Author: Probe 'n Ponder

It’s been a week!..Blog #98

I have a renewed appreciation and respect for people who chose to pack up and move to another country for a temporary, or extended time to embrace working from anywhere. Our son has coined the phrase “lifestyle travelling”, meaning, you operate with a different lens, and open yourself up to the sorts of risks one would normally face, but you expand that to the “open road”. That’s what my husband and I are doing, he’s retired and I’m continuing my extended study leave. However, to say our first week had some hurdles would be an understatement. We have faced multiple challenges that make it hard to believe we only arrived 6 days ago! I know someday we’ll look back on this and laugh…but not yet.

Rather than giving you the ‘glass half empty’ story, I’ll focus on the ‘glass half full’ perspective.

  • (Luggage lost for 5 days) Our clothes did arrive, eventually, delivered right to our door with an apology. It felt like Christmas! No need to for a replacement wardrobe. We have been planning this trip for over a year, and had purchased clothing that would layer well and be versatile for the 8 months in Europe. Much as shopping for a new wardrobe may be fun, we were really happy with our own selection. 
  • (Supplies in lost luggage) The pharmacists here in Lisbon are great, helping us choose the best products, closest to what my husband uses at home. Full marks for them! 
  • (Medical support equipment breaking) Baxter, our supplier for all things dialysis, has gone above and beyond for us. Truly a life-line! If you want to study what great customer service looks like across borders, look no further. 
  • (Limited power in the apartment) We are learning to be more intentional in our use of electricity…limit it, or loose it! And we are good with that. 
  • (Cave like lighting) Because of the lack of natural light in our place, we are spending a great deal of time outdoors, exploring Lisbon and finding third spaces to soak in the Vitamin D while getting reading and research done. 
  • Through all of these ’bumps’ our hostess has been over the top amazing! As many great hospitality stars AirBnB gives, she deserve twice as much! And, 
  • (Language) Google Translate has become my constant companion. We had planned on learning some Portuguese and Spanish before leaving Canada, but time got away from us. We are also so impressed with the graciousness of the Portuguese people—they are so hospitable in speaking English, even apologizing for not speaking fluent enough! The most Portuguese we can manage is ‘obrigada’, a word we have been called on to use more times in a week than imaginable. 

Lisbon is an incredible city. Every day we set out in a different direction to see what we can find and are loving the surprizes around each corner. We are staying up close to São Jorge Castle, so every direction we go seems to be up, then down, then up…you get the picture. 

As we’ve been experiencing the unexpected this week, I am reminded of the research Nathan and I published in 2019. The focus was on remote workers competencies for success, our attention being from a work context. Possessing those competencies goes well beyond working. If you choose to be a remote worker working from anywhere, or even working a more hybrid model, I would suggest the competencies identified need to be present to simply do life in such settings. The freedom to work and live anywhere is a gift and privilege to be treasured, but it also comes with responsibility — personal and professional, to make things work. It’s not easy to pack up and go to a different country to pursue such an adventure. We thought through all the possible scenarios of what might happen and were fairly confident we had contingency plans in place. We still were not fully prepared. When you pack up and leave, you are not only leaving your home with all the conveniences, you are leaving your support network—social, family, and medical. To be sure, you can reach out via text, email, or phone if necessary (but you need to first get that new EU sim card purchased), but with 8 hours time difference (for us anyways), they may be fast asleep when you are in the middle of it all. We are fortunate to have our son and family living in Europe, but they are not where we are. We have travelled to Europe several times, but this is not a vacation. I was born in Europe, but I left as a young teen. This is all so different.

Do we regret the decision to take this journey? Not for a moment! Would we recommend it to others? Without a doubt! Is it as easy as we anticipated? Not the first week! But there is so much more adventure to come.

Stay tuned. 

Portugal…here we come! Blog #97

It’s finally time!

As I write this blog, we are on the first leg of our journey from Canada to Portugal…I can hardly believe it has now become a reality. Just a year ago my proposal for an Extended Study Leave was granted, and our plans for the year began to take shape. There have been changes, adaptations, and many workarounds, but we did it; our eight month adventure in Europe has officially begun.

