Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts on Profound Networking: Living For Others

One of the things I like about twitter is the many quotations that are shared every day. Today this one, from the great American novelist Herman Melville, caught my eye:

"We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects."

Sounding like a Buddhist with this karmic concept of causes and effects in our network of relationships with others, Melville teaches us an important truth about life: We cannot live only for ourselves.

This truth has a deep resonance for me. And many implications. For instance, the practice of networking has taken on a central significance in our lives these days. Whether networking with prospects through LinkedIn, or networking in a church basement with job hunters, everyone is networking. Networking has become a means to our ends: a sale, an interview, a job. Though we are connecting with others, the aim is economic, the level utilitarian. In sum, we are using one another.

Not that this is bad. If networking helps you achieve your goals and attain success and happiness, that's fine.

But, with Melville's wisdom in mind, I wonder if there is a more profound level of networking that can be plumbed.

Just recently, for the six weeks leading up to Easter, I facilitated a group at my church. We met once a week for 90 minutes for the six weeks of Lent. Though we were all members of St. Matthias parish, we were mostly strangers to each other. The stated aim of the sessions was "faith sharing," but I think it could just as well be called spiritual networking.

Through the six meetings, we connected with one another at a faith level where we delved into the working of the Spirit in our lives:

Sharing faith: Each of us is somewhere on our journey of faith, that lifelong road we travel toward discovering Why we are here and What we are meant to do.

Telling our story to one another: When sharing faith, it helps to tell our story, and hear the stories of others, while making the connection to the Good News story that guides us on the road.

Inspiring action: Just as business networking can produce a sale or a job lead, spiritual networking can inspire action intended to make the world a better place in some way.

Letting the Spirit in: The key to inspiring action is letting the Spirit in so that divine wisdom can find a place in the circle of friends.

Living for others: So when spiritual networking produces inspired action, the participants begin to live for others, making a positive difference in the world.

As a result of the series, we are no longer strangers to one another. Now when we see each other at church, there is a twinkling of recognition in our eyes, a wave, and perhaps even a hug.

And what's more, the spiritual networking process lights a fire, a burning in the heart that pulls you in the direction of service to others.

There is a more profound type of networking available, one that reminds us that we are indeed living for others.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on the Monday after Easter April 25, 2011. For more ideas on a deeper form of networking, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your group.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Leadership Lessons from the Pirates of Penzance

Recently, my wife and I saw several wonderful high school theater productions, including Seussical, Hello Dolly, and The Pirates of Penzance. The last in particular was so delightful and kinetic that we thought we had witnessed a Broadway show. Their exuberant performance was that spectacular.

Since we had gone to the final performance, there were many speeches after the show, where the students thanked the various teachers and parents who had helped make the show a success, in one way or another, including make-up, costumes, sets, lighting, sound system and more.

Lastly, the Drama Club teacher came up to say a closing word. He had directed the show and conducted the orchestra. It was clear as he spoke that he had a passion for theater and that he loved his kids.

Wowed by how totally committed everyone was to this show, my wife and I reflected upon the factors that make an excellent theatrical performance. Clearly, the best ones always have a palpably high level of engagement by the actors. The other aspects of the production, like sets and costumes and lighting and music, might leave something to be desired, but if the cast is "giving all they've got," you feel the excitement, the energy. It grabs you. And the experience works.

But what about leadership? Thinking about what goes into a highly successful theater production, some lessons about leadership emerge.

Though every high school drama production has a Director, an Artistic Director, a Music Director, a Choreographer, and a Managing Director, in the end, the performance is delivered by the cast. And in the case of Pirates of Penzance, you could see and feel the energy coming from them. Such exuberance does not come from an external source. No leader, no matter how good, can put that into another unless it’s already there, waiting to be called forth.

In essence, the leader creates the conditions for success. And the proof of this leadership is the excellence of the cast’s performance. So, let's unpack what the effective leader does:

Sets the stage: In his closing comments, the director said that he loves The Pirates of Penzance as a show. When the leader loves his job, it's contagious. With that love as a driving force, he was able to pass the torch and ignite the hearts of his cast.

Prepares the players: Whether the show is a contemporary one like Rent or a golden chestnut like Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, the director helps the cast to find their way into the heart and soul of the show. The best directors help each player understand their role, their motivation, and how they fit into the story.

Energizes others: One of the most important, yet most intangible, aspects of an excellent theater performance is energy. When the show is energized, you feel the excitement. Where does this energy come from? I believe it comes, in large part, from the director helping the players through an alchemical transformation from self-consciousness to self-lessness where the performer "forgets" him- or herself and "becomes" the part they are playing. The director has to energize the cast if they hope to energize the audience.

Gets out of the way: Knowing that he will not be on stage when the curtain opens, the director must strengthen his players to carry the show. Building the confidence of the players, and getting them to bond as a cohesive team, is key.

Coaches from the side: As each performance unfolds, the leader is there, noting what's going well, and noting what must be improved. And giving those notes to the cast and crew in as timely a way as possible to enhance their performance.

Keeps the fire burning: From opening night to final show, the director is both cheerleader and commander, relentlessly pushing his players to deliver the performances he knows they are capable of. The leader motivates and stokes the fire.

Yes, leadership played a key part in that performance of The Pirates of Penzance. The leader’s job, as I see it, is to fulfill what Warren Bennis said many years ago: “Leadership is the ability to turn Vision into Reality.” And somehow, the end result of effective leadership is, as the ancient sage Lao Tzu taught, “the people say ‘We did this ourselves.’”

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Good Friday April 22, 2011. For more ideas on leadership and performance, contact Terry and invite him to your organization.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Believing Is Achieving

At a recent community awards night in my town, retired pro football player Perry Williams gave a stirring talk about making a difference. His theme was: "If you're believing, you're achieving."

He illustrated it with his own story. As a young pup growing up in a broken home in Hamlet, North Carolina, he would watch pro football games on TV and say "Someday, mama, I'll be in the Super Bowl." Then, when he made it to the big time and played in the Super Bowl on the NY Giants team, he phoned home to tell his mama he loved her.

Believing is achieving, he said. Make sure you have a dream. Hold on to it. And pursue it no matter what.

Perry Williams' philosophy is badly needed in today's world, especially on the part of job hunters. Reading the business stories each week about the so-called "jobless recovery" is a sad tale. Many Boomers have given up and checked out. And many young college graduates are looking in vain for their first jobs.

So what is the answer? Here are six tips for following your dreams.

Don't go it alone: Get together with others. Connect. Join forces. As the great anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world." This is the genius at the heart of job search support groups. Join one. Better yet, join a few. Be an active member. The more you put in, the more you'll get out.

Review your life: Think back in time, even to your childhood. Review your journey, the roads taken, and the roads not. The choices you made. The dreams you had. Somewhere in your past may lie the keys to your future. What did you want to be when you grew up? What did you end up doