listening

Stop. Look Sideways.

What if you looked at your life sideways? Just saw it differently for a moment. How about your relationships? How about your career?

Not abandoning what you have but getting a new perspective so you can appreciate what is there. We all live in great abundance of things and opportunities that we neglect in our haste to the next. We often misinterpret busyness for pursuit of what we want--progress towards happiness or fulfillment. When we pause and reflect, we can realize the error of our ways. It is hard to do this by yourself. 

Here is a poem I wrote for the "waterskeeters" who recklessly glide across the surface but never see themselves. 

Wholely Water Water skeeters
Am I a water bug dancing on the surface tension?
What's in the dark waters below?
An iceberg for your thoughts
Can I summon the courage to dive?
To explore the murky waters of choice and challenge
To test my imagined strength and talent
Why can't I be a lotus plant?
Thriving in and into the water
Turning muck into radiant blooms
Am I just a superficial insect?
That bugs me
How's the water?
Never touch the stuff
I am a water skipper with a free spirit
No time to see my reflection in the glassy mirror
Gliding enviably across the pond so fast
Not even scratching the surface
How can I be so dry and all wet?
The exhilaration seems more than enough
Why learn to swim when I can walk on water?
 

When we slow down and take stock of where we are going and why--it can be transformative. We have to be open to truthful feedback and a sideways perspective (a new point of view), we can learn something. Great mentoring happens when you suspend your defensiveness, your desire to say the "right" thing, and your ever present judgmentalism. Your eyes and mind, dare I say, your heart can be opened to new truths.

Anyone who knows me, knows my mother has the uncanny ability to give me sideways views of myself. Over and over she has helped me see myself as opposed to the facades I was constructing.

But then it happened to mom! She got a sideways lesson. Her perspective was altered.  My mom has been painting for decades and she continues to evolve. A few years ago she lost the cartilage in her right arm and paints on the floor so she doesn't have to lift her arm. This changes the shape and size of her canvases. She also decided to do more "abstract" work. So she started taking classes in her late 80s and got a mentor! Never too late to change and adapt. IMG_2501 (2)

So my mom painted this mythical waterfall near rocks and a tree to the left.

Her teacher/mentor came to the house and wanted to see her newest things. My mom has been experimenting with more vertical forms. Anyway, my mother pulled out three paintings and leaned them against a wall, including this one. Her teacher quickly turned two of the paintings on the side, converting my mom's vertical paintings into horizontals. (see below) My mother was astonished. "That IS the way it was supposed to be!, my mother exclaimed. And that is now the way it will be hung and sold. Of course the owner of the painting can do whatever they want, but what was the original intent of the artist? IMG_2501 (4)

It is obvious to you, right? Everyone who sees this says that. Now before you doubt my story or my mother's intelligence (How dare you :)). Listen to me. My mother has painted more than 1400 originals. When she paints them she turns them around and views them from all sides. She has an eye like no one else. But like all of us she got stuck in her perspective, she needed help and was open to it.

We all try to will the Ouija board of life. We intend things, we plan things, we set firm expectations. And when things end up differently we are disappointed and worse, we can defend the status quo. The way it is supposed to be, the tradition, the habit, and the comfortable way. No!

We have to be open to a sideways view of ourselves. We need help to see ourselves. We have to invest in seeing ourselves accurately. 

The definition of insanity is --doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!

We need help to change and adapt. Mentors, teachers, coaches, therapists, all are capable of showing us things they see that we can't. Caring for others can help us see ourselves and the world around us. Our biases, our distractions, and our egos limit what we see.

Stop for a moment to see your reflection and explore what is below the tension of the surface. Mentor the waterskeeters in our lives to see what they are missing. Look at your world sideways and you might see new horizontals in your verticals.

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

Wishing is one of the most powerful forms of articulating our needs. Seems like the holidays and the New Year bring out our wishes more than any other time.  We hear a wish and want it to happen. Think Make-A-Wish Foundation. The idea that something hard to get might be attainable is hopeful and inspiring. Everybody has wishes. What are yours? And what are the people around you, people you care deeply about , wishing for? Not what we want! Not gifts, stupid. Not the PS4, the iPhone6, or a Prada purse or other meaningless stuff. But a true wish for our lives and well being that comes from our hearts and souls. Wish dandelion_wish_2-t2

When we blow out a birthday candle or throw a penny into a wishing well, we all revert to a childlike state of hoping for a millisecond that something magical can come true. Just before our cynical, impulsive and over-bearing brains take over--we express a real secret thought that has real meaning. But that beautiful moment is trashed by horrific sounds and images of reality!

Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. Jane Wagner

This is not about you! It rarely is. So dial back the WIIFM (What's In It For Me). Think about people around you, people you love. Do you know their wishes? Really? When is the last time you talked about such wishful thinking?

I have the chance to meet hundreds of people every year through my work, my volunteering, and my presentations. Almost always, I confront people with the Wish Obstacle-something I learned from Barbara Sher. "I always wanted to_______, but__________ ."I ask people to fill in the blanks and articulate their wish to a stranger in the audience--What their wish is and why they don't have it or even pursue it. It always triggers a robust discussion. The stranger can't help but offer assistance and advice and genuinely wants to help this random and accidental new friend. But the other thing that happens is people blurt out wishes that they have never said to anyone and reveal highly personal thoughts to an innocent bystander! I have learned that we all have these pent up wishes.

Ask a child you will see over the holidays (under 10 years old)--what they are wishing for. After they give you a long list of material things, tell them not a gift and then be quiet-let them think. More often than not the child, oh to have the authenticity of a child, he/she will say something that will blow your mind. Here is a sampling of what I have heard: "I wish mommy and daddy would stop fighting." "I am scared to go in the bathroom at school. I wish they would clean it up." "I wish people would stop hurting each other." Be prepared to talk about their wish and not dismiss their moment of truth. Kids say the darndest things and are we listening?!

If we knew what people were truly wishing for to make them whole, to give them more fulfillment, even meaning in their lives, then we could help them pursue it--and that would be the greatest gift.

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

So a number of years ago I called my Mom and asked her the Wish/Obstacle. She gave me the classic mom answer, "Oh you know I don't need anything." As we all know it is impossible to buy gifts for your mother! But I pushed and told her not a gift, something she wanted. And immediately she said, "I always wanted to go to Santa Fe, but don't think I will ever get there." I had never heard this before and asked why she didn't go to Santa Fe. She said, "Your dad doesn't travel anymore and I probably won't see Santa Fe." That sent me into motion on a mission. I called my brother and sisters and we put together a trip. My sister Tomi went with my mom and they did Santa Fe! A wish fulfilled. Do we know what people are wishing for?!

Now I am going to ratchet it up a notch or three. Now think about the person who you care about but with whom you have a broken relationship. The one that hurts you in your heart. We all have them. We have to repair this relationship for ourselves. We have to avoid the bigger regrets that just will grow over time. As I have said so many times, "Regrets become tumors!" Reach out to this person during the holidays. Why now? Because it is NOW and because the holidays open doors, windows and little cracks of light. So reach out and tell them your wish. "I wish we had a better relationship, but I need your help to make this happen." Don't apologize, don't bring up the past, don't waffle wiggle and wander. Just state your wish. The truth in this wish might re-kindle something, hopefully not more negativity. But you stepped up and out to meet your challenge. This is not a magical gimmick that repairs relationships. It is a starting point for you to take the next step. It is a way for you to say something good to somebody you care about. You need each other.

Wishing does not make anything happen. Helping people get their wishes is a mission. 

I wish for all of you to connect to the people you love. To connect to the people who you have lost touch with. To reduce your regrets by helping others and yourself. 

Making other people's wishes come true will restore your faith, your childlike faith, in the magic of possibility and the glory of the relationships which matter most.

Thanks for reading. John


What's New? and Making Something from Nothing

Without the salutation of "Happy New Year", we return to our old rote greetings or conversation starters. "What's new?" is one of the most popular.

How we answer this question could change our life and the lives of others.  But instead we all tend to perpetuate an empty robotic exchange of nothingness. 

I know we are "busy" and short cuts and auto-responses expedite, streamline, and generally make our lives more efficient.

But what about the unintended consequences? What is lost in the these meaningless transactions?

A lot.

Everyday, we enter into many micro transactional conversations that involve these queries. Our brains are not engaged, we blurt out things in this short attention span edition of our ADDHD lives. 

So someone you know or don't know innocently and probably automatically says, "What's new?"

My unscientific survey reveals these most popular and ineffective answers:

  • Nothing
  • Not much
  • Keeping my head above water
  • Busy. Very busy
  • Same ole same ole
  • Nothing to complain about
  • Nada mucho, how about you?

