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

Leading and learning, why?…blog #87

Odeon in Ephesus ~ the Bouleuterion

I really love learning, but these days learning can feel more like a chore. Growing up, if you were to ask my teachers or parents, they would not say a love of learning would define my school days, unless you were talking about anything to do with music. In high school, I had no problem getting to school by 7am, three mornings a week for choir and band practice, and I was thrilled to go to school on the days I had music classes in my timetable, but on the other days, I can’t honestly say I was a model student.

While I loved music lessons at school, private piano lessons were a completely different thing. To be fair, my lesson followed my older, focused and very musical, brother. We both faithfully practiced everyday (thanks to Mum’s perseverance), but somehow Ian kept getting better; me, not so much. I still remember the horror of walking into a very sterile, institutional building in Belfast to take a Royal Conservatory piano exam. Finally, the inevitable happened, our very stern piano teacher, had a talk with my parents. It went something like this, “You are wasting your money having Roberta in piano lessons; she doesn’t have a musical bone in her body.” That was my last piano lesson. I was ecstatic! I now had an extra three hours every week to do what I loved – ride my bike, roller skate, and hang out with my friends. I wonder what Miss Thompson would say if she knew I went on to achieve first chair as clarinetist in our high school orchestra, and travel for two years in a prestigious singing group?  

So what made the difference in my musical education? I think two things were at play: a desire to learn about the subject matter, and the learning environment. I really did not want to take piano lessons. I did, however, want to play the clarinet and sing. I love learning with others, and I have always loved creating music with others; I never do well in an ‘stick’ vs ‘carrot’ learning environment. It not only breaks my spirit, but it awakens my stubborn Irish ire (I know, not very mature).

Why is this concern over learning such a pervasive thought in mind? What really is irritating me? If I love learning so much, why am I feeling overwhelmed and fatigued with learning these days? I found this statement when reading a blog by Dean Yeong

The abundance of information and the ease to access it quickly becomes a severe problem for people who are curious and want to learn almost anything. They’re constantly consuming information to the point that they don’t have the attention left to take action and to produce.

I wholly resonate with Yeong’s sentiment. This ‘problem’ becomes especially challenging when such a fire hydrant of information comes at us from every direction; this is one of the advantages, and disadvantages, of ready access to the totality of human knowledge at our finger tips. Add to this abundance is the reality that for some folks, this past year has left us with more time to follow our curiosity. As leaders, we are coached with leadership wisdom such as:

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”  Peter Drucker

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy

Such appeals can unintentionally create added pressure on struggling leaders in today’s complex working environment! Don’t get me wrong, I am committed to lifelong learning, I just need to intentionally filter both the content and the source of information. I need to focus on what I can and should research in order to make a difference in the lives of those I am humbled to influence; to focus on what I deeply care about. I need to learn, to dialogue and debate with others who will challenge my thinking and shed light on the dark corners I am overlooking.

The good news is that I have such amazing people in my life: family, friends, and co-workers. For this I am both blessed and eternally grateful. However, it’s up to me to set up the filters necessary to not drown in the abundance of information, and make time to probe, ponder and assimilate what it is that will make a difference in what I most care about. It’s the richness of the dialogue and debate that makes such a discipline all the more precious.

Here’s another great quote on leading and learning. This one stirs in me a desire to jump up and shout ‘YES!” As leaders, this is why we learn!

“Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning.” ― Peter M. Senge

References:

Yeong, Dean. (2018). Knowledge Prioritization; How to prioritize what you should learn first https://www.deanyeong.com/article/how-to-prioritize-what-to-learn

Interaction Design Foundation. (2020). Information overload, why it matters and how to combat it.

https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/information-overload-why-it-matters-and-how-to-combat-it

Laying the foundations for my ESL…Blog #83

I’m a planner. I have a need to look forward, to think ahead, to anticipate possibilities. I have a mind that once it starts thinking and planning, it’s difficult to shut off. Needless to say, the prospect of a full year dedicated to researching and learning about leadership in complex, hybrid, and work from anywhere teams has my mind running at full speed. However, a persuasive part of me, a small but unrelenting voice, constantly urges me to slow down, and lean into those parts of my strength base that will lay a solid foundation for an amazing year.

Today, this inner voice prompted me to once again consider my strengths, as well as some blind spots I need to be aware of along the journey. (Yes, I am a strong proponent of StrengthFinder and use it in my classes and with clients.) I’m pretty passionate about the need for leaders to know themselves – not for the purpose of self-edification, but rather for bringing the best of who they are to the teams they lead, AND surround themselves with others whose strengths when combined with the leader’s, create amazing results.

As a side note, if you are an individual in a position of influencing others, I highly recommend taking the time to get to know ‘you’. Consider looking into such psychometric assessment tools as Strengths Based Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, or High Potential Trait Index. Remember, this isn’t about navel-gazing but rather growing self-awareness , a key quality found in effective leaders.

Ok, so going back to my original reflections. I spent some time going through my psychometric assessment report from StrengthFinder; these statements really resonated with where I am, today, in light of my Extended Study Leave (ESL). Let me share some of my report insights (in no particular order of relevance):

  • It’s very likely that you might be eager to get started on a project once you realize what can be accomplished in the coming weeks, months, or years.
  • Your mind allows you to venture beyond the commonplace, the familiar, or the obvious.
  • You can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.
  • You refuse to be stifled by traditions or trapped by routines. You bristle when someone says, “We can’t change that. We’ve always done it this way.”
  • You enjoy looking at the world from different perspectives and are always searching for connections.
  • You feel confident in your ability to take risks and manage your own life. You have an inner compass that gives you certainty in your decisions.
  • You are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. You have the ability to figure out how different people can work together productively.
  • You love to learn, and you intuitively know how you learn best. Your natural ability to pick up and absorb information quickly and to challenge yourself to continually learn more keeps you on the cutting edge.

Remember I mentioned the idea of the ‘blind spots’ I need to watch out for? Here are some that hit those ‘ouch’ buttons for me:

  • Because Relators (that’s me) typically do not trust others implicitly and people have to earn your trust over time, some may think you are hard to get to know.
  • When working with others, sometimes they may misinterpret your strong Strategic talents as criticism.
  • Sometimes you might charge ahead and act without a solid plan B.
  • Because you speak with authority, you might be used to getting the final word.
  • Before you commit to something, make sure you have the time and resources you need to do it right.
  • You love the process of learning so much that the outcome might not matter to you. Be careful not to let the process of knowledge acquisition get in the way of your results and productivity.

So, with all this in mind, I am compelled to slow down, take a breath, create the plan, and follow it! The actual ‘agenda’ of actionable activities are laid out, thanks to the demand for a well thought out proposal required by the college. The ‘plan’ will address everything to be arranged before we hit ‘go’ on August 1, 2021. It’s about laying the foundation. The plan needs to be determined before jumping into the various research activities, in various locations, before meeting amazing people and expanding my learning, and before embracing new experiences. Time and focus must be first be given to the planning…it has to take the front seat in my mind…for now. Stay tuned as the plan emerges.

Note: if you want to talk some more about the tools mentioned in the blog, please reach out to me at roberta@samisremote.com

Graphics from Pexel.com