I was recently chatting with a friend and we were discussing some professional challenges. We were talking about how we are both rather outspoken and how that is not always a quality that is appreciated by others. We jokingly concluded that rather than calling ourselves blunt, we instead should add to our resume that we have excellent communication skills and are capable of addressing issues and articulating concepts that some may find difficult. That started me thinking--the stories we tell and the pictures we paint are what others see.
We are often asked the questions in interviews “What are your greatest strengths?” or “What is your greatest weakness?” How do you answer that? How do you talk about your strengths in such a way that you come across confident, but not cocky? And weaknesses--no one likes to talk about their weaknesses. It’s hard. Here is a few of my personal examples.
The Truth: I am able to herd cats into a uniformed pattern to accomplish a task.
My story: I excel at building community and team in order to achieve consensus in a group to complete projects and tasks.
The Truth: I will work myself sick and silly to achieve the desired results.
My picture: I am tenacious, do not give up easily and am willing to put as much effort into a project as is necessary to succeed.
The Truth: I am an emotional person.
My picture: I am passionate and you will often find me pouring everything into a project.
The Truth: I expect as much from all of my team members as I am willing to give myself which sometimes leaves me disappointed.
My story: I aspire to inspire people to achieve 100% buy-in to the success of a project.
It’s not just the words and phrases you use to tell a story or paint a picture though. It is also your attitude. People will spot a con job. If you are trying to snow them with pretty, flowery ideals and you don’t believe them yourself, you will encounter problems. The key is to flip the script in your mind. When you believe it, you can sell it.
What is the story you want to tell? How will you paint your picture? When was the last time you adjusted your point of view in order to put forth the image necessary to succeed?
Many companies and organizations rely on management or internal team members to provide training and professional development for their employees and volunteers. It is true that people that are already a part of the organization may have the knowledge and skills to accomplish the tr. training. But is the training and development as powerful and effective as it could be?
Having a fresh face come in to train your staff or volunteers and provide professional development can make a big difference. Why? Here are my top three reasons:
Worried about leaking secrets or information to an outsider? Don’t be. As a professional presenter, my reputation is everything. If I run about telling your secrets,my reputation and my livelihood wouldn’t last long.
Professional presenters can add that new shine to your information, provide you with the best opportunity for great results and make the most out of your staff or volunteer development.
What other challenges do you face when providing training and professional development? I will be happy to address your issues in future posts.
Have you ever found yourself so mired down in the details of a project that you cannot see the big picture? All of the tiny tasks have you so focused that you are incapable of seeing how they interact with one another and thus what they mean to the end game. A more cliche’ phrase--”Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When was the last time you over committed and found yourself completely run down? How do you avoid this trap? If you find yourself in that position, how do you get out?
I remember one time when I had said yes about five too many times. To say I was stretched thin was an understatement. I was pulled in so many different directions, giving away so much of my time and energy, I was completely depleted. However, I didn’t know that. I knew I was busy. I knew I felt frantic. I knew I was over committed. I just had no idea how to get off the merry-go-round. Then it happened. Two friends kindly invited me out to lunch. Even though I was busy, I “made time for them, because they were important”. While at lunch they both began to talk to me about how concerned they were. They saw the spiral I was trapped in and thought I needed to take a step back and evaluate priorities, including making myself and self-care a priority. THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! I shed many tears during that lunch and came away knowing I had changes to make. After passing some responsibilities to other very capable people, turning off some commitments that didn’t feed me (not in the literal sense, but in the sense that when I participated in these activities I came away tired and drained rather than energized and excited) and committing to saying “no” more often, I had my life back in control and I began restorative care.
I have had similar experiences when working on projects. I and other members of my team each have or piece of the puzzle and it is obviously the most important piece of said puzzle because it is ours. We are all so busy focusing on our piece that we fail to see the puzzle as a whole picture. You have to have someone who stands back and can see how all the pieces fit together in order for things to come together for a completed, smoothly run project. If you are the team leader, that should be your job. However, sometimes even as leaders we get so micro-focused that we just can’t see it. You need someone that can stand beside you and help you dial out your vision to regain the big picture.
