Previous month:
May 2009
Next month:
July 2009

June 2009

The mosaics, ripples and momentum that come from networking

A brief shout out to the LEAP interns (grad students interested in public service and the public good) I met with last week. Mary Rose, Leslie, Lisa, Pryanka, Seyron, Jen, and Vi engaged me in a wide ranging conversation about life liberty and the pursuit of fulfilling work, and of course, networking. Always inspiring and energizing to be around bright, youthful and idealistic students. I am certain that I received more benefit from the session than they did! Aaaah to be young and overwhelmed by choice and commitment. :-)  I tried to impart these 4 takeaways: 

  1. Students are powerful. Nearly everyone wants to help a student. You can ask "dumb" questions, you can be curious, you can talk to people at the highest levels. Later this type of power evaporates. 
  2. Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, your routines and try new stuff that is driven by your curiosities and your interests.
  3. Map is not the territory. Explore your ideas and experience them. Do not rely on your intellectual understanding or theories. Apply and test your theories.
  4. Minimize your regrets. Follow your mind and more importantly follow your heart. Because your age will be defined by the number of regrets you accumulate.

Maybe relevant lessons for those of us who have been out of school for awhile. I am sure a few of us would gladly trade our challenges for theirs! 

A am just struck by how our lives are so influenced by the people we meet and get to know. How these encounters can put new spin and momentum on our lives as we accelerate towards intended and often unintended destinations. If we pay attention and we seek new ideas, our trajectories can be altered or strengthened through these human connections. We know in our hearts, that we can not figure this stuff out by ourselves. Notwithstanding the American ideals of boot-strap individualism and self-reliance, our lives are less about our singular visions for ourselves, but the confluence and convergence of a mosaic of thoughts, advice, role models, inspirations, and needs that we obtain or observe in others. Gaudi mosaic Like Antonio Gaudi's amazing and awe inspiring works in Spain--mosaics made from broken shards of pottery and discarded porcelain, which individually may be de-valued but when connected create stunning possibilities. Such is our lives. We can create and put together fascinating worlds, propelled by the people we meet and get to know. Connecting ourselves to others and their ideas, and suddenly the world is smaller and our ideas are bigger. 

My daughter Jenna was marveling about her newest friend and how a superficial homework partner has emerged as a trusted confidante in a few conversations. Someone she "knew" was different once she got to know her. Jenna told me about the new ideas that have sprouted as a result of this new friendship or shall I say latent friendship. She has been introduced to new cuisines and a new network as well. By being open to the possibility of learning, by exploring, and ultimately leaving the comfort of your habits and routines--stuff happens. And that stuff will make you think about who you are and what you are doing. It will introduce you to new perspectives. And anything that gives you those opportunities is precious. 

A couple of weeks ago I was worried about what summer would be like without summer school, summer camp, and swimming pools. The budget crises closed all of summer schools here in LA, most of the pools, and many more families are unable to send their kids even to a local day camp. The consequences from Park closed these budgetary cuts will stunt the memories and opportunities for the youth who have few options to begin with. But I digress. Anyway, got my employer CCF to start a modest fund to raise some money to help at-risk and disadvantaged kids receive assistance to go to camp or join a summer activity. The first day failure was predicted. I was told that there are no funds from foundations, that donors are tapped out, that the unfunded needs were too great etc etc. I have always believed that to have a chance you have to start--Lesson # 357 on networking--I called the metropolitan YMCA to explore this idea for a fund, they talked to their Board. One of their Board members is on a huge foundation Board (not in Los Angeles), she talked to the President of the foundation, that president sat next to my boss Antonia Hernandez at a chance meeting and the other foundation president said she heard about the summer youth fund. And that foundation is now going to fund the summer activities of 3000 young people from low income homes! All of this happened in 10 days. Some say this was just luck. However, I have learned long ago that the ripples from our chance encounters and conversations can be enormous. 

J0400015

Try to return your mindset to those like the grad students I met. A world of possibilities. A world that opens up through others. As I like to say, networking is a contact sport but it is a team sport. Regardless, you have to start the conversations. You have to get know people you know and don't know. And also like the grad students, our opportunities and abilities to influence are always far greater than we think. We can choose to be the artist that builds the mosaic or the weaver that stitches together the fabrics or the pinball wizard that propels the balls that come our way to greater distances and opportunities. Once you make the choice and the commitment, the lifestyle of mentoring and networking starts ripples that can bring enormous returns to you and your network. 

