Networking – I really dislike that word…Blog #90

I stood on the outside balcony of the beautiful lake front hotel. The sun shone, the lake sparkled, the music volume was at just the right level for conversation, and every one of the 400 people in attendance were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Actually, make that 399 were enjoying themselves. I was not. My heart was racing, my palms sweaty, and I wanted to bolt!

Just the day before, I and four other new business start-ups had agreed to go to the highest attended annual networking event in Kelowna. You know, safety in numbers. None of us were comfortable ‘selling ourselves’ to a crowd of strangers, somehow letting them know that we ‘had what they needed’. So, we set a plan in place. We would pair up, approach the attendees, smile, have our new, shiny business cards ready to hand out, collect all the cards we could. We were prepared, what could possibly go wrong? 

So, there I was, right on time, standing on the balcony like the Queen of England waiting to greet her subjects. That’s when my cell vibrated with notification of a text. 

I’m so sorry, but I can’t make it tonight, something’s come up.”

“That’s ok”, I replied “these things happen.”

No problem, three of us can still work the plan, just breath Roberta. Then another vibration. 

I hate to do this, but I just don’t feel good. I need to bail tonight. You understand, don’t you?”

Two down, still two standing. We got this! Breaths are coming almost in spasms. And then the unthinkable happened. You guessed it. “My boyfriend just came into town for a surprize visit! I can’t leave after he drove all this way. Sorry. I knew you’d understand.”

I would understand? Are you kidding me?! I could have come up with a million valid reasons (ok, maybe two or three) for not making the event, but I didn’t. I was there. I was alone. The air had been sucked out of my bubble!

Let me just insert here, that I am truly an introvert. When I teach, or present at a conference, you would never know it, but I am. If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an INTP. (I still have a difficult time getting my head around this tool). That ‘I’ stands for Introverted. If I’m representing something, or someone else, or if I have a task to do at a function, I’m ok. But put me in a situation with strangers and charge me with drawing attention to myself, I’m not a happy camper. I’m in panic mode. 

What happened next made me believe in angels. As my eyes scanned the crowd they spotted a lady I had only recently met. Our eyes met; she recognized me! And, she waved for me to come and join her! Thank you God! When I reached the spot where she stood waiting, I quickly blurted out my dilemma, hardly stopping to breathe, and asked if I could hang out with her. Remember, I had only recently met this lady, so I’m sure my emotional eruption must have taken her aback. Her next words were music to my ears. “Of course you can. Let me introduce you to some people and show you how it’s done.” The birds once more started to sing.

For the next two hours, I witnessed what I could only describe as ‘the networking dance’. This lady moved fluidly from conversation to conversation, introducing me, asking questions of each person, smiling, connecting, inquiring of life happenings in their lives, all the while holding on to a glass of wine, passing out business cards, and simply floating. The breath I was holding for so long had slowly released, liked at the end of Seasons of Life during a performance of Rent; I was in awe! 

My heart was no longer racing, I could shake someone’s hand without fear of leaving a sweaty impression. I heard myself laughing and asking questions; I was actually having fun. 

A discovery, a lightbulb moment, had just occurred worth every bit of anxiety previously experienced. Networking is not about telling people about me. It’s about being curious, listening, paying attention to what others say, hearing their struggles, their joys, their pain. And, if appropriate, offering myself, my product or service to help meet their needs. That’s it. 

Being an introvert is actually a strength when in these situations. We don’t need to be the centre of attention or the life of the party. Rather, we get to facilitate others so they can be the centre of attention and the life of the party. 

As I traveled to different countries (and yes, I do look forward to doing again), present at conferences, meet new people, I still feel like the ocean undertow is threatening to suck me in. Having a co-worker (or hubby) with me is a lifeline, but not always possible. However, when I remember to take my eyes off me, and focus on others, I have been so gratified to meet many awesome people who are more than willing to tell me their stories and share their experiences. You see, networking doesn’t just happen in huge crowds, but also between strangers standing on the train platform outside of Glasgow, or waiting for a bus in Amsterdam, or having coffee in a local café in Florence. Networking is about connections (I actually don’t even like the term ‘networking’, so it is now nixed from my vocabulary!) Connections bring people together. Connections are like a beautiful symphony performed when individual musicians join their skills and passions together to make harmonious music. Making new connections is worth the discomfort of sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and even fear of rejection. 

I can’t wait to build more connections as I journey to places unknown. 

This was my view from the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna, BC

Leadership, it’s not about ‘one size fits all’…Blog #89

‘One size fits all’…really? In actuality, one size rarely fits all in any situation. Interesting piece of trivia, did you know we have been using that phrase since 1975 when Frank Zappa released his ‘One size fits all’ album? For over 4 ½ decades the idea that a product, concept, principle or process could proclaim this phrase as their pièce de resistance is quite astounding. 

“Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, ‘I agree, I would never suggest one size fits all!’” Let’s consider an area we might be applying this maxim without much thought, leadership. Most leaders want to get better at their ‘craft’. That applies to both positional and relational leaders. How many times have you found yourself reaching for the newest leadership book, secretly praying that this book will have the key – the magic bullet that will allow you to realize that desire to be a great leader.  I know I have! I’m not trying to stir the pot here, at least not too much. Let me assure you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading these books. Even as I write this, I glance at the many books on my shelves on whose pages I have highlighted and underlined words of wisdom and insight offered by amazing authors—men and women alike—who have taught me much about leadership. What I’m saying is that in our pursuit of leadership excellence, sometimes we are unwittingly influenced by mantras like one size fits all. It’s entirely possible to read a fantastic book with amazing ideas that simply won’t fit you, or your area of influence. 

At my college, we teach leadership theories to developing entrepreneurs, business executives, intrapreneurs, tech start-ups, change makers, social entrepreneurs… you get the idea. We know that laying a solid foundation is important in creating critical thinkers who take those theories and analyze their relevance in a business world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and the need for great adaptability. We know that leadership is no longer limited to traditional face to face contexts. Leaders are called to lead remote teams, hybrid teams, teams that are made up of employees, freelancers, contractors, and even volunteers. Some of these theories we teach have been around since the 19th century where The Great Man Theory (later changed to the great woman theory) was popularized. Out of this came the belief that leaders are born, not made. This alone is great fodder for discussions that could build chasms between friends! 

Back to today and our one size fits all discussion. As leaders we know that people are not clones, we are unique. In the words of King David, ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’. So this is where leadership theories, at least one specific leadership theory, moves to the top of the pile. Hersey and Blanchard are responsible for introducing the ‘Situational Theory of Leadership’.

The situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.

Read that quote again. ”…leaders…adapt…to the needs of their followers.” There is no one size fits all here. Hersey and Blanchard remind us that we need to focus on those we are leading, to determine what they need then respond accordingly. Our team members come with varying experiences, level of risk taking, knowledge and skill base, personalities, work approaches, cultures; in other words, leaders are responsible for managing and supporting great diversity of culture, belief, value, thought and much more. 

Have you ever heard someone glibly say, “if it weren’t for the people, my job would be easy!” The truth is your job IS the people. The Great Person Theory is just that…a theory. The greatest leaders are not those who show up as the hero or heroine to save the day. The greatest leaders are those who show up and ask ‘What do you need from me? What barriers can I remove for you? How can I best support you? What do you think? How can I help? 

The greatest gift we can give those we lead and support, is to act on the fact that one size does not, and never will, fit all. This is easier said than done, but it is important. Perhaps the best leadership approach is to start each day, with a posture of humility, intentionally seeking to serve those we are called to lead.  

Photos by JOSHUA COLEMAN and Ben Weber on Unsplash