The point is this, in both your personal and professional life you should develop a circle of people who you can count on to intervene when you find yourself so deeply lost in the trees you can’t see the forest. No one is immune to blind spots. We all, at one time or another, get tangled up in our own head or activities and have trouble navigating out. If you have a trusted circle (I recently heard this referred to in a talk by a local business woman as “your personal advisory board”--thank you Coco Duckworth) you have a team you can turn to when you need encouragement, mentorship or just a healthy dose of reality. Here is what my personal advisory board looks like. I am not using names. Let’s see if those that know me well can identify themselves or others they know.
The Sage - This is a strong woman who has done and seen much. She is wise, strong and opinionated. She has always been honest with me and happy to provide her strong female perspective when needed. She is the female role model I lacked in my youth and I am grateful for her in my adult years.
The Cheerleader - Always in my corner! This lady is always rooting for me to succeed, no matter the project. Furthermore, she puts her efforts where her mouth is. She is always there to lend a hand when I need it.
The Empath - My sweet, sensitive, caring friend who can see right through any facade I try to put up. She is always able to make me stop, take a breath, step back and spend some time in the moment to prioritize things in my life.
The Creatives - Yes, there are more than one that fit in this category. They are the ones who are always sharing their creative new ideas with me. I am inspired by their visions and energized by their ideas.
The Homies - Yes, there are more than one of these too, and there is a healthy mix of males and females in this group. They come to the rescue when you just need to have an adult beverage, good food and let go of responsibility for an bit. They are super important to the self-care and that is super important to being able to maintain a demanding schedule.
The Spouse - My husband is someone who steps into any and all of these roles at any given moment. He is super smart. He has an incredible talent for big picture and forward vision. He is my rock. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.
Who sits on your personal advisory board? What do they bring to your table? Can you think back to a specific time when your advisory board really pulled your bacon out of the fire? I would love to hear your stories. If you recognize yourself as a member of my board, I’d love to hear from you too!
We’ve talked about building the perfect team. We’ve talked about how to be a better volunteer and volunteer leader. While these tools will help you succeed in your business or projects moving forward, you can’t succeed all the time. This week on the agenda is failure. Failure is a scary word and often carries with it negative connotations. However, I have learned that failure is not an option. It is a necessity.
I read a comment on a board in our co-working facility recently. It said “Failure is the compost in which our successes grow.” I had to sit with that a bit, but as I did I realized--whoever said that was exactly right. (By the way I did try to find out who should get the credit for this quote, but had no luck. If you know, please share.) If you are attempting pretty much anything you may not get it right the first time. You may, and likely will, fail to some extent with your first attempt or two, or three. That’s okay. It is okay so long as you learn from the failure(s) and try again until you get it right.
I kind of consider myself a failure expert. Gosh, that sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. In my almost 49 years on this planet, I have failed much and at a great many things. I even failed at failing successfully until recent years--meaning that if I failed at something, I was apt to just not try doing it again. It wasn’t until I met someone who helped me understand the success of my failures that I learned to fail successfully. That someone happens to be my husband who is not only my spouse, but my best friend and one outstanding mentor. When he helped me start my first business, a community and online presence for local crafters and artisans, I didn’t know anything about running a business. I had always worked FOR other people. Having never been a business owner, I found myself bumping around in the dark quite a bit. I misstepped. I spent entirely too much money on many wrong marketing strategies. I built the business I thought everyone would want rather than the thing everyone actually wanted or needed. What happened? I had a small business that didn’t make money. (It even lost money.) However, I also had a small business that created an amazing community of creative people. I helped launch several cottage industry businesses. I learned to network and build valuable community relationships.I even had a great deal of fun. The business, by monetary standards, was not a success. What came out of it were valuable lessons and many other types of success.
Helping the cottage industry businesses was a challenge. These were folks that had unique hand-made products and they were trying to get their products in the hands of customers. Some were doing it for a full-time livelihood, others were doing it to make ends meet. Regardless of the reason, they were passionate about what they were doing and needed help. Some things I learned and use in helping my clients today: Ask questions--don’t assume you know the answer. Ask more questions and dig deep for what motivates a person and to find what their limits are in terms of what they are willing to do to make their business a success. Provide a plan and clear map of next steps. Be ready for Plan A to fail and always have a Plan B handy.
