask for help? Would someone offer?

Collaboration is based on mutual support. Many groups have moved to consensus (which can be counterproductive) and implies no cross-support. Community is about collaboration; true collaboration implies one asks and offers help.

Our public transportation crowd may have forgotten how to play nice in community. Hopefully, we can discuss the  asking and offering of help in our mentoring circles and make it easier for everyone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The blog, Compassion in Business, wrote in a July post "Respect for each others abilities and support by acknowledging and encouraging each other creates synergy. Team management is about inspiring and encouraging enthusiasm and cooperation."

I had a conversation with an executive yesterday who said that inspiration and encouragement is the last thing he remembers to do… and yet it is the first thing he remembers when someone else does it with him.

I think that's true for many of us. As we careen from meeting to meeting, project to project, family to friend gathering, we arrive as a willing participant but sometimes a passive one as the day's obligations consume our energy. Even when we host the gathering, our attention is often on getting to the end and not always on wrapping our arms around those on the journey with us.

It is even more important as leader to see encouragement and support as a necessary part of the success of a project. It may be a given as parents and good friends but even there we can take our closest for granted.

While I'm a big supporter of the 'suck it up' school for some things (bathrooms must be cleaned, reports must be generated), offering sincere thanks along the way is good practice. For bigger efforts or changes, the language of appreciation should be found throughout the effort and at the end. From handwritten notes to public acknowledge to a quick call, folks will adopt new measures faster when their efforts are noted.

Compassion doesn't mean weakness - compassion is leadership.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mentoring and Networking together

On the train this morning, two women were talking about mentoring. Both are being mentored and doing mentoring. Both saw mentoring as a thoughtful approach to building a whole life view: career, passions, outside work activities.
"Mentoring is so much better than networking," said one.
"Oh yes! I hate networking," said the other.

And yet, what they were doing on the train was networking: building and deepening an existing relationship.

Their conversation also reflected a common thought: mentoring is about a career and networking is about finding a job.

You may not mentor every day but you do network. Networking is not simply about handing out a resume and impressing strangers. Networking and mentoring work together to build community - out of which you may find jobs, friends, opportunities and ideas.... and good conversations on a train.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I just broke a few personal records in Snood... that's after playing an hour of Monster Burner... The reason I sat down at the computer was Not to play games but to rewrite a paper... which still isn't done. :-)  I hear Carly Simon singing in my head but "Anticipation" is replaced with "Procrastination."(someone must have done the parody by now?)

Normally, I'm a fan of a little procrastination. Letting my mind idly wander for an hour often percolates some ideas. Getting off the treadmill of having to 'get things done' and be productive 24/7 has been proven in many studies to actually make us more productive. Daydreaming is a desired activity (though it's weird to call daydreaming an 'activity').

Other times, procrastination is a sign that we are actively avoiding a certain task (vs. being lazy or disorganized). Sometimes it's worth having the conversation as to why a certain task falls to the bottom of the list (budgets and spreadsheets, anyone?)

Some times, procrastination is simply a sign that we are overloaded and it's time to take a break.

That might be the mentoring conversation I need to have next - asking why a task is being avoided instead of chastising /being chastised for not making a deadline.

Either way, as long as missing the deadline (real or self-imposed) will not cause a plane to fall from the sky or empires to burn, perhaps a few moments of Chicktionary might be the right way to think this through...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Judge less

A noble sentiment. Certainly, we all hope folks will view us kindly and with an open mind.

It's not so easy in practice. We all apply conscious or unconscious filters to people we meet. Supposedly we have made up our minds about each other in 3-10 seconds (depending on your source material): appraised; judged; filed.

I'm not suggesting we change the way the human mind is wired. However, now that we know we judge and are judged in turn, that we make an effort to allow folks to change the initial impressions they may have left that unwitting triggered a "don't go there" filter.

I'm not including the actions and folks who are deliberately setting out to get under my skin, just those who should be allowed a second chance if I have no concrete reason to file them as "outside the circle".