Thanks for reading. John

  


The beginning of networking---Dedicated to my Dad and your Dad

Happy Father's Day! If you are fortunate to still have your dad, I hope you called him. If you have lost your father, think about him and appreciate that he gave you the opportunity to be where you are. 

I dedicate this blog to one of my best friends, Willie Banks. He lost his Dad a few days ago.
 ~In memory of William "Bill" Banks II~


Being a Dad is one of the greatest challenges, joys and adventures ever. It gives you an appreciation for the cycle of life. It gives you a chance to appreciate what your parents tried to do and how they shaped your view of the world. As Robin Williams observed when his son was acting up by using a string of obscenities, he saw his father with his arms stretched high and an evil smile across his face, screaming Yes! Yes! Yes! Fathers take pride in their off-springs successes and also a bit of pleasure in their children's confrontations with reality--especially when parents provided sage and unheeded advice. 

Here's how Roderick Yoshimi Kobara (that's my Dad) ignited J0434748 my interest in networking and a clearer path for me to succeed. Raising me was not always easy. I was very inclined to be anti-everything. Part of it was the times--the late 60's, part of it was my incessant desire to be different and independent. Part of it was the teenage funk generated by the endless war between the hormones and the pituitaries. One of the many victims of this battle is the cross cultural decline of respect for parental units, their irrelevance, their responsibility for all wrongs in the world and their embarrassing lack of coolness. 

During this awkward time, my Dad was frustrated with his oldest son--that's me. He found little benefit in my impersonations of Richard Pryor or when I told people I met that I was Viet Cong. He found these unfunny comedic pursuits and my less than stellar performance in the classroom reason to be concerned. Being a classic Asian Dad, a man of few words, he would say pointed things from time to time leaving the interpretation to the imagination of his children. One of these poignant moments changed my life. 

Dad always told us, the four kids, always to represent the family, to not embarrass the family name, and to be polite but quiet. There is a Japanese concept/value called enryo. Enryojpeg It is a giant cultural concept that means self-discipline, self-sacrifice, no-ego, and modesty. But when uttered by a parent it meant, do not touch, ask for, eat anything when visiting someone else's home. Restrain all needs. Defer to others. My parents would say "Enryo!" You can see how this would clash with the good ole American values of rugged individualism, me-first, assert yourself, take control, and lead! 

When people came over, especially my parents friends, my Dad requested we greet, shake hands, and then quietly retreat to our rooms. This was a confusing request in the enryo world in which we were raised. So we rarely obeyed this command. This was embarrassing to my Dad. After the umpteenth time we did not comply, Dad called my brother and me into the kitchen. As the oldest, I got the brunt of it. As teens we were stupidly inattentive even when our lives were at stake. My father railed against our incorrigible behavior. My brother Mitch and I looked at our shoes and this enraged Dad more. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pulled me onto my tiptoes. He stared me down, as Mitch moved to the furthest and safer corner of the kitchen. Dad said, "Do you know why I want you to do this?--say hello to our friends, shake their hands?" It's because I was never a public person. My career has been hurt by my inability to make speeches and meet people. You have to be public people to be successful in America." We had no idea what he meant. We just knew we disappointed him. It was not until much later I realized that being a public person was being comfortable and confident networking and making presentations. For my Dad, through his experiences of post WWII assimilation, humiliation and prejudice, he never felt fully accepted or welcomed in the business world. He partly blamed himself for his inability to acquire these skills. Nevertheless, my Dad was very successful in his work, and as a father, but he wanted a better life for his kids. And this was one of the many ways he guided us. 

Our Dads have taught us many things. 

For my buddy Willie Banks, I am grateful to your father for teaching you to be such a beautiful, generous and extraordinary friend and father. may he rest in peace.

Dad and me
For my Dad, thanks for teaching me how to be a public person. I have used that inspiration to be a better father and to go from enryo to an enlightened and fulfilling path. And I actively share and teach these concepts to anyone who will listen. 