You say you want conversations. You want want less "small talk" and more substance. And yet, your answers to this question often leads to a laughable script for the least substantive conversation possible.

What's new?

Nothing. Really busy.

Yeah me too. Nothing-to-say

Wow. Weird to be able to mouth the conversation as it happens, like a movie you have seen too many times. You know what the next line is so your interest and attention fall off.

Are you a network node that leads to other people, ideas and places or are you a predictable dead end street?

We have to stop these robotic meaningless, missed opportunities to connect! And it is not just the hollow responses. It is also the duty of the initiator to follow-up. A "nothing" response can't be accepted. The lack of sincerity and veracity have to be called on the carpet.

"Nothing!" And then you launch into a list of the things you have monitored and tracked because you are a master networker. You ask about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, their charities. You are following the updates of your network. And you know from FB, Linked-in, blog posts, and the media that--"Nothing" is simply not true.

So YOU ask about the new things that your colleague is too busy or lazy to mention, to resurrect their attention and the conversation.

Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?  You attract to yourself what you give your time, attention and words to---Negative or positive. 

So when you have nothing to say you attract nothing. 

So now change the setting to an interview.  Are your answers different? Of course.

How about when your boss' boss sees you in the elevator?

How about when you meet someone you do not know who will be your next boss?

How about to a head hunter? Or a prospective new client? 

The point is you may never know who you are talking to until you do. 

The challenge is your brain and your mouth get into bad habits. They start talking before you think.

Pause before you answer any question? Think then speak. Listen then respond. Awaken in the moment! 

Never say "nothing" or that "I'm busy". We are all busy!

Start by bragging or complaining? No way! Start with something positive.

Personal or professional? Yes! Talk about what is new that is on your mind. Work, your kids, your hobby, the book you are reading--anything and everything is available to mention.

I try to put myself in the mindset of an ambassador. How am I representing my country, my people? Who am I trying to help? How can I be authentic but also diplomatic? How can I assert my ideas without offending? How can I engage people in my work in a mutually beneficial way?

You can't win with just defense. Responding to all inquiries is good but what do you think? What will you assert or advance? Who are you trying to help--besides yourself?!

Your reputation is built on your impressions. Listen to yourself. How are you doing? 

I have always asked my external teams, my sales reps, my fundraisers--anyone who interacts with the public as part of their jobs--How do you answer the question: "What's new?"

This is a softball pitch, right down the middle. You have to be ready to hit it out of the park.

I coach my teams to use this wonderful question to discuss something that is personally exciting to them about our organization. Something that is new, fresh and interesting. Something they know about. Not the elvevator pitch. Not the company line, or that last press release necessarily. Their genuine energy and enthusiasm will be contagious.

Nothing is never interesting or engaging. Nothing is worse than boring. Nothing is a lie. Nothing is not even possible.

What's new? A great question that deserves an answer. A fantastic conversation starter. Let's not waste it.

Adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking requires us to be the ones who put a stop to these meaningless conversations and help others make something from nothing.

Thanks for reading. John


Mentor First: Pay it Forward

The most popular radio station in the world is WII-FM. WII-FM is shrill and repetitive. WII-FM is What's In It For Me. We have to  turn down the volume and listen to the real music of our lives--Your heart, your mind, and the people around you. Yes you have needs, but you still have much more to offer. We all want and need things but the best way to receive is to give. That's correct, your mom was right again! Same goes for mentoring.  Pay_it_forward_
Almost everyone I talk to wants to find a mentor, the "right" mentor, a "better" mentor. They crave advice and counsel to help them advance their lives. Most people expect this new improved and very special mentor to point them in the right direction and provide them with the answers. Those of us who mentor others know that's not what usually happens . Mentoring is a two-way conversation that helps one another discover the truth--the truth that lies within. So that's why everyone should be mentoring others as much as they seek mentoring. Once you put others before yourself. Once you practice what you preach. Once you teach, you understand the role of the student.  The world comes into focus as you are not waiting for a mentor but helping someone else. You take control again. You drive instead of waiting to be picked up. That's why I advocate a lifestyle of mentoring. It is not passive or dependent. It is pro-active and direct.
Choosing to mentor is to choose to help others, to engage others, thereby helping oneself.
 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
 
Always give without an expectation. That is the cardinal rule of this lifestyle of mentoring and networking. And the returns to you will be plentiful.
  • A cousin seeks your advice
  • A friend's daughter wants to discuss college options
  • A long time colleague at work needs your help, but has never asked for it
  • One of your best friends is stuck in life
  • A former employee has a friend that wants to discuss careers

All of these are warm sources of need. Make the time to help, mentor and share your wisdom. 

No matter what stage you are in your life, there is another you can mentor. Someone you care about who could use your perspective. Someone you are going to help be accountable to themselves. Accountable to their own goals and dreams. A mentor is not the source of all knowledge, they have experience, perspective and the will to be candid.  Not just kind and encouraging. Not just helpful and sensitive. Not the type that winces and cringes on the  inside and smiles on the outside when we hear others say crazy things. Not phony nice. We need to be a bit more intolerant of the BS and the loose language that comes from people we care about. We need to help others rein in their weak plans and weaker efforts. Most of all we need to be truthmeisters.

My best mentors reflect me, my words, my goals like an HD mirror. They show me the good, the bad and the ugly that I emit. I get to see and hear myself like never before with much better clarity.
 
The mentor always gets the most. Because to mentor is to tell the truth and to tell the truth is to learn the truth. Mentoring is the hard work of listening and reflecting. It is not about answers. It is about understanding. And that's why it is the most rewarding.
 
Articulating advice and doling out the truth is not credible or relevant if you don't live by it. That's why the mentor always gains, because the act of advising another reinforces your values, your behaviors and your goodness. Mentoring is about vulnerability. Mentoring is not the coach who says "do what I say and not what I do." Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

Still doubt the mentor is rewarded more?
Recent research now shows that those that mentor achieves far greater benefits. Mentors make substantially more money, are more successful and the mentees are more likely to help others--mentoring creates more mentoring.
Mentors pay it forward.
 
A quick review of the benefits of mentoring: 
  1. You always get more--including pay and promotion!
  2. The mentee benefits
  3. The mentee helps others
  4. The world benefits from people more connected that help one another

Any questions? :)

Mentoring is not a service YOU provide--it is the human act of helping one another that advances YOUR life. 

Mentor first, then seek mentoring. Pay it forward and it will always come back to you.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking Tips from Beggars

My boss has a little ceramic plaque in her office that she bought at the 99cent store.  Raisins
Life is about raisins:

Raisin children!

Raisin money!

Raisin hell!

The wisdom you can find for under a buck! Those of us who have had to raise money/fundraise for causes for a living and a lifetime, consider ourselves beggars. While we may not use a tin cup and squat on a street corner, the process of getting people to part with THEIR money to fund your organization and cause is one of the most humbling and challenging tasks in life.

I was invited to be part of a prestigious panel of "begging" experts last week to help provide non-profit fundraisers and leaders gain a few insights into the current world of fundraising that is dripping with economic uncertainty and a receding donor pool. Stewart Kwoh, the founder and head of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the leading civil rights organization for Asian Americans in the US and winner of a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1998. Stewart is a big time beggar. Kafi Blumenfield who leads the very progressive and effective Liberty Hill Foundation, is a consummate beggar. And Gayle Yamada, who leads the fundraising for the Little Tokyo Service Center, one the region's most innovative local cultural preservation and development non-profits. She is a professional beggar. I know what you are thinking, what was I doing with them?!!

They shared some insights, how-tos, and ideas that seemed to be very helpful to the audience. I think these lessons will help fundraisers but also apply to anyone interested in deeper and more fulfilling networking and relationships.