The next time a damp handshake or ill-timed joke cuts a potential conversation short, remember it could just be nerves or a bad day. Relationships are started with a quick judgment but built through long-term, consistent behaviours.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ability to embrace change

When I was a kid, teachers used to talk about "A-type and B-type" personalities. A-type had to overachieve and get everything perfect. B-type was willing to go with the flow.  Generally, it was assumed that A would be more successful than B because of their innate drive. But this didn't go far enough for our workplace quest for self-awareness and understanding the dynamic in change adoption.

Now there's a broader array of tools to understand how folks think and work together - MBTI, HBDI, DiSC, etc. And yet nothing I've been able to find that looks at a person's ability to assimilate/adopt/accept change.

I'm not sure if that's because change is constant and the scale of change fluctuates; thus our ability to deal with change fluctuates with it. Or if it's all in the timing? Or the specific workplace/team atmosphere? Or if it really just comes down to a person's philosophy and awareness around embracing change in all its forms (personal to professional)?

Certainly, folks persuing mentoring appear to be more open to change. (And yet we've all had friends and/or mentorees who just wanted validation of where they were vs. exploring where they might want to go.)

There are tons of online forums that approach change as a mix of behaviour and process to be mastered. Checklists, books, diagrams and decision trees abound. Talk of leadership, change management, followership, champions and resistors, etc. becomes noise when we see how we have each played all those roles at different points for different reasons.

What if there is no checklist? No magic bullet? No one theory or approach fits all? What if embracing change is like the elusive "motivation" discussion: we can't force change; only lay out the choices. Carrots and sticks only build surface adoption.

What if openness to change comes down to a person's willingness to participate or not and the rapport held with the person/ team proposing the change? ...which aligns the success of a change with networks/networking, relationships and connections.

I don't know the answer; I just know there is not one.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Favourite sites

For everything, there is a top ten list. Like all those lists, one list can't possibly capture everyone's tastes.

The Mentorguru chose 18 mentoring sites and/or blogs on his list regarding mentoring and is asking for folks to help define the discussion /selection. I wish I'd made his list but, given that Google produces about 11,800,000 results in 0.25 seconds, he may not have noticed my blog <grin>.

The sites I reference weekly are not necessarily about mentoring but often inform my ideas around which I either mentor or am mentored:  Exploring "creative leadership capabilities"  Harvard Business Review eclectic collection of topics Creating "bite-sized" research about people–relationships, human behavior and personal development" Asking how people & computers can be connected to collectively be more intelligent as a group than as individual contributors  A thoughtful collection of interviews and posts around mentoring

Monday, August 6, 2012

Give to receive

I recently met a group of mentors and mentorees at the Toronto Sick Kids Foundation. We had an hour to talk about the twists and turns of mentoring.

I left there inspired. These men and women - already working hard to make a difference - are going the extra mile to both push themselves to develop and to support others in a similar journey.

I don't believe that we can truly do much without finding some form of reward in it (thus does altruism really exist?). I do believe that finding reward doesn't make our contributions less valuable or less giving in spirit.

I am a big fan of Sick Kids Hospital (the ghastly incident when my son was three still gives me nightmares and Sick Kids was wonderful!) and was only too happy to 'give back' in this small way. But I'm not fooling myself; I got more out of the hour with these folks than possibly they did. The chance to exchange ideas, share enthusiasm, answer tough questions with practical approaches left me energized. Given how full the summer has been so far, an extra push of energy was worth more than gold.

We all give in the ways we can - donating time or money or expertise. And often we make back even more than we give.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mentoring Conference Oct.2012

This October, the Mentoring Institute at the University of New Mexico is hosting a conference: Facilitating Developmental Relationships for Success.

If you'll be attending, please let me know? I will be there and very much looking forward to it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mentoring is a contact sport

By "sport", I mean in the spirit of collaborative - not competitive - play. Think volleyball over dodge ball; group juggling over racquetball; Red Rover over Duck Duck Goose :-)

It's not for the fastidious who wish to remain uninvolved and unattached. It is eye contact. face to face and, occasionally, with handshakes and/or hugs. It can be done in groups or pairs, with or without props and according to formal or individual rules.

