Monday, September 30, 2013

Generosity - what is it?

Definitions include: giving without expectation of receiving; free from small-mindedness; a large portion; and the trait of greater goodness.  Generosity is something that anyone can offer and is highly-valued. Often associated with the traits of kindness and altruism, generosity can be held up as a symbol of our humanity.

I’m just not convinced about the definitions and their application. If I give “till it hurts” but someone else deems my donation as “not enough”, whose view wins? The reverse is also true – what may be a small, simple act on my part can be perceived as abundance to someone else. In seeking to appear “generous” in spirit or action, are we setting the bar too high (or low)?

Does generosity play a role in building community – mentoring and/or networking? Absolutely.  Generosity is almost an unspoken contract that we will make our time/expertise/networks available to each other as requested… which is not the dictionary definition but can still make someone’s day.

So is generosity all perception? Or is it measurable? Where does this trait fit in the leadership tool box?

For more fodder on this debate – see the Science of Generosity at the University of Notre Dame.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A simple quote

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why do it? Why build community?

Why start anything? Is it need? Desire? Passion? Emergency? Boredom?

Geeta Sheker, Director for the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business, asked me “Why did you start on this path?” Like many, I started in order to help myself. I needed to get out of the holes I kept falling into – poor job situations, unable to look ahead because today took all I had, single parenting – you know the list or someone who has one just like it. My issues were partially because of societal issues for women, partially because of circumstances and mostly because I am far too independent and unable to ask for help. Being unable to ask for help isn’t about gender or situation; it’s simply pride, stubbornness and fear.

There I was, running 103 temperature with flu and all its disgusting side effects, with a three year-old running the same symptoms. He was on one side of my bed with a bucket beside him and I was on the other with mine. We were relatively new to the city and knew no neighbours, had no family or friends who lived nearby. I had no ginger ale, no soup, no crackers and no ability to go out and get any in the frozen February arena that is a Canadian city in the winter.

It was one of those Gone with the Wind moments. Had I had the strength, I would have raised my fist to the sky. Instead I lifted my head from the bucket and groaned “I never want to feel this isolated again.” (at least I meant to groan that; I probably just muttered “this is awful” and rolled back on the pillow.) In that moment, doing it all myself was out of reach. It would not be the last time – not at home, not at work, not at play.

Fast forward seventeen years…when I broke my ankle last summer, there were people in the emergency room almost before I arrived. I had food and distractions delivered to my door that lasted four weeks. And then my friends got the news and even more arrived. It’s still hard to ask for help but, without that crucial skill and a community in which to participate, it would have been a much tougher break (pun intended).

Our motives are personal and varied. Our communities are diverse and strong for that very reason. It matters less why we reach to each other, only that we actively do.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Strategic questioning

Strategic thinking (vs. the ordinary kind :-) is often about articulating a ‘big picture’ that won’t age in 6 months or a year.

It often starts with a vision, a statement around the big view, an aspiration that will take years to achieve if at all. It should be short, in simple language and something to which anyone – from top to bottom or side to side – can point to and understand how they contributed that day.  Often inspirational, bigger than one product, person or process, citing a future state.

To boldly go where no man has gone before…” 
To make sure my child feels secure and able to cope in the world…”
To be the partner of choice…”

Below that is often the mission (though some combine mission and vision).  It answers the question “What is our main purpose in support of the vision? What will we focus on today and tomorrow in pursuit of the vision?”

Then comes the strategy – the specific goals and the means to achieve those goals (approaches & tactics). Don’t rush into figuring out the answers/tactics/approaches.

“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” Albert Einstein

The above is a planning approach you may know well; we follow the checklist to find a solution.  

However, the real challenge is not in following but in asking – at each stage of the plan – do we understand how this bullet supports the vision and mandate? Is this idea a priority for the vision and mandate? Anyone at any place in the hierarchies by which we run our organizations is tasked with asking those questions. It’s everyone’s responsibility as we are all held to the vision.

Asking good questions is like eating good candy… you can’t be satisfied with just one…

Monday, September 16, 2013

Risk - the repeat

It's an older post but, almost 5 years later, this topic has been on many agendas this past week. I'm reaffirming my commitment to the better four-letter words of this world!

Tell me if you know this one: it’s a four letter word… we are allowed to say it at work… but we treat it like all other four letter words… as a dirty thing.

It’s… R.I.S.K… risk.

On websites and in dictionaries, risk is listed in every conceivable way. If it were a dessert, it would have its own menu of variations.

We talk a lot about risk in business: managing it; mitigating it; reducing it; taking it; avoiding it… We talk about risk like it’s an unwanted visitor who always overstays a welcome.

There’s a description of risk management that originated in Australia and New Zealand, now being taken up in other countries, set out in the Australian & New Zealand Standard 4360:2004. It is a process of 5 steps:
• Establish the context
• Identify risks
• Analyse risks
• Evaluate risks
• Treat risks

It makes it sound like a disease.

So, taking a step back, how did we get here? How did risk become a bad word?