Looking back over the past year, we have had many hurdles to overcome. The original plan was to be in Europe for 12 months, visit at least 5 countries, and basically live life as digital nomads while I researched and interviewed around the topic of leading hybrid teams. You know the saying…the best laid plans… Well the goal remained the same, but the plan changed. A combination of the pandemic and kidney failure (for my husband), greatly tested our resolve to step out on this journey, but here we are! For the next 8 months we will split our time between Portugal and Spain, with a short visit to Finland, and perhaps…? Some plans are still fairly fluid.

Besides the many things I have already learned from my research (I’m setting those learning aside for this blog), I have a whole new appreciation for people choosing to travel and live abroad for an extended time. We watched our son and family pack up their 6 children and make the move to my home country of Ireland, and as a young teenager I immigrated with my parents and siblings from Ireland to Canada. I had, at least I thought I had, a good understanding of the process; was I ever wrong.   

It turns out there is no guidebook for what we are doing. Nor are there people in certain levels of governments who can give you the playbook for travelling to another country for 8 months. Don’t get me wrong, most of the folks I interacted with wanted to be helpful, and even tried, but nothing seemed to be as straightforward as one would think. 

 Born in Ireland, living in Canada, I have both an EU passport and a Canadian one…very handy. Early spring it was brought to our attention that my husband needed to have a visa to travel to Europe because of the length of our stay (I was even told that I needed one as well…hmmm). So we started the application process. Do you know how difficult and frustrating it is to find information on a website from a country that’s not your own, nor shares the same language? After many emails and phone calls, a lovely person at the Portuguese Consulate finally looked at the site and admitted, “Oh yes, that is rather confusing, isn’t it?” You see, there isn’t an option for our situation. I’m not going to Europe to work, my husband is retired, we are not travelling for medical reasons, I’m not providing training and development, we aren’t going to volunteer, nor am I going to further my education. Without making a selection, you don’t get access to the portal where the necessary documents can be uploaded and an appointment made. So, I had to choose something, and they would ‘fix’ it later. To make a really long story short, after a trip to the Consulate, more conversations, it turns out my husband didn’t need the visa we were seeking, but rather has to go through a totally different process once in Europe. We laugh about it now…but then, not so much. I do want to say that the young gentleman we eventually worked with at the consulate was great…it was certainly a learning process for all involved.

Covid also presented many challenges for travel, all also overcome. I never realized how many people you could call to find out the proper process, testing, timing, locations, without finding anyone who would give a definitive answer. Again, easy to laugh at now…but I can assure you, my Irish came out full force at times.

The other hurdle we were forced to deal with was my husband’s newly diagnosed need for on-going kidney dialysis. We are overwhelmed with the support provided by his medical team, our local hospital (Kelowna General Hospital)), solution provider (Baxter), client support, and government funding for the treatment Rob has received. Mind blowing to say the least! However, traveling overseas when one is required to hook up to dialysis each and every night is not a common practice. This, we learned, is new territory. Not to be defeated, we started asking questions, reading, seeking input, making phone calls, and came to discover that, while not without great effort, it is possible. So with dialysis cycler and transformer, extra solution for ‘just in case’, way more suitcases than our previous ‘carryon only’ travel mode, here we are.

Without the help and support of an amazing family, great friends, a fantastic medical team, and the opportunity to take time away from teaching at Okanagan College School of Business to entrench myself in research, we would not be 30,000 plus feet in the air, filled with excitement for what this adventure holds.

I hope you’ll follow along with our journey.

PS We are now safely in Lisbon…unfortunately our luggage didn’t make it! Decided it wanted to stay in Toronto 🤷‍♀️. Stay tuned!

I love learning…blog #96

I am thoroughly enjoying my extended study leave! It is such a privilege to engage in un-rushed, dedicated time to read inspiring writings that both challenge and stretch my thinking. In the busyness of a scheduled life, we don’t often have the discretionary time to hit ‘pause’ and actually ponder what has just been read. 