Winning is not about a trophy but the opportunity to play on different/bigger teams or with more folks.

You have to commit, dive in and be ready to share the field. You can't play by yourself. You don't need to be invited; you have a global free pass if you're willing to put up your hand and join the fun.

Relationships over acquaintances; depth over breadth; length over height. It takes a career to master and lifetime to enjoy all the benefits.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mentoring is everywhere

My son has a mentor. I bet neither of them think of their relationship as 'mentoring'. Perhaps that's because mentoring has recently been come to be viewed as Mentoring - something formal, big, a holy grail of relationships.

Mentoring happens all the time. Once we've joined a community, we're each other's best resource. The fellow guiding my son through the complexities of being a motorcycle enthusiast: discussing bikes; debating mechanics; peering at engines and nodding knowingly; getting your mom to agree to even having one in sight of the house... well, he's probably not thinking "what do I teach this kid next time?" They meet every few weeks and my son brings him the questions and theories he's been mulling. They top the whole afternoon off with iced coffees or beers.

mentoring or Mentoring - both are a wonderful tool and means to build paths. It happens at the grassroots and at the formal, business levels. Mandated, sought or inherent to a philosophy, mentoring is part of our societal fabric.

Monday, July 9, 2012

We don't know what we don't know

...but we are expected to know that we don't know :-)

We are the sum of our experiences and flavoured by our natures. In the business world, the more experience one has, the more it is assumed we will make less mistakes.

The problem is society and technology are changing so rapidly that, even if a situation feels similar, the nuances may be brand new. Past experiences may have no firm anchor in a current dilemma or decision. So assumptions need to be reconfirmed every time.

For some, this kind of uncertainty makes new projects feel like mountain-climbing every time. For others, it keeps planning fresh.

A recent  HR blog posting on Harvard Business Review talks about how one HR professional loves to read "unconventional" resumes as potential employees who are adaptable to change can be identified if they also show change as an acceptable course of action in their own careers/lives.

The point that many seem to be making these days is that we don't have to know everything; we simply have to be willing to learn new pieces.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

One of my mentors died recently - Ray Bradbury: a prolific author whose work spanned novels, short stories, screen plays, theatrical scripts and essays. Many of us read Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles and, of course, Farenheit 451 (or saw the '66 film and wrote the grade 10 essay based on Oskar Werner's performance).

I started reading Ray Bradbury in grade six. My dad had a copy of a collection of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays. I was hooked.

When I first became a stage director 10 years later, I asked if I could produce "To the Chicago Abyss"... the production sold out and we sent Mr. Bradbury a fan letter with pictures from our show. He responded - a letter and signed posters of his upcoming movie for the whole cast (Something Wicked This Way Comes). Our show was brought back for a second run (and had an off off Broadway offer!) and also swept the Quebec Drama Festival awards that year. By that time, Ray Bradbury and I were corresponding, albeit sporadically. He always included a handwritten note in his response or package.

By that point I had devoured everything he had written and was a committed fan. My ex got a gig working on the Ray Bradbury Theatre TV series for a season; I was so proud. I was directling a lot of new work that included many speculative/science fiction scripts; my palette finely tuned by Bradbury work. I was overjoyed in the late 80s to be assistant on the combined stage and opera version of "Something Wicked" with Gyllian Raby. Ray Bradbury came to see the show and I finally got to sit down with him in person. I shook so badly I could barely speak to him. I stayed as close to him as I could the whole time he was in town.

His writing set the tone for much of my own early writing. His plays deeply influenced my ear for language and search for the inner life of a character. His letters kept me inspired. The poster, framed, still hangs in my house.

I was at work when the news broke. I could break down our personal relationship into mere hours and a few letters but he is/was undisputably the biggest influence on my creative life.

"Thrash them with licorice whips till they cry 'mercy'" is wisdom by which I run my life.

RIP Ray Bradbury.

with great respect

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feeling broken

I broke my ankle - an accident that could have happened to anyone. I've spent over a week in a haze of pain, sleep and figuring out how to get up and down a set of stairs with one leg. I played a little on my ipad, caught up on personal email, slept some more.

Thanks to Taavi for sending me this post on "impostor syndrome" - a different kind of broken and focused on women. I think everyone, at some point, wonders if they're living up to their reputation or brand. Some days it's scary to walk the line between getting the job done and tooting your horn if your confidence is low at that moment.

The post was a good reminder that I must be my own best critic and/or cheerleader first so that no one can gain more power over me than I already have over myself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What to say when...

One of the questions I get asked the most is "What do I say when I have nothing to say?"

Yup, it seems like there is an obvious answer: say nothing.

Thinking of the various circumstances in which our minds can go blank....

1 - The big networking event.
You have an introduction (genuine - rehearsed or impromptu).  You meet some interesting folks, get past the handshake and ...suddenly... you have nothing to say.

That's ok. Listening is often better than speaking. Asking questions is easier than answering. Say nothing - get others to talk!

2 - Caught in the elevator with the big cheese (or the person you've been dying to meet)
You might have 2 floors; you might have 10. You want to make an impression but all that springs to mind is "Some weather, huh?"

Only in the movies do careers and lives get made by a fateful elevator ride.
If you have some sort of relationship already and really have something you've dreamed of pitching/offering, you could always say "So glad to run into you. I'm planning to book some time with you /hoping to take you to coffee soon. Looking forward to it." and save the subject for when you have their attention.
If you don't know each other (but wish you did) - then it's the same as standing in line at the grocery store with a stranger: smile; acknowledge them; pay a compliment/ask a question/get the ball rolling. It's not necessary to know in advance what to say; you just have to face the familiar fear of talking to a stranger.  Say something; once the door is open you will have time to think of better things to say.

3 - At a meeting where you just have no opinion
Maybe you zoned out. Maybe it's a topic that has no real impact for you. Maybe you need more time to consider options.

I'm of the opinion that if you have no opinion that's just fine. I don't get where all the pressure comes from for us to have opinions on everything. Does someone have a different opinion on this?

Saying nothing is just fine.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Building community

It's not a new idea. We do it every day. Every act of kindness, offer of help, question, or shared piece of information builds a community around each of us. The real effort comes when we try to do it deliberately and consciously - to not wait for the invitation but to invite; to not wait to be asked but to offer. Rejection doesn't come as often as we fear it might. (though it does still come but if everyone liked everyone that would be creepy...)

Another name for this is networking - building stronger ties with those you know and forging new ones. None of this takes an event, party or large meeting.

Our communities overlap through shared interests, people or projects. We don't have to know everyone directly; we just need to be open to collaborating across shared connections.

Each of us already has a community; fewer of us deliberately fill ours. There is nothing wrong with being deliberate, with being interested in new people, activities, knowledge sources and opinions. Sincerity of interest is the key. Openess and trust in sharing what we know or feel is important. Family, friends, acquaintances - the inner and outer rings of our circles - are the buffers and safety nets of an uncertain world. (thanks for being part of mine and inviting me into yours - I promise to list each of you in my Academy Award speech one day!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Influencing vs. Manipulating

Influencing is not manipulation.

Manipulation has a hidden agenda and is about tricking someone into doing what they don't want to do. 

Influencing is getting folks to feel safe/open enough to take in new/different information and consider other courses of action.

I have manipulated a three-year old into going to bed (haven't we all?), proudly turning off the light at the end. I have tricked someone into showing up for a surprise party they didn't know we were throwing. I have been deliberately mislead into signing a document for a new water heater I did not need (somedays I am not smart). Not all manipulation is for evil intent. However, the common themes are misleading or misrepresenting information to get someone to do something they might not otherwise choose.

You try to keep control of the other party when you manipulate.You can only manipulate most folks once. It's a one-time deal and builds no trust, confidence or relationship.