Thanks for reading. John

Networking with humor, part 1

First a shout out to a bunch of rising star managers and leaders I met yesterday from Boeing, State Farm, Northrup Grumman and other leading companies. I was leading a private workshop on what else, mentoring and networking for LEAPLeap

I am frequently asked when I will do a public workshop--I rarely do. When I speak it is usually at the request of a company or an organization (like LEAP--been working with them over 15 years) for a closed group of employees or leaders. However, UCLA's Anderson School of Management has invited me to present for their Career Series on August 19, 2009. Here is the Download Executives_Brochure_pages for their program if you are interested. I asked them for a discount for my readers and they agreed! Here's the deal, enroll before August 1 and you will get $200 (an extra $100) off the full day --you will see me for a half day session then the well-known Bill Arruda on personal branding. (be sure to note that you are entitled to the John Kobara discount per Keith Groya--shhhhhh!)Okay back to our regularly scheduled programming......Ucla_exec_and_career

-------------------------------------------------------

A sense of humor is part of the art of leadershsip, of getting along with people, and getting things done. 
Dwight Eisenhower

For those that know me and those that have read a few posts, you know I try to inject humor into my messages. Not claiming to be funny but I do try and lighten the delivery with some levity and a bit of sarcasm. I have found that humor is a powerful weapon to disarm others and reduce some of the tension in the environment. In the context of networking, humor can be the difference maker. 

First you do not need to be a comedian/comedienne. You are not trying to be the class clown or the local jokester. Frankly, these types are not taken seriously. We are talking about the use of relevant stories or observations that provide a humorous perspective.

Before I briefly discuss networking, let me touch on the extraordinary benefits of laughing and making others laugh:
  1. Laughter is the best medicine. Laughing and having an attitude of fun and playfulness makes us live longer. There is great evidence that there are biological changes when we engage in these activities.
  2. Humor makes you more attractive. People that have a sense of humor are more interesting, more popular and more desirable. 
  3. Never laugh at others, but always start by laughing at yourself. We take ourselves so seriously and when we think about it, we do some pretty funny things. Rodney Dangerfield became famous for making fun of himself.  
Again, you do not need to be a stand-up comic. Many people say to me, I am just not funny, I am not a funny person, I can not tell a joke etc etc. If this was true, which is rarely the case, this makes you a great candidate to use humor. One of the most powerful forms of humor is the element of surprise. This can be done through a dead pan delivery or just saying something out of character.

Especially these days, we have to see the humor in things. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Try to see the positive if not the sheer absurdity.   

Ways to help yourself see the lighter side of life: (from Helpguide.com)

  • Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take ourselves less seriously is talk about times when we took ourselves too seriously.
  • Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them. Look for the humor in a bad situation, the irony and absurdity of life. This will help improve your mood and the mood of those around you.
  • Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screen-saver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.
  • Keep things in perspective. Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behavior of other people. While you might think taking the weight of the world on your shoulders is admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic, unproductive, unhealthy, and even egotistical.
  • Deal with your stress. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter.
  • Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.
How do you integrate humor into your conversations with friends, colleagues and new acquaintances? First, shift your perspective to see more fun and humor around you. 

Keep track of little incidents that happen to you. Something your kids did. Something you did to yourself that was slightly embarrassing. Maybe a funny thing you heard or saw on tv. You are not trying to get people to roll around on the ground, you are seeking that little smile, a gleam in the eye and for them to open up.
  
When someone says, "What did you do this weekend?" You won't just give the same auto-pilot answer, "Just relaxed." "Not much." 

Instead you say, "You won't believe what my kid did, or what I did to myself, or........" You'll get a smile and then you will usually trigger stories from other people.  They have funny things to say too. Now you are sharing stories instead of robotic answers.

I have gotten great mileage out of stories that happened to me. True life is so much more interesting than any movie or tv show.

  • The other day, I was having an allergic reaction and my face started swelling up. I became self-conscious and asked if it was noticeable to the person I was meeting with. She told me it was and asked me what happened. I told her I had a collagen accident.Then I told her the truth and we laughed. 
  • I was meeting a very important person and I blurted out my name unintelligibly. So I asked if i could do it over again. He agreed, and I did a second take beautifully! He smiled.  
  • I reconnected with an old friend the other day and we compared notes on our kids and I asked, "What are you doing to be a "cool" Dad?" Knowing that is is an impossible question, we laughed and told a bunch of stories about how uncool we are.   
  • An appointment came into my office last week with a new Kindle under his notepad. I said, "Are you going to make me buy one of those things?!" He laughed and proceeded to show it off to me. 
These are merely examples where I try to find the thing to bring a bit of humor to the conversation, usually at my expense. These are not long stories that I memorized, but I try to pay attention and use the element of surprise.