Here’s one such tidbit I came across while enjoying undisrupted reading time on a 4½ hour flight home from Toronto. Stanford Business Books share the following story: Matt Fineout, a Project Architect, worked for two days trying to reduce the square footage in a building he was designing. At the end of the time he had created an acceptable reduced plan…then he ripped up the paper containing the layout. His explanation was, “We proved we can do it, now we want to think about how we want to do it.” (Managing by Design) Just think how innovative we can be once we realize we can survive in this new way of working; how exciting when we get to the place of not just surviving, but actually thriving!  

I’m two and a half months into my research leave. So far I have engaged in the following: twenty four one-on-one interviews, five books read*, three Design Thinking courses completed through IDF, and several academic papers consumed. Perhaps it’s time to hit pause and share some initial insights gleaned as well as questions I continue to ponder.

  • While a focus on people is important, it is also vital to create processes. How might we encourage leaders to create these processes in collaboration with their team members?
  • Many managers are tired and starting to experience burn-out. They have the same responsibilities as before, but now have the added need to build into their people who are both remote and co-located. As many organizations move forward with hybrid formats, how might utilizing a more agile approach with sprints be more effective?
  • One size does not fit all. We can’t rigidly state that remote is the right option…each organization needs to decide the best configuration for their unique culture and context.
  • Freedom comes with responsibility, autonomy comes with accountability. When someone chooses to work for an organization and be part of a team, it is imperative to realize that freedom and autonomy are contingent on being responsible and accountable to the team…no matter where their work gets done. How might we facilitate a conversation among team members and leaders to clarify what this looks like?
  • Many organizations are giving managers responsibility to figure out the best way to make hybrid work for their unique teams. How might design thinking serve them well in creating processes, and open the door to more innovative practices? 
  • There seems to be a disconnect between upper level leadership and the workload of middle managers. How might we more effectively bridge that gap and help those leaders learn how to support their managers.
  • More focus needs to be paid to biases. Many leaders are blind to such ways of thinking due to years of mental models that ignore these tendencies. How might we support leaders as they work through unintentional biases?

So this is what I’m hearing, learning, and pondering so far. I don’t have answers, but believe that creating the right questions will help an emerging hybrid or work-from-anywhere workforce find their way to incredibly innovative ways of working. Perhaps the stories of those I interview, paired with relevant readings will provide further insight.

Books read so far:

Say Yes to the Mess   Think Again    The Practice of Adaptive Leadership   Where is my Office    Dark Social 

Music and leadership…blog #95

Charleville House, Ireland

I love music. 

Growing up, our home was always filled with music coming from the record player or piano as one of us kids practiced scales and scores for upcoming lessons and exams (my brother was the “star pupil” in our home). We loved listening to both our parents tickling the ivories; mom was an amazing sight reader, while dad just heard the song and played-by-ear.

While piano was the bane of my existence, I found my stride playing the clarinet in the high school concert band, and singing in various groups. If not for music, there was simply no point in going to school! Years later, as our kids reached high school, Christmas and year-end concerts were such a highlight as these dedicated students and gifted teachers produced some of the best jazz, choral, and orchestral music to packed crowds of proud family and friends. The music continued to ring out in our home as our son applied his musical passion to jam sessions with his friends, preparing for whatever gigs they could line up. Music was, and is, core to our lives.

Needless to say, when I came across the book Yes to the Mess; surprising leadership lessons from Jazz by Frank J. Barrett, I was intrigued. As both a jazz musician and a Professor of Management and Global Public Policy, Barrett understands the meaning of improvisation. He proposes, “What we need to add to our list of managerial skills is improvisation—the art of adjusting, flexibly adapting, learning through trial-and-error initiatives, inventing ad hoc responses, and discovering as you go.”

Wikipedia describes improvisation as “a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation.” So how can this apply to leadership, especially in light of the new team configurations leaders are now called on to lead? Ask most leaders today, and they will tell you there is no script for what they are currently facing, similar to a group of musicians getting together to create music. However, the success of great improvisation, whether in music or leadership, depends on a key ingredient, the foundational skill of the players. Those hours of practicing scales, those hours of honing leadership competencies, are the things great improvisation is made of.