With my second business, I built something that I knew people needed, because I had customers before I had a business. I used the lessons about where to spend money and not to spend money to save unnecessary spending. I used the relationships I built with the first business to grow the new business. I still didn’t make a lot of money. That was because I had much to learn about valuing and pricing my services. That is a lesson I am taking into future ventures, including this one.
While neither of these businesses made large amounts of money, they were successes by my standards. My husband helped me realize that in the absence of financial success lay the successes of my relationships in the community, the understanding I have gained and the experience I bring to the table when consulting with prospective new entrepreneurs or business owners who are stuck and need new perspective. It is my job now to take these failures, turn them into lessons and share them with all of you.
Look, if you don’t get the results you wanted from a particular activity, project or business. It may be a failure. The question is, can you possibly plan for failure? Once you recognize it can you avoid it? If you can’t avoid it, can you recover from it? The answer to these questions is "Yes." Planning for failure can be as basic as a Plan B. If it looks like Plan A isn’t going to pan out, how can you pivot to salvage what is going right and fix what isnt? If you can’t avoid it and the plan goes off in the ditch, you can dig out. I am going to give you a big tool and insider secret right now. Are you listening? You will seldom be able to dig out of the ditch alone. You need someone or even more than someone in your corner. When you are in “it”, it is difficult to see what has gone or is going wrong. It is also often difficult to be honest with yourself about what your role was in causing it to go off track. Having someone that will be honest with you about what went wrong and then help you dig out of it is so very important. Perhaps even consider a professional such as myself to get into the ditch and help you navigate out.
Simply, failure is not a game ender, just a game changer. It is how you identify, navigate and recover from failure that matters.
What failures have you experienced? Did they remain failures or become future successes? What did you learn and do differently the next time? I hope you will share your experiences. Together we learn and do much.
Last post, I talked about building a good team and gave you some tips for setting the team up for success by way of rules of engagement and being not only the leader but also a good team member--the type of team member you expect others to be. Today we talk volunteers. Working with volunteers is different from working with employees. Motivations are different when someone is volunteering vs. getting paid.
I have served as a volunteer and a leader for years in various organizations, at different levels and for a bunch of different reasons. As a result, these tips have been tried and tested by yours truly. There are tips in here not only for those who lead volunteers, but for you who volunteer. Please share your experiences as a volunteer or volunteer leader. I don’t know it all and the idea is to build effective resources for all of you/all of us to use.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for you as you move forward in your efforts to make the world a better place through your service.
Get the most out of your volunteer force. Follow these simple tips:
It may all sound like common sense, but I promise, I have fallen into each and every trap on the don’t side as both a volunteer and a leader. I have also experienced the good from all of the ideas in the do side.
What have you experienced as a volunteer or volunteer leader? What is ONE thing you wish you had done differently or would have made your volunteer experience better? Volunteer your advice--please and thank you.
Building the ideal team is challenging, but like most things, taking time to do things right in the beginning will often lighten your load later. What should you consider when building a team? There are a number of factors. However, I have found the following to be key:
PERSONALITY VS. SKILL
We all want a team of people that we like, get along with and with whom we enjoy working. That being said, your best friend or colleague may not be the best person for your team. When building a team, do your best to be objective about an individual’s skills and not whether or not they will give you a good laugh during a meeting. Let’s face it, we all bring a personality to the table--yes, even you. Sometimes those personalities may be difficult. However, if the individual’s skills will make the team stronger and more effective/efficient, that’s who you want on the team. That being said--a difficult personality should not be allowed to disrupt work or make the rest of the team miserable. That’s why the second key is--well--key.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
After you have created your dream team of talented, qualified and valued team members, you must establish your rules of engagement. These are your procedures and policies for meetings, accountability for tasks assigned, rewards and/or celebrations for achievements and milestones, and what disciplinary actions will be taken should they become necessary. This should be the priority topic for your first team meeting. I recommend bringing your list of ideas to the table and be willing to explain your reasoning for those ideas. However, make sure the team has a say in how things will work, too. It is important that you have buy-in from the team, and if they have a hand in creating the rules of engagement, they will be more likely to operate within the established parameters and enjoy the rewards. This will also help drive home the next key--everyone has a voice.