Influencing is the other side of the coin. It's about relinquishing control and offering advice or guidance (which may or may not be taken). Influencing is about committing to offering an open, honest dialogue, taking responsibility for offering the best information one has but not directing the application of the information or dictating the choices.

Mentoring is influencing at its best.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Networking - a little maintenance every day

There's a woman on LinkedIn who has over 1000 contacts. There are many more who have between 3 - 50. Neither size of network is more success than the other. There is no 'winning' the network pool. It all depends on how you maintain the network, not how you add to it.

A well-maintained network is ready to help with a crisis - yours or someone in your circles. It has relationships that go beyond a filed business card.

Maintaining a network can be done - like gardening - in big chunks or a little effort every day.

Feeding suggestions
  • Send out interesting articles targeted to folks who might actually want to read them, one small group a day/week/month.
  • Remember the anniversaries and celebrations of those in your inner circles and participate where appropriate.
  • Take folks out for tea once in a while. Or meet for a drink. A walk. A phone call.
  • Make sure your contact information stays up-to-date or latest news gets broadcast.
  • Say "thanks!" when someone helps you out.
  • Solicit ideas from your network - even on small things - just to open a conversation.

Weeding suggestions
  • Don't feel you have to respond to every call for help if you a) don't really know the person or b) have no advice/lead/contact to offer. Networking is not dependent on how much you put in but the quality of what you put in.
  • Spend more time on those on your inner circle than outer. Cherish those who might cherish you back over expanding the frontiers of your network. (unless, of course, you have time for both)
Planting suggestions
  • Follow up with new(er) contacts soon after you meet them so both of you can remember the context that prompted the connection.
  • Make a coffee or drink into a threesome or fourseome!- you don't have to do everything one/one and sometimes it's fun to introduce new or interconnected folks.
  • Solicit ideas from your network - even on small things - just to open a conversation.
There are tons of little things you can do every day without every attending a single networking event. Every meeting, phone call or email is an interaction that can build your network with sincerity and appreciation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Role Models at the YWCA

Last week, I attended the YWCA's Women of Distinction Toronto awards. Talk about marvelous horn tooting!  Yes, the chicken was rubber but the company was spectacular.
We heard:
* Be brave for yourself
* Judge less. Understand more.
* And to tell success stories because "images of success shape aspirations - we need to see them to know how to dream them"

The winners thanked their children, their mentors and their communities. Plus the dessert was chocolate.

There is so much work yet to do - not just to correct imbalances and old thinking - but to inspire other women of all ages to run further and dream even bigger on any front!

Don't do work that doesn't fuel your passion; there are not enough hours/years that we can lose any on things that don't matter to us!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Speed Mentoring

By definition, there's no such thing, given that mentoring is a relationship meant to examine long-term goals. Speed mentoring events are really networking opportunities in a style often compared to speed dating. It's a way to meet a bunch of potential mentors very quickly.

I find it funny that, yet again, we're disguising "networking" as the more palatable "mentoring". (cheese sauce on the brussel sprouts!) They are two sides of the same coin. We need to build a community that contains (or leads us to) potential mentors. Networking is how we build community; we network every day.

The "speed" events can help you network quickly with lots of folks since research says it takes about 3 seconds to establish if there's a "connection"... (really? hmmmm...)  Networking events are a great tool to use but, like speed dating events, you only get to pick from what turns up. Building a community, finding a mentoring, all takes time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

6 words create the most impact

I read the book review first . Describe yourself in approximately six words. Even Oprah got into the act.
Much more interesting than a resume. More engaging than name and title. I challenged my mentorees and peers: "Introduce yourself well in six words."

You say name, department/company and...
(My name is XX from YY...)
  • six words on who you are
  • six words on why you're there
  • six words on what you want
Pick one of the three choices.

Choice picks from my circle include:
  • It's all good. No, it's not.
  • Don't give up. Do give in.
  • Program lead, acronym user, BB addicted.
  • Manager, father, rugby play, accountant.
  • Defined by costs, projects and coffee.
  • Trying to understand drivers and loopholes.
  • Can be bribed with whipped cream.
You need to be "meeting-appropriate". You also share who you are. It's an elevator pitch with personality.
Try it; play around; join us....