  1. Not about you: Never forget that you are representing a cause and an organization that are bigger than you. Many people will reject your proposals and your requests, but you can not take it personally. Learning from each rejection is critical to get better at pitching and begging, but don't waste time with how bad you feel. Yes, people give to people. But you are not representing yourself but the greater mission of your organization.
  2. Listen! What do they want?: Find out what makes people tick, who they are and why they are interested in your organization. What triggered their first gift? Eventually, you might get to a story that is very personal that tells you more about them and their motivations. Don't just show up and throw up your latest and greatest propaganda, find out what they think.
  3. Not just when you need something: Cardinal sin of all networking but especially fundraising. Reach out only when you need money or help. Bad form. Contact "important" prospects and supporters to check in, for advice, to share an article on something they care about (not your newsletter), to congratulate them on an achievement and then listen!
  4. Treat everyone like they are important: Many of the largest donors start off very small. They often don't look wealthy and may not even think they are wealthy. People are also connected, related to, know other donors, foundations, corporations--ones you are cultivating now. The moment you decide to treat a person with less importance, is the moment you find out her uncle is a billionaire! A story was told where a quaint elderly gentleman was a volunteer janitor at this struggling homeless shelter. He overheard the Ex Dir worrying about meeting next week's payroll. To the shock of the staff, the old man wrote a check for $20,000 to help them bridge the gap. When he died a few years later, he left them an endowment of $10 million! You never know who can help you.
  5. Passion to passion: Have to assume that you are passionate about your organization, not just interested or supportive. When a passionate fundraiser meets a passionate donor and they can find their common ground, great things happen. Connecting passions is the soul of relationships and of fundraising.
  6. Your existing donors are your best donors: No better donors than your existing ones. Don't ignore them for the newbies. More than likely you don't know them and your some of your donors would love to give more. Start with who you know before you just leap to people you don't.
  7. Short term needs with a long term focus: Our jobs as beggars is to help our organizations have a better future. Yes, that means meeting payroll and keeping the doors open. But some relationships need to be nurtured for the longer term. Your job is to meet you goals but to also seed the path for your successors who follow you.
  8. Make the ASK!: Number one complaint of donors, "Nobody ever asked". I am serious. Most supporters of organizations have not been courted or asked to give more. No an e-mail or a direct mail solicitation does not count. There is no substitute for meeting your donors face-to-face and asking them for more help. The ASK is a conversation about support and matching the donor's interests with yours. It is a logical consequence of the relationship. Blurting out an ASK when you don't know them can freak out everybody. But once you make the ASK, be quiet and listen!
  9. Say Thank You: I know this is really basic stuff but make calls and write notes. Make it as personal as you can. Thanking people is a lost art.
  10. Keep track of your relationships: Even if you only have 100 donors you have to have a shared system to document the relationships. A database that allows everyone to input info, facts, that help the organization understand the status, experiences, and opportunities of each donor. People in your organization have different interactions with donors/prospects and you want the current and future organizational team to be understand what the latest info is. Great networkers also have a "database" of notes to remember things and events.

Life is about raisins! Great begging and networking have the same assumptions at their core. It's the relationship, stupid! The opportunity to get to know people, really understanding them, and what they care about, is a priceless opportunity. It will reveal things that will help advance your organization and help you.

Thanks for reading. John


My Top 10 posts

Here is my holiday weekend special, my top ten posts. These are the "best" of the 160+ posts I have made based upon an arbitrary, random and indefensible combination of my preferences, other people's comments and what continues to be the set of questions I receive. They are listed in chronological order. Enjoy!

  1. You Don't Know Who You are Sitting Next to. Contains a couple of my favorite stories about meeting people by getting to know the people around you.
  2. Weathering the Storm and Defining the Moment. How to convert serious challenges into opportunities to define your life and your next chapter.
  3. Networking with Top Management and Other Intimidating Species.Connecting and conversing with your boss' boss and other senior executives can be tough, but it's much easier than you think.
  4. Finding the Right Mentor. You need a mentor but want to find someone who can help you adapt and improve. How do I find that person?
  5. Telling My Story. All of our lives take twists and turns, but if we can not make sense out of our past and what it means to our future, no one else will. What is your story?
  6. Resumes that Get Interviews. A lot of conflicting and confusing info on this topic. How does your resume have the best chance to stand out from the pile?
  7. Starting the Conversation. You want to meet people, but just initiating the conversation can be hard. How can I make that process more natural, comfortable, and effective?
  8. The Art of Shaking Hands. In addition to what you say, the way you greet people says the most about you. No second chance to make a first impression.
  9. Ambitious without Ambition. We all want more in our lives and in our careers, but what do we want? Focusing your ambitiousness has to a goal.
  10. Amazing Who You Know But Don't Know. All of think "new "people will be key to our next opportunity. We all know so many people, but we don't KNOW them. Starting with your existing network is easier and more productive.

I continue to try and address what's on your mind and what's preventing you from moving ahead in your career and life. Let me know what other topics you want me to address.

All of these posts and much of what I discuss involves the following principles. The more you connect with others, learn about them and their needs, the more you learn about yourself. If you mentor others then you will be mentored. Making your network diverse in its points of view will give you new perspectives. Push yourself to reconnect with people you care about, people you work with and people that you see everyday but never talk to. The world becomes smaller and much more manageable!