Your team must understand that they have a valued voice. Their ideas and opinions matter. Sometimes they will be good. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they will be in alignment with yours. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes the other members will agree with them. Sometimes they won’t. However, they must be heard and valued, not dismissed, trivialized or devalued. Depending on the size of your team, you can decide how you want to make sure everyone has their chance to speak and that the meeting does not become monopolized by the more vocal members. Consider these tools:
Have a meeting moderator responsibility that could be and should be rotated among the members of the team. That member is responsible for acknowledging and creating a speaking order for members to share and speak; timing the members (the time limits will be established in the rules of engagement); and keeping the meeting on track in accordance with the agenda.
By the way--always have an agenda--even if it is a small meeting with only a few members. Never meet just to meet. If there’s no agenda--use an email or telecon.
If a meeting moderator position doesn’t suit your needs, consider a speaking stick, gavel, rock, stuffed animal, something that designates who “has the floor” at the meeting. Other members must wait until they possess the designated object before speaking.
Designate a team member and rotate the responsibility for taking notes so everyone’s ideas can be captured and addressed.
Another side note--rotating the responsibilities allows everyone to share the responsibility and understand the difficulty of the assigned tasks. After everyone has a chance to serve in the role, if there are those that enjoy the role more than others or are better at it than others, you can have the same person perform the task, but share the experience before making a final determination.
Follow the rules of engagement as the leader of the team and the meeting. This is one component to being the team member you want others to be.
BE THE LEADER - AND TEAM MEMBER
In order to be an effective leader, you must be an effective team member. This means you have to exhibit the highest standards when abiding by the rules of engagement. If you expect everyone to be on time to a meeting--you have to be early. If you expect others to listen respectfully and not interrupt, you must do the same. If you want your team to stick to an agenda, you have to provide an agenda and stick to it. Beyond having high standards and following rules, as a leader you must be able to accept and act upon criticisms and suggestions. Remember, your team members aren’t calling your baby ugly. It’s their baby too. You aren’t perfect, none of us are. Remember you invited these people to be part of your team for a reason. Hopefully that reason is because they have strengths in an area where you may not.
Building a strong team can be difficult. However, if you do it right in the beginning, you will find that your project and organization will be better for it. Working with other people isn’t always easy, but if done right, it can be rewarding and effective. As Henry Ford once said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Here’s to your success!
It has been said that the one thing in life that is certain is change. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I happen to enjoy change and embrace it. That being said, sometimes a lot of change, all at once, can be difficult to manage. For instance:
Recently I suggested to my husband that we leave our home in the California Sierra Nevada Foothills and move to Texas to be near his family, and allow him to focus on a brand new startup he was launching. Read that sentence carefully. I suggested we: (a) Leave his full time, well paid job, with benefits; (b) Leave our lovely home in a great neighborhood where we lived alone; (c) Leave an area where we had both built lives, made friends, and were involved in the community. All in exchange for (a) Selling most everything we owned including our furniture and household items; (b) Packing up all that was left into a shipping container and the back of our Subaru; (c) Moving into a bedroom in his youngest brother's house with is wife; (d) Working on this startup that has no certainty of a future and live off of our savings; (e) Hoping that we get the new startup to profitable status sooner rather than later. Yep. Lots and lots of change. There are days I wonder what I was thinking when *I* made the suggestion. On the other hand...
There are days when I celebrate the new beginnings and the opportunities to reinvent ourselves and our future. This affords us the opportunity to build something new together. It provides me a chance to really jump out and fulfill my long-time dream of becoming a blogger, podcaster, trainer, and professional public speaker. I am exploring co-authoring a book and developing a program with a friend that will give us tools to educate and help others. As if all of that isn't enough, we get to spend time with my husband's ageing parents, his brothers and their wives and watch our nephews grow into amazing young men.
So yes, it is a lot of change. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, there are days when I wonder what I have done. However, today--and most days--I celebrate these opportunities and the challenges that come with them.
From here forward, I will be using this blog to share some ideas on a number of subjects including team building and management, conflict resolution, challenges in starting new businesses and breathing life into businesses and projects that have gone a little stale.
How do you deal with change? What challenges does change present to you? Do you love it or hate it?
I look forward to your comments, your questions and your input. Until next time...