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's trust?

A facilitator faced the crowd, read the highlights of her resume, and concluded "So that's why you should trust me."

Now, perhaps if she had been reading a list of successful investments and then been urging us to invest with her, that could have made sense. Or if she had listed any well-executed tasks and then told us to trust her with another similar task, that too would have been ok. But she was talking about us - a room full of strangers - trusting her totally and implicitly with our fears, secrets and psyches.

All of which raised some interesting questions - what is trust? how is it earned?

There are varying degrees - just like "love" - and I doubt many of us have really thought hard about it. We trust or we don't. We use our 'gut' as a reference and we forge ahead. There are probably a few givens to explore:
  • you can't demand trust with folks you've just met, no matter how great your resume is
  • you can't assume trust with folks you've known, unless you've actually discussed the issue
  • you can earn trust either quickly or by degree but it should be a conscious effort
  • the only way to test trust is to be vulnerable with the other person and see what happens (again vulnerability can be by degrees)
Trust is not a pedigree - it's a relationship.

I'm going to ask my new mentor what he thinks...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mentoring Misery

Sounds like a good title for a murder mystery.

Really, it's about the fad that seems to have taken over offices all over North America: "My job/boss/situation is worse than yours".

When I found myself playing this new game with my mentor - and having had a few weeks of it with mentorees - I shut down for a moment, trying to figure out how it became trendy to one-up each other with stories of misery.

We, men and women (but especially women), are losing any ability we once had to talk proudly and happily about our accomplishments (big/small/personal/professional) without feeling slightly shameful. Worse, it appears to be socially acceptable to compete - yes, compete - for the "most badly treated/unrecognized" prize. We seem to be taken pride in how well we cope with stupidity or unfairness instead of how we create change and positive ripples in our communities.

I would like to receive a phone - or three - this week with someone happy to share their own good news with no qualifying introduction or apology.

Leading in the misery competition is not leadership. Mentoring misery is not looking forward. I resolve to refrain from joining in the chorus of moans, pitching mine as a solo while others take another breath to continue. When I was growing up, my father used to call such situations "p*ssing contests." Well, every time - and I do mean every time - we should be grateful to let someone else win and remember the good things that also flow our way every day.

Monday, April 16, 2012


The best advice I ever got from a mentor was "Before you open your mouth, ask yourself: does anyone in this room need to know that I know that?"

It's a difficult question to ask yourself. Listen to other folks and wonder if they're sharing from passion, from need or simply to show they thought of the same idea/concept/angle and don't want to be seen as left out.

I try to ask myself "Who really needs to know this?" "Why do I need to share this?" "What happens if I don't say anything on this topic?" Sometimes I even sit in meetings with my hand over my mouth.

It is ok to speak up for any of the reasons above - as long as it is by choice and not by habit of chiming in.

Keep in mind....Part listening skills, part personal brand, staying silent can be a powerful choice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thanks for the advice

At work yesterday, one woman turned to another and said "You know, you gave me really good advice last week."

We all stopped to listen. Some because they hoped the advice might be shared and still relevant. Some because the compliment, so easily said, resonated with so many.

How many times do we go back and thank our peers or mentors for the advice or the idea that worked? We always hear about what didn't work, the door that won't open. But circling back and letting someone know they helped encourages everyone to keep helping.

Help and support is at the heart of peer mentoring. It's not altruistic - it's practical. Like any good leadership behaviour, it's best fed and watered with encouragement and thoughtful choice.

Thanks to all of you who have helped me this ever chocolate is on my desk for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

No good way to respond?

Certain interactions for women cry out for a snappy come-back or a withering look. But, in some situations, there is just no good way to respond...

One fellow turns to the woman next to him at the meeting and says "You're being too emotional."
Possible come back?  "Sorry, Mr. Spock; it's close to Pon Farr."

"They would listen to your ideas more if you were a man."
Possible come back?  "But then they'd find me unsuitable in a skirt."