Risk-taking prompted explorers to this country. Built the first structure taller than one level. Introduced spice to the world. Prompted the original money-lenders to believe banking was a viable business. Created Apple Computer. Prompted you to try a new coffee place today.

Risk is not just the large world-changing things. It’s choosing that boldly striped tie, the purple handbag, having an open and gentle conversation, telling someone what you really think of their latest project.

You can’t get through a day without taking a risk. You can’t have an opinion, can’t take a stand, can’t put forth a plan without risk.

I believe we thrive on risk. We need risk. Risk is something to explore. Risk is where the opportunities lie. Risk is our wiggle room, the call for new ideas and a point for negotiation. Call it the unknown, call it creativity or call it judgment - risk propels us forward.

We can choose to not move when faced with risk. But really every decision, even to do nothing, is a risk. Every project has potential to backfire. Every step to stumble. Every word to be misconstrued. Every choice the wrong one.

We could - another four letter word - fail by not taking a risk as much as taking one.

I personally pledge to explore failure this year. I will be willing to:
• Try new ideas
• Be wrong
• Take a stand when the safe choice isn’t the right choice

Risk is going to be me saying “This is what I believe we should do” and negotiate from there.

Maybe if I aim to fail, I will succeed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Resume perspective

If you search ‘resumes’ on this blog, there’s probably quite a few posts on the topic. Everyone has their preferred method and most are chronological.

The format, like a picture frame, can be simple or gaudy. What really counts is the picture/information you put inside it.

When writing a resume think how does this help you know who I am…. Vs. how does this tell you what I can ‘do’?  
·         Don’t list the basics of your job; list your best accomplishments and challenges
·         Make each bullet the lead into a story
·         Make them want to talk with you about the stories and ask questions vs. try to tick all their boxes. We know the boxes are subjective anyway
·         Make yourself human – avoid the meaningless objective statements and give them three adjectives as a summary of how you’d like them to think of you and what you stand for.

You have 15 seconds to capture their interest. What’s the story you’re really hoping most to tell?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Introverts are people too

I am an introvert.

Phew! - feels good to get that off my chest. I have a 'work face' and a 'home face'... my values stay consistent but my energy is definitely quieter and slower when I am at my most creative - which is usually when I am alone behind a closed door.

However you define introvert/extrovert, we all get exhausted some days by crowds and conferences. New information and new people in a steady stream leave little room to absorb what we're hearing and thinking. It's like trying to drink from the shower and not miss a drop. 
The article on LinkedIn below has some usful tips on managing your energy effectively.

In the office, there's the tried and true technique of booking your own calendar to create blocks of thinking-time. At home, I sit on the porch and read and don't come back inside until I can be sure I can listen to others. It can take 10 minutes or an hour but rather than fight the need for silence, I find small gulps of it to help me pace myself along the day.

Women especially do too much and even the most social of us need downtime. It's a great mentoring topic as this is part of Emotional Intelligence and Leadership profiles.

Do you know what recharges you? How often do you do it? Is it a wish or a habit?

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Quiet by Susan Cain ISBN - 10: 0307352153  ISBN - 13: 9780307352156
….  is a profound and wonderful book.  I know the word “profound” has many thinking “bathroom reading only” but her writing style is so easily devoured that you could easily while away an afternoon on the beach and feel entertained as well as informed. (I’m still chuckling over the Finnish joke)
It’s about introversion – in all its definitions - and how our society doesn’t value or support the many flavours that we come in.
It’s a book filled with ‘aha!’ moments. I think I learned more about myself in the first 25 pages than any feedback session I’ve ever had at work. 
From the comic (yes, that’s where I do all my real preparation before meetings and presentations)
Taking shelter in bathrooms is a surprisingly common phenomenon  susan cain Quiet
To the thoughtful (I believe our passions can & should take us beyond any comfort zones)
We are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits…but we can and do act of character in the service of “core personal projects” susan cain quiet p. 209
Buy it. Watch her TED talk.Take to heart her message which is one I believe is the heart and soul of why we should build community through mentoring and networking:
"Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done." Susan Cain p. 265

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Take time to reflect

Kids are back in school and I'm back at the keyboard after a month with no connectivity and the sound of wind in the trees for conversation. Yes, a cabin in the woods near a lake.

Time to reflect is rare - especially if you have an assignment in a for-profit company where the pace is fast and the lines between personal and work time become blurred. Like the shoulder stretches we're supposed to do every 20 minutes (?) when sitting at a computer for hours at a time, letting our minds take a moment to free associate, putting worries on the back burner so creativity can simmer or genuinely sitting down for structured reflection rarely gets priority.

A few places we can squeeze in the time? 
  • 5 extra minutes in the washroom (not kidding)
  • before falling asleep (keep pen & paper by your bed in case you're hit by inspiration)
  • block 15 minutes in your calendar at the end of the work day
  • a walk before or after a meal
  • use the 10 minutes that always seems to loom before the start of your favourite TV show
As children, we spent lots of time day dreaming and letting thoughts percolate. As adults, we've changed our mindset to need an immediate answer and to skip 'lessons learned' when time is tight. We can't know we're moving forward if we don't know the direction from whence we came...