However, for many leaders, working without a script can be somewhat daunting. I’m enjoying revisiting complexity theory. We can see through this theory how organizations become more sustainable, adaptive, and innovative…and I love that it recognizes how a combination of chaos and order produces the most creative outcomes. A leader and team can co-create a vision around their shared values, culture, and belonging; however, the path to realizing that vision may not be that straight. The plan may change and take some side trails along the way, and you can be sure obstacles (like a pandemic) will demand a detour. Still, if the goal or vision is clear, a leader and their team can improvise and end up where they want to go.

Bottom line? Embrace the chaos, focus on your people and your shared vision, and listen for the music.

Learning to re-think…blog #94

I love soda bread!

 For those who don’t know what it is, it’s the homemade bread I grew up eating in Ireland. Delicious warm, and even better toasted with lots of butter and marmalade. Sometimes Mom would add raisins, but even plain, it was scrumptious. It’s the one kind of bread I know how to make, and it turns out great every time. (Yes, this is a picture of my own handy work.

You can imagine my excitement when we turned on the TV and saw that the cooking challenge for the day on the Great British Baking Show was for the bakers to make their version of soda bread. 

Their version of soda bread?

When the challenge was further explained, and the bakers had to take the basic bread and make a savoury and a sweet version, my enthusiasm waned. My horror was fuelled when the creations included things like salmon, olives, blueberries, dried fruit…. How could they do that to Irish Soda Bread? Once the bakes were complete, and the judges did their tasting, I must admit that some combinations of ingredients actually may find their way into my next bake. 

I need to own the fact that I fell prey to the ‘that’s not the way we’ve always done it ’belief; I passed judgement before giving the ideas a chance to play out.

As I approach this research regarding proximity equity in hybrid or work-from-anywhere teams, my desire is to bracket my own beliefs and ideas, and adopt a posture of curiosity, inquiry, and learning. As noted in my previous blog, my learning journey includes interviews, reading books, examining research literature, listening to podcasts, and recording my learnings as I go (and probably several other things that will unexpectedly grab my attention over this next year). 

The book that is currently stretching my thinking is Think Again: the power of knowing what you don’t know, by Adam Grant. If you could see the amount of highlights I made in the book you would grasp the impact this book has had on my thinking! Here’s a quote from the author, 

“Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open- minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right— and revising our views based on what we learn.”

Read that over a few times before moving on…I had to. Let me state again that I am 100% Irish, which means I was raised in a home where heated dialogue was welcomed and encouraged, and we learned how to argue our point and get our opinions across before leaving the table. Fairly respectfully, for the most part, but the winner was the one who’s ideas or opinion was strongest, not the person who was the most open to being wrong! The idea of embarking on research, looking for reasons to prove a hypothesis I had already bought into, was actually a refreshing concept. As encouraged by Adam Grant, I’m learning to recognize my cognitive blind spots and revise my thinking accordingly.

In the early stages of this research, I am already finding the need to ask more questions to gain insight into people’s experiences, to intentionally listen hard, to bracket what I think they may say about how a certain situation could or should have been handled. By learning to think again, I find I am beginning to watch and listen for the gaps, the pauses, the unspoken emotions—and to gently probe for what’s not being said. 

As I look for themes about what it takes to lead in this new context, I’m seeing the idea of leaders needing to be willing to re-think their positions, their beliefs; to be ok with admitting they’re wrong. I’m also becoming more aware of the need for leaders to be willing to provide honest, constructive, specific feedback, even if it’s not what their members want to hear. That takes courage and it takes a willingness to maybe not win the boss of the month award; it also demonstrates a deep desire to see their members succeed, to do what it takes to serve their needs, not the leader’s own needs.

A question I may be adding to the interviews going forward…

“If I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently? How might that inform how I think and act moving forward?”

How would you answer? I’d love to hear about it.

There are so many more take-aways from the book, it is well worth the read! 

A big thanks to those of you who graciously subjected yourselves to an interview these past three weeks…you know who you are. I can honestly say, without folks like you, my learning  journey would be crippled! As would the final outcome of the research. And thanks to the many interviewees still to participate.

And so the new research journey begins…blog #93

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here! I officially started my extended study leave, great thanks to Okanagan College for the privilege of such an opportunity.

When I began planning for this back in February 2019, never could I have imagined how life would have changed by the time I flipped the calendar to August 2021. Every area of our lives have been touched with both joy and sorrow. We’ve laughed, cried, shaken our fists, embraced, accepted, and are learning how, on a daily basis, to not let circumstances define us. The ‘us’ is my husband of 43 years, and myself; together we are embarking on an exciting journey, unsure of what all will unfold, but ready to embrace the unknown.

As many of you may know, I am a business professor, and a ‘remote work’ consultant. I have appreciated the privilege of adapting a form of ‘work from anywhere’ for most of my professional life. In my early career, I was fully supported by my employers to work either in the office, or from home, whatever was needed. I have enjoyed having a co-located office, as well as a home office, teaching amazing students in face to face classroom settings as well as fully on-line, working from amazing coffee shops in North America and Europe, all the while ensuring that the way I work reflects the high work ethic I was raised with. These opportunities have been the impetus for my focus on exploring the people aspects of working from anywhere.

Now, as I embark on a new research project, I am excited to learn, relearn, have my opinions challenged, and in return contribute my findings to the many individuals, teams, and organizations who are facing challenging and exciting transitions in how and where work gets done. The first research, conducted with my son Nathan Sawatzky, focused on Competencies for Success in Remote Workers. This led into a research project with Ian MacRea as we looked at Personality Traits of Remote Workers. Looking back on this research released over the past couple years, never would we have predicted the importance and impact of our learning for a time of such disruption. 

What’s next? Where is my current focus? The overarching question I am seeking to find answers to is “What does it takes to lead successfully in a work from anywhere context, ensuring proximity equity for all”. I want to hear stories from both leaders and members regarding how they have experienced proximity equity, especially when discussing access to resources (support, training, data, promotions, collaboration…). And, as we all know, there is also much to be learned from those who fall victim to proximity bias, so those stories are also of great value. Many are still in the early stages of these new working contexts, while others have been living in a more hybrid or work-from-anywhere format for some time…the common denominator is people. As leaders we need to talk responsibility for self-leadership, while ensuring our members are supported and equipped to be the very best of who they can be.

So, vaccinations received, accommodations reserved, flights booked, my husband’s visa application submitted (I get to travel on my EU Passport as an Irish National!), all the biggies taken care of. The plan is to work from our home in Kelowna, BC, Canada from now through the end of October, then hop on a plane for Portugal to saturate ourselves in the Portuguese culture for four months. Next stop Valencia, Spain for another four months. Before heading home at the end of June, we will spend a bit of time with our son and his family in Finland. Of course, this is all dependent on the skies remaining open for travel! Knowing this may be a possibility, plan ‘B’ will still allow my research to continue, all thanks to the opportunity technology provides for working (or researching) from anywhere! 

However, our first choice is to experience first hand what it means to truly work from anywhere, and live in cultures not our own. I love this quote from Interactive Design Foundation (IDF):

“Research can be compared to interacting with the ocean. On the surface, we may see calm beauty or turbulence; however, we can only fully understand the bigger picture once we submerge ourselves and go much deeper. In order to gain a holistic, empathic understanding of [those impacted] and the problem we are trying to solve, we need to question everything, even things that we think we know the answers to.”

I invite you to follow along with, and participate in, our journey. I have a list of books to read, literature to review, podcasts to glean from, and most important, interviews to conduct with the experts…those of you who are living the reality of work from anywhere contexts.   

If you are interested in a conversation please reach out to me, Roberta Sawatzky…I would love to hear your stories!

Time out to take in…blog #92

It’s June. Something about the start of summer that requires one to slow down, create space for down time, and recharge. At least that’s what it means for me.

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind, filled with events and happenings that have pulled every emotion out of me. The full spectrum! I know I’m not alone in this. Taking time to think, to create, to breathe, has been pushed to the back burner.

But, it’s June, and it’s time. I wrote in a past blog about the excitement of my upcoming, one year, Extended Study Leave that officially starts August 1, 2021 (big thanks to Okanagan College for this!). I’ve planned for this, looked forward to it for quite some time, and find it hard to believe that it is only two months away! It will be a time filled with learning for me: reading, writing, interviewing, reflecting…repeat. By the way, the focus of the research and inquiry will be on Proximity Equity in Hybrid Teams. I’ll be looking to chat with both leaders of hybrid teams and team members to hear their stories. If you are interested in a virtual chat, please reach out to me at rsawatzky@okanagan.bc.ca. COVID willing, November will find us heading to Portugal and Spain to fully experience working from anywhere while continuing the research.

So that’s August, this is June. Part of me wants to jump in with two feet, to just get started with the research. But a greater part of me gently suggests that it’s time to wait, to pause, to let transitions happen, to watch, to take in, to let my mind wander, to allow it to create, to write, to reflect. For once I have decided to listen to that quiet voice, to prepare, and be ready to hit the ground running!

This past semester, I had Rowena Hennigan (virtually)speak to my third year business students…her topic was psychological health. Rowena, message heard and received! 

So what does this look like? Hmmm, well, it for sure includes making time to read for pleasure, for walking, biking, spending time with family and friends, taking in the beauty of this amazing part of the world we live in, and perhaps even sitting doing nothing!  It also means taking a bit of a social media break (talk about FOMO!), but I’ll be there, on the sidelines, just taking a peak at what my colleagues across the globe are learning and experiencing…but more as a spectator than a participant.

So for now, at least until August, I’m signing off. But I’ll be back, full of excitement and energy to start this next leg of the adventure. 

Have a fantastic summer…and be kind to ‘you’!

It’s all about the people…blog #91

There are a lot of great conversations happening virtually about what organizations could look like moving forward. Remote work experts like Laurel Farrer, Rowena Hennigan, Lisette Sutherland, Candace Giesbrecht, Chris Kane, Pilar Orti, Tammy Bjelland, and Wayne Turmel to name a few, have amazing insights regarding what organizations can, and should do, to make their transition to a hybrid workforce a successful endeavour. No magic bullets, no quick fixes, just wise counsel and guidelines for those organizations willing to invest time and effort to do things right. 

These remote work experts know that 3 components or areas of focus are important in this transition: People, place, and process. Of the three, my passion goes deep for people. I will continue to be that nagging voice, reminding organizations of all sizes to stay focused on your people. Yes, where work gets done, and how work gets done is of vital importance to consider and create policies around, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your people who actually get the work done.

We know that the transitions organizations are facing are no small feat, but we also know that individuals and teams are likewise facing incredible transitions. For some, this is an exciting new journey to embrace, for others it is the scariest thing they have ever encountered! Some may even choose to leave their current employment because of an organizational unwillingness to embrace what many are calling ‘the new reality’ (whatever that means).

So I wonder, how are you supporting these valuable resources? What on-going learning and development are you providing for them? How are you ensuring equity exists for each individual within your organization? Have your required competencies for new hires changed to embrace what it takes to be successful in a remote context? (Our research conducted in 2019 outlines specific competencies for success as a remote worker.) Are you working alongside your existing employees to help them grow their remote working competencies? Are you providing specific learning and development for those leaders who are now required to lead teams where some may work co-located, some remotely, and some a combination of both? 

What about self-leadership? The responsibility can’t lie totally with the employer. If you are now part of the hybrid workforce whether as a team member or a leader, what are you doing to grow your own competencies and skills? What books are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? Are you exercising discernment regarding who you look to for expertise in this area? Were your sources working either remote or in a hybrid context pre-pandemic?

The future is exciting, albeit unclear. The amazing thing is that we have been given an opportunity to re-write the script. Don’t get lulled into longing for the day when things go back to where they were…the ‘good ole days’. Let’s take a world event that has been so devastating, and allow good to come from it. Your people have been through unimaginable challenges and heartache, as have you! Treasure those people, build into them, celebrate their greatness, and in return, you will have invested in our most valuable resources, and the ROI will be worth every penny you spend. 

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Photo by Airam Dato-on on Unsplash

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