"Women have to be ready to be called a bitch if they want to lead."
Possible come back?  "Tough decisions don't mean applying solutions with (or as) a battleaxe... but for you I can make an exception."

"There's no glass ceiling."
Possible come back?  "There's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny but yet the gifts come anyway."

"You shouldn't be so upfront about your career aspirations."
Possible come back?  "Why not take the guesswork out of managing me?"

"When you told us the story of that thing you did, it sounded like boasting."
Possible come back?  "Boasting is when I tell you how I learned to sky dive/ make French pastry / speak 12 languages. Sharing accomplishments is like offering a taste of my chocolate bar - we both share a little sweetness."

"You shake hands like a man."
Possible come back?  "I bet you curtsey like a girl."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Participate in today

A plan is always a good thing to have. I know how to get out of my house in fire. I know our budget for the year. I know the big themes of my department and the pieces to develop in support of seeing those themes come to life. I have a view to my career five years from now and where I'd like to be and how I might get there (possibly changing my mind along the way). A plan offers some control over coming events and how we'd like to influence the outcomes.

The other "plan" we all own exists in our daytimers and calendars. It's the way we book up our days/nights/weekends and hours/minutes. A month or quarter that starts as a blank slate often ends up filled with tasks and outings that we include as asked. Suddenly, you've only time for your best friend in six weeks time or a hair cut in month. Recently, I discovered my day was so tightly bound as to give me three minutes to run between buildings set 10 minutes apart (unless I run and some days I just don't feel like jogging through the sea of suits).

The overburdened calendars aren't so much a plan as they are a map of our time - one that isn't always deliberate and made with choice. This isn't planning; it's a takeover that can leave us feeling a distinct lack of control.

Good planning is not just about contingency and influence on the next month/year but being able to see what is happening today - to take the time to be present. If we're are able to create enough space in our minds and agendas to participate and evaluate what today might teach us, then we'll only get better at directing future outcomes.

It's a bit of a balancing act but to focus only ahead often has us lose too much in both the short and long-term. Appreciate the four-year old and not just the college student he will become. Honour the uncertainty of a new friend before rushing to fill the void with intimate information. Allow some questions and chaos before creating a solution for a project or problem.

I'm all for planning. (I'm told it's my main trait as a Libra :-)  But if listening and learning are also leadership skills, then we must be willing to let go of the agenda and participate some of the time in order to have better planning skills.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It is a simple word that means "to refuse to accept, consider, submit to, take for some purpose, or use... to rebuff or repel" according to Mirriam-Webster.

We reject things every day - offers of food, an extra expense, an idea, an offer of help.  We say "no" gently or abruptly, often, with and without thought. Accepting and rejecting are the gatekeepers of what can/cannot get into our pockets, our calendars and our lives.

We blithely say "no" many times a day to others and yet when our idea, application or self is not accepted, we take rejection personally. Rejection seems especially devastating in the dating arena - but is it really the worst?

The biggest moans come from being rejected in the job search.

Like an artist auditioning, you must have a thick skin. An artist may be absolutely the most talented person to walk into the room but if they're simply an inch too short or have some other quirk of nature, they can lose the role due to all the other factors that play in a decision beyond talent.

Sometimes, of course, those of us auditioning and interviewing have a quirky day and our ability to connect is faulty. Or the cover letter you and three friends read six times turns out to be missing one word that none of you catch until after you hit "send". (hanging my head this week on that one!) Or we have an off-day on the same day as the interview.

However, mostly, rejection in the job search arena is not personal. Our resume can be one of a hundred choices. The timing of our application may coincide with the receiver having an off-day. The job requirements may have changed. Maybe three resumes looked equally excellent but one came with the vice president's recommendation.

Tomorrow, when we are turned down in some fashion, keep in mind that if everyone said "yes" all the time then none of us would try that little bit harder to find an even better opportunity. And if you're giving a thumbs-down, give them a smile of encouragement for the effort. I won't say that rejection is fun ...but it's normal and needs to be weathered like mountains of laundry.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Down time means down

Down with the flu... 2 weeks of bed rest... finally coming back to having a coherent thought which became "If I get out of bed, I should do some laundry."