 Thannks for reading. John 


Self Awareness Networking and Mentoring

Met with a grad student who needed to conduct an interview on leadership for a class. As I preach, I make time for these interactions because I know I will always learn something new and invariably, something about myself. This interview was a bit different because the focus was on "self-awareness". He started off the interview with unexpected questions: "What is the role/importance of self awareness in effective leadership?" "How are you aware of your own development and your own issues?" "How do you become more self aware?" The student was well prepared and I became aware of how poorly prepared I was.

Self awareness is so intuitive and simple, isn't it? Just be aware of what you are doing and how it appears to others. How can you see yourself? And how does this vision/understanding reconcile with your authentic self and what you intend?

When you are a floating observer of self, you see and hear things differently. You can more easily judge yourself, praise yourself, and advance yourself. However, like most self improvement, from cutting your own hair to self diagnosis, this is very hard to do alone. Getting outside assistance is not only advisable but most often more effective.

It was a challenging interview for me. While it is a subject I think about, I rarely discuss it. I was making statements about self awareness as I was becoming hyper aware of what I was saying and how I was saying it. Listening to yourself CAREFULLY takes enormous effort. My conversation with the grad student progressed on the importance, relevance, and benefits of self awareness. I wish I had a video tape of my interview. I must have been a sight to be seen. Talking about self awareness and trying hard to be self aware! Not a pretty picture.

Cat self-awareness

I started to think about the media training we conducted for some of our executives at work. These are people with great confidence but who have not been placed under the microscope of the media. Intellectually it is never difficult--answering questions about a subject one knows well. Not even talking about the 60 Minutes antagonistic approach. Listening to your answers and watching your facial expressions on a video tape is a whole new world. The revelations for our colleagues were abundant! What we say and how we say it vs. what we think we say and think we look like can be two alien planets. Going through this training many times and watching others endure the ugly and beautiful mirror is a lesson in self awareness. Videotape is the most amazing teacher. Seeing what others see is an eye opener!

"Self awareness', I rambled on with my attentive grad student, "can be a bit masochistic. It is the reconciliation of intention and reality."

I tried to impart the following lessons of self awareness to my interviewer (now with the benefit of hindsight a bit more eloquent:)

  1. Know thyself---Who you are and what you stand for is critical. What is your vision for yourself?
  2. See thyself---Finding "mirrors" to see your true self is a life long process. The best "mirrors" are mentors and confidantes that never shade the truth. They help you become your best. They reflect your flaws and your talents. They guide your trajectory and your development.
  3. Reflect---Taking time to contemplate the events of the day. Re-running the videotapes from the previous events, conversations, moments--to appreciate what you have done, what you have left to do, and what could have been done better.
  4. Connect with others---Establishing meaningful and substantive connections with diverse people will always expand your sense of self. Finding examples and moments that teach us who we are and who we are not is the true power of networking.
  5. Seek the mirror---Pursue and ask for feedback. Seek opportunities to learn about yourself. Not just an open door but an open mind.
  6. Become a mirror----Helping others you care about see themselves in the best and worst of times. Constructive praise. Supportive advice that helps your inner network improve and advance.

Self awareness must be stalked and hunted. It does not arrive in a box with a bow on your doorstep.

I am fascinated by the Buddhist thinking of Naikan. It is a process of introspection and was an early form of a "time out". Using deprivation as a way to have people, including young criminals, reflect on the wrongs they have committed. It evolved into a series of three questions about our relationships and focusing on one person at a time:

  • What have I received from (person's name)?
  • What have I given to (this person)?
  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)?

The fourth question that naturally follows in this series. "What troubles and difficulties have I caused (this person)? Is NOT part of the reflection because we are so adept at thinking about this question! And this focus on our own misery and not the misery of others is part of our problem.

We are all works in progress. Disconnects between who we are and who we think we are are deadly. Like reading our own autobiography and being impressed! So easy to delude ourselves by settling for what we have become and expecting others to deal with it. Much harder to face the videotape of life and learn from the truth.

 In the end, I hope my interviewer got what he needed to complete his assignment. I got what I wanted. I learned many things. I became more self aware and had the great luxury of sharing some thoughts with him and with myself.