I am resisting with all my might to provide a list of "lines" or jokes that will get you a quick laugh. Those don't work because you have to follow it up with something real that is you. 

The first and most important step to using humor in networking is to make sure we appreciate the humor we experience everyday and especially the funny things we do to ourselves and other people. Your attitude and then your observations and stories will add some fun and spice to your connections.Laughing

Thanks for reading and smiling. Gotcha! John :)



Resumes that get interviews

First of all we know that a resume does not get an inteview YOU do. A well conceived resume will advance your candidacy, when you take an active role in shaping and marketing your resume. 

Then people see your resume they should understand who you are--it must reflect you. 

Mirror

That being said, your resume is the most important tool in your career change "I gotta get a new job" toolbox. It is not only your direct mail sales lead piece in your personal marketing campaign--your resume is YOU and your unique brand, at least for those 10-20 seconds of the initial review to determine whether you are in the pool or not. In the American Idol job world your resume has to have chops --it has to sing! 

Idol

Resume test:

  • Does your resume differentiate you from others?
  • Would you hire you?

 A "no" to either of these questions requires you to re-boot the system and craft a resume you love. 

  
There are so many great resources out there that give great examples and tips. Rileyguide is my favorite. Jane Porter's WSJ column is also a good primer. 

Let me just start with what a resume is NOT:

  1. It is not merely a chronology of your jobs and duties
  2. It is not one size fits all 
  3. It does not assume the reader knows anything 
  4. It does not have to fit into one page, unless you just graduated in the last couple of years 

Please see my 10 tips on resume writing. Here's the summary for you attention deficit readers :) 
  1. Target the resume to the skills and requirements of the job and industry.
  2. Avoid functional formats, stick to chronological. 
  3. No "Objective" or "Summary" on the resume. 
  4. Brief description of your employer and/or function of that location. 
  5. Use months for employment dates, not just years.
  6. Insert relevant volunteer/unpaid, non-profit Board, committee chair experiences where you have a track record and deliverables
  7. Don't be afraid to leave off old, irrelevant or distracting things.  
  8. List achievements as well as duties. This is one way to differentiate. 
So after you have spent some thoughtful time re-writing your resume from the standpoint of "Would you hire you?" Here are the three things to maximize your chances for an interview:
  1. Write a killer cover letter. Do not write the textbook cover note. Use the opportunity and space to tell your story. Why you want this job. How you are uniquely qualified. Give your resume a plot, where you are the protagonist. Explain obvious gaps or questions raised by your resume. Were you laid off? Were you busy being a mom? Don't let the reader assume you were imprisoned or fired for embezzlement.
  2. Network for insider information. Use your network to find connections at the targeted employers. Any connections at any level at any position. People to talk to for the inside scoop on the state of affairs of the company and specifically about the view of the department/division you are considering. Any first hand info will give you a leg up in your interview, either to show your interest level or to shape your questions.  
  3.  Network for influence. Here's where you can get a big advantage. Find a senior executive, Board member, or even a high ranking official at a vendor of the employer. You need to have a warm connection to them, meaning somebody you know has a trusting relationship with this person. Your mentor, uncle, sister, best friend, college roommate, somebody who can endorse you. The ask is, "Please interview this person." And the employer does it on the strength of who is requesting.You have already applied or your resume is attached to the request. Nothing separates you from the pile than such a request. You still have to be qualified, but this endorsement gives you a chance and adds a patina of trustworthiness to your candidacy that can be invaluable.  Brand you
In general, people's resumes poorly reflect their objectives and their capabilities. It does not differentiate their brand--their unique experiences and background. Often, little care or attention has been given to this precious and influential document. People seem to think that their interviewing skills will fill in the gaps and get the ultimate message across. But if you do not get the interview, your chance to audition is lost. 

Would you hire you? And would you vote to give you the chance to sing at the next level? 

Thanks for reading. John