This was at odds with other folks assuming that my down time had allowed me to sift through plans and create big ideas.

Lately, as a society - especially in the workplace, we appear to undervalue the necessity of not-thinking-about-things-at-all: every second is money; every word is meaningful; every action should ripple far and large. We look ahead constantly, plotting like chess players, convinced to pause or leave the board will mean a forfeit or a broken chain of thought.

Sometimes the best influence is in being present today, listening to the day's minutiae and participating instead of watching and planning. Some days, at work, we could ask how the day is going and pitch in on the current task. In general, we should save space & time to be present for the team/friend/family member in the moment they ask for our attention. For ourselves, we could remember that as much as the world can revolve without our minute-by-minute vigilance - we can still succeed by ignoring the world's interruptions now and then.

Being sick, I focused on healing instead of planning what I'd do when I was better. I'm sure some projects need attention and some folks are waiting on direction. It is a shame it took a flu bug to remind me once again that both the mind and body need rest on a regular basis.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Guide for dressing at work

Let's cover the basics before getting into the contentious:
  • Don't wear clothing that you'd wear to the beach or for gardening, etc.
  • Don't be spilling out of either the top or bottom of your outfit (or middle)
  • Holes, strategic or designer, usually are a no-no (crochet/knit sweaters and eyelet tops the exceptions)
  • Start the day clean, unwrinkled and stain-free
Yes, that's all common sense but not everyone can find sense when they're tired or on a tight budget.
What isn't so easy are the rest of the "rules". When I googled "rules for women business dressing", the search turned up 259,000 opinions in less than 2 seconds. Suggestions ranged from wear subdued colours and low heels to keep hair short and tidy... Really???
There are 3 guidelines to consider:
1 - Know what's appropriate for the situation.
Usually that's set by the tone of the event, meeting or workplace. Often there are suggestions "Business Casual"... sometimes there are specific items listed "No clamdiggers"  (I'm not kidding). 
I once wrote an employee communication around dress code while weating an outfit that broke every rule in the note - and yet no one would have looked at my clothes and thought that. That's the trouble with getting specific about types of clothing and colours, it's like trying to list everything that someone should have in their fridge - including condiments - instead of just portion and fibre guidelines.
However, the rationale for these guidelines (or rules depending on your workplace) is not to limit your creativity or put everyone in a uniform. Think of it as the polite manners of the workplace, like adding "please", "thank you" and "may I call you by your first name?".  As folks get to know you, your expression of self within the guidelines will emerge.
When I work with not-for-profit administrators, I point out that when relationships first form we need to put folks at ease. Since we first connect on the visual, mirroring body language and dressing to loose business guidelines is a quick and easy way to say "I get where you're coming from" off the top. The differences will emerge soon enough.
2 - Know your personal style and don't give it up, just adapt it.
Ask yourself - what image do I want to project?
If you're not sure what your style is, stick closer to the suggestions the event/workplace offers around #1. Play it safe. If you are aware of your style - use it. Graphic print wrap dresses or beautiful necklaces keep me sane.
Those who tell women to dress in conservative colours and cuts are trying to downplay gender. No one tells guys not to wear yellow ties or cool two-tone wingtips. Stay away from huge "in your face!" choices and feel good in what you wear, including heels if you can actually walk in them (have a friend follow you to check).
3 - Ask someone you trust if you are not sure.
Don't just go to folks who dress like you and look for validation. Pick someone who has a style you admire and ask for their opinion.
If you don't feel happy in what you're wearing - shoes that pinch, pants that pull, an itchy sweater or feeling like you're wearing a disguise - you won't have as good a day. Our image inside and out should be confident, comfortable and in control and reflect how we wish to be seen.
As for the all those who feel that conservative is the only and best way to go... have at it if it makes you comfortable (see #2). I'm also avoiding the contentious issues of panty lines, dye roots and chipped nail polish but feel free to comment :-)