Thanks for reading. John


Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John


The sound of opportunity and avoiding a White Noise Christmas

Why do we have twice as many ears as mouths? Listening to the thoughts, ideas, and words that are articulated around you is an undervalued and under practiced skill. No way to hear things when your pie hole is wide open! :) Will smith 

I breakfasted with one of my mentors this week and she said some profound things to me:

  1. Practice constructive over-hearing. Open your ears and pay attention and you will be informed in new ways.
  2. Needs are noisy! The needs in the community, the needs of your customers, the needs of your network are making noises, but can you hear them?

To summarize: Change what you are doing by listening! Change your trajectory by using your ears!

Everyone says they are good listeners. Actually we over-estimate almost all of our skills, except public speaking and math :) I was attending a training on listening, someone asked, "How do I know I am listening better?" The instructor said something I will never forget and that has changed the way I listen. She said, " Listen as if you have to report what you've heard to someone else." You know what she meant. Say you have to attend a meeting for your boss and she says, "Write up the notes." Believe me you will listen differently and remember! Why do we listen better for someone else?

Noise waves We want to minimize the noise in our lives that we sometimes tune out more than the offending sounds, we also cancel the important messages too. Right now, stop and listen to the sounds around you..........

My wife Sarah loves to talk to me during the telecast of a critical athletic contest (aren't they all "critical"?) Anyway, I attempt to listen over the play by play announcer, but my attention is divided and I am not sure what she said. Sarah always knows. She says, "WHAT DID I SAY?" I look up as if I heard. You know how this predictable and sad story goes........

It is not just paying attention and being present. It is also about knowing what you are listening for. Thinking about the needs of others in your network and listening for opportunities for them. A close friend of mine says you should always practice the three foot networking rule--network and listen to anyone within three feet!

I promise if you practice these things you will see how noisy needs are. Including the noises that rumble within your mind and your soul!! By the way, when your heart speaks, take really good notes! Noise1

If you practice constructive over-hearing, you will connect with people you know and don't know around common interests and needs--it might surprise you. If you want the world to seem smaller and more accessible, then open up those orifices on the sides of your pretty head.

Thanks for reading and listening. John


Holiday Presence

Going crazy yet? The combination of year-end business and the holidays is enough to make you bonkers. If you are are one of those highly prepared, got it under control, and cool under pressure kind of people. Can I tell you something? I hate you! :)

Stress has an awful way of creeping into impatience and making you into a major league Scrooge. You are familiar with the confusing greeting "Happy Holidays" with a frown. How can we make this whole process a bit more enjoyable and successful?!!

Like so many things we get caught up in the transaction over the opportunity. The task over the goal. We fret over the color of the ribbon over our box of gratitude or appreciation. J0440332

Yes, the holidays are an irritating combination of commercialization, irrational obligations, and an odd array of myths. But it is a time of giving, sharing, and family time. We can succumb to the rat race of the holidays--what did Lily Tomlin say?, "Even if you win the rat race you are still a rat!" Or we can take advantage of this time to connect and make the most of these annual exchanges. I know this is easier to say than do. But intention and awareness are 90% of the opportunity. Being in the moments and having the intention of not making it a robotic, auto-response connection makes a huge difference to you and everone else. 

But think about it, you see and hear from more people than any other time of the year. You have opportunities to thank and share time with friends and families. It is a potent time for networking.

Intentionally slow down when you are on your approach to the people. You can remain at hyper-space speed when you are doing your tasks, shopping, baking, and decorating. Shift into a lower gear and pay attention. Be present. J0442385 Focus in on the conversations, on the answers to your questions. On the body language and inflection of the voices of your friends. And listen! Listen for the nuances, the subtleties, the unspoken thoughts. If you want to be the generous person you are, then listen for ways you can help people in your network. After all, if you are exchanging gifts and attending their parties, I assume you care about these people. So listen for the telltale answers to the seemingly innocuous queries, "How 's it going?" or the worst question, "Everything good?" Answers like, "Been a tough year." "It's okay." "Trying to survive." And a million other variations. It is human nature to try and mask one's true feelings and not burden others. Sometimes it is a smokescreen, but often there is fire there, deserving a probe or follow-up.

Being a true networker is being a hub of help. Is proactively inquiring how you can assist? This is YOUR network! I am not suggesting helping any random stranger--at least in this posting. :)

And what about my needs? Be ready to articulate what you need and want. But leading with helping others. Leading with giving first, sounds vaguely familiar to some holiday value. When you give you will receive! It all starts with a focus, an intention, and an awareness of what your friends and family are really saying and needing.

Holiday presence may be the most generous gift of the season.

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays. John


Networking through the silence of neutrality

When things are utterly quiet. When you truly hear the silence, it can be one of the most peaceful and tranquil moments. Quieting the relentless noise in our minds, averting the cacophony of messages that attack us everyday, and letting our minds go blank are the most illuminating moments for me. Some call this meditation. Others name it reflection and introspection. Whatever the label it is a source of energy to me. 

Some of you know I hosted a live weekly radio program for 10 years at KPCC here in LA. J0440402 One of the things you learn in radio is dead air is deadly. Silence is a taboo. Makes perfect sense for the broadcasting medium. Listeners are there to be engaged, and silence, while a potentially powerful, is fatal in radio. Some people translate this idea into the way they talk and communicate. They don't listen and their mouth motors away. There is this nervous need or assertive assumption that they have to fill the space. Even, if they do not know what they are talking about the words keep coming as if their mouths will catch up with their ideas--always a dangerous move. The resulting monologue may be more fatal than silence, because your audience's attention span shrinks, especially when the onslaught is a rambling wreck. 

Been interviewing people for lots of jobs. And the Gong Show of having the vaudeville acts come in to audition is always fascinating. 250px-Gongshowtitle You remember the show where Chuck Barris would strike the gong to mercifully dismiss the untalented contestant (sometimes I wish I had a gong!). In this job-interview radio show like environment, I serve as the host and ask a few questions and then see what happens. Some candidates just blather on wandering around the planet to see if some of the random words and thoughts they express will return to the continent where the question resides. I know nerves play into it. But if you are semi-prepared AND you are listening then this fire hose approach to watering the daisies could be avoided. The most entertaining part is that they are not even listening to themselves and not knowing they have digressed, they never ask me, "Did that answer your question?" I rarely follow-up with questions if I have to pick through the pile of arbitrariness. Not worth the time. So I ask my next question to see if the brain and the mouth of the candidate sync up. If not, I ask if they have questions. About 50% of the time this is a perplexing question. Hard to believe that candidates have no questions. And that's when one of the last finishing nails goes into their shiny coffins.

Back on silence. When you make a habit of choosing silence in networking or meeting settings, you can be labeled shy but even arrogant or ignorant. Shyness evaporates as an excuse after people get to know you. Then silence can be interpreted in pretty damaging ways to your rep and brand. When you do not speak, your silence can communicate volumes.J0430507

Here's what Harvard Professor Leslie Perlow says:

"Silence is associated with many virtues: modesty, respect for others, prudence, decorum. Thanks to deeply ingrained rules of etiquette, people silence themselves to avoid embarrassment, confrontation, and other perceived dangers. There's an old saying that sums up the virtues of silence: "Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to talk and be known as one." The social virtues of silence are reinforced by our survival instincts. Many organizations send the message—verbally or non verbally—that falling into line is the safest way to hold on to our jobs and further our careers. The need for quiet submission is exaggerated by today's difficult economy, where millions of people have lost their jobs and many more worry that they might. A Dilbert cartoon poignantly expresses how pointless—and perilous—many people feel it is to speak out. Dilbert, the everyman underling, recognizes that a senior executive is making a poor decision. "Shouldn't we tell her?" he asks his boss, who laughs cynically. "Yes," the boss replies. "Let's end our careers by challenging a decision that won't change. That's a great idea." 

Couple of days ago a former of colleague made a confession to me, "I regret to this day that I did not speak up. (3 years ago) If I did our employer could have averted that disaster." 

Yes silence is safe. Not rocking the boat can assure smoother sailing but somebody better say something about the icebergs. In times like these, adding value to your jobs, doing more than we would usually do, is better job insurance than sheer neutrality. J0437293

Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality” 

 John F. Kennedy

In my opinion, choosing what I call the stealth syndrome as a career strategy, where you silently keep your head down and stay productive, will relegate you to anonymity. And when push comes to shove, no one remembers you and what you look like. 

Enjoy the silences to calm your mind and energize your action orientation towards your goals. But pay attention, listen to what is being said, and contribute your ideas to the conversation. That's the best way to avoid the labels of ignorance, arrogance, or irrelevance.

Thanks for reading. John