Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Storytelling -part 1

Storytelling - if you google it - is the new leadership buzzword....which is terrific if one understands that 'spin' and 'story' do not necessarily have the same meaning.

While I'm very excited to be part of the Baruch College Symposium later this week, recently I had the priviledge of attending a storytelling workshop lead by Dan Yashinsky, a Canadian artist with a gift for bringing circles together. I watched as he found ways for people to connect more intuitively with their jobs by asking them to describe their job to a grandparent. Some folks struggled. Some made us laugh. However, the point was made: the mind needs hooks and sticky bits on which to fasten both understanding and emotion.

In a world bent on reducing things to facts - to save time, to be seemingly logical /rational /scientific - storytelling is like water in the desert; it allows us a place to explore both emotion and possibility. Storytelling can enhance critical thinking, build teams, create trust, enhance communication and allow for vulnerability.

Share a story with someone over a tea/coffee today?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stress relief & networking

I just had a glorious massage (thank you Body Blitz!) At the end of an afternoon, I was nothing more than a well-worn, fine piece of velvet left to dry gently in the sun.

Then I returned to my life. I went from velvet to rusty brillo pad at the speed of light.

Like networking, stress relief should not be done only once in a while.

Stress  Relief
Daily activity
Daily activity
Can’t be done alone
Can be done alone
Can reduce stress during tough times
Can reduce stress immediately
Requires contact information (depending on connection)
Requires medical history (depending on treatment)
Is free
Sadly, is not always free
Requires trust
Is not just a big group activity
Has long term benefits

I have now pledged to add 15 minutes to my day for stress relief activities (meditation; a walk; etc.) with a few large activities like Body Blitz thrown in. I'll combine my networking and stress relief where I can and treat myself the way I try and treat my network: with care and respect :-)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


May I speak plainly? Most folks don't say what they mean.

I'm not talking about being polite; I'm refering to a growing tendency to not:
  • express opinions that aren't popular
  • debate
  • be open /transparent
  • be honest about feelings
  • speak from the heart

Speaking openly doesn't mean being brutal about it. It doesn't mean being inconsiderate of someone's feelings (though feelings do get hurt sometimes even when it's not intended). It doesn't mean attacking.

Speaking openly can create better communication: letting issues surface before they become deep-rooted and large. It can take the pressure off guessing what someone 'really' means. It can remove inference /implication and allow both parties to understand each other a little better. It's so easy to misunderstand; why do we add layers of well-meaning misdirection?

Speaking plainly can be uncomfortable initially but create faster and more satisfying resolution.

Try one conversation today where you don't swallow what you were going to say... just gently say it. Chances are you'll be met in kind.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Collaboration & consensus again...

It seems lots of folks are still in the collaboration vs. consensus debate. One friend remarked to me last week that many don't realize that consensus is the easy way out: you put in your vote and hold up the process until everyone agrees. Collaboration, she remarked, requires trust. Trust that:
  • You'll consider my idea before rejecting it
  • I will feel like I had input even if I don't agree with the final direction
  • You know what you're doing
  • We will jointly take responsibility regardless of dis/agreement along the way

Trust is tricky. We're required to give it - at least officially - in work environments. In personal situations, we can take a long time to offer trust. In work environments, folks are more reluctant to overtly express doubt and thus the real conversations are sidebars and the public conversations/meetings have a 'happy face' on them. Collaboration implies there are fewer sidebar conversations. Consensus implies we've all got CYA syndrome; until I'm sure I'm covered, you don't get my vote.

Maybe this is because both trust and collaboration require effort. It's easy to vote / offer an opinion. It's harder to make thoughtful contributions for which you're also willing to do the planning /details / work. It's hard to put yourself on the line, put ego aside, take on someone else's cause /project. It's really difficult to implicitly offer the promise that we'll fail or succeed jointly And I will follow your lead even when I think it's not the best path.

Perhaps trust is built through communication.

Recently, I was trying to collaborate for a project in my personal life. My project, my dollars, etc... so I had the final word but my collaborator had some great expertise. Well, my collaborator disagreed with all my requirements and made decisions without me, then would try to get my agreement after the fact or simply not be responsive to questions and requests. There was no real collaboration as no one was listening to me. We would meet and come to consensus and then nothing would change. The project faltered. My collaborator blamed everyone but himself. His inability to take responsibilty killed the final spark of collaboration I could muster. I know I should have set up stricter guidelines, better communication expectations and proper project protocol but I like a lot of rope to maneouver so I offer lots; usually it works out.

The project is now back on track with a new team who not only seem to collaborate well, they communicate. With more communication comes more trust.

We can't always immediately create trust within our project teams. We can't always restart projects. We can always communicate - from the beginning, through crises, to wherever the need takes us. Trust and collaboration may feel elusive but communication is always a ready skill to build a bridge.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Setting up the mentoring meetings

Sometimes a "how to" helps. After all the discussions around style, preference and comfort levels, eventually you have to book the party room and set the menu.

So assuming you've found a mentor and are now ready to make the most of the precious hours you'll have together, here's a few thoughts around how to organize the time in general.

  • Establish that you drive the agenda. It's your career, your questions and your party :-)
  • Have an open discussion in the first meeting to ask each other: what do you each want to accomplish per session? How often to meet? What contact between meetings?
  • Set time at the beginning of each meeting to establish your goals for the mentoring period
    • Set more time in the first meeting to discuss
    • Set shorter time in subquent meeting to review - what are the milestones each month? how are things progressing?
  • Review your long-term career goals - either that you've drafted them or that you're hoping your mentor will help you figure them out
  • Bring a personal value statement /philosophy on leadership (what topics will you need to explore together to finalize that statement?)
  • Explore two "pins in the map" of where you see yourself in 10 years ... one if you continue on your current path and one if you took a big leap of faith
    • Create an action plan of how you might get to either pin
  • Work together to think about what kinds of introductions you require to fill out your network to support your plans
  • Explore the types of roles and challenges you should consider that will build /strengthen your skills - keeping the focus on what you love to do
If you're particularly worried about how to come across effectively at the very first meeting, there are many sites out there that outline the first meeting well. Here's a few I've used but feel free to find more.

Whether your mentor is experienced or new to mentoring, remember: this is about you. It's a journey you'll go on together. New or experienced, good mentors all will go with your flow so you'll get out what you're willing to put in :-) 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What does it mean to learn?

Are you a continuous learner? What does it mean to learn?
  • Investing in a new/deeper skill you can immediately apply?
  • Finding a question for which you will have fun searching for an answer (if one exists)?
  • Keeping an open mind?
  • Taking courses?
  • Asking "why"?
  • Asking "how"?
  • Asking "how come"?
Is the desire to learn equivalent to the act of learning?

I'm not sure that folks truly want to learn. Learning, to me, implies open a door to the unknown and being prepared to change things or have them change you as a result. That potential scale of unleashed change can be terrifying - especially if applied every day. Learning implies change. Most folks want to taste /try /explore something new or unknown and then bring it back to the familiar.

Should we want continous learning and change? Status quo is the birthplace of measurement, comfort, process and other words that bring order and stability. Change is innovation, surprises and creativity that mean uncertainty.

I'm all for continuous improvement - that space between status quo and change where things shift but in familiar patterns. I live my personal life in chaos and creativity while my professional work is dedicated to helping folks through change to stability.

I believe our North American educational system is not based on how our brains actually take in information. I'm not sure we really know what we are asking when we reach for "learning"... possibly the place to start is simply having the conversation and asking: What does it mean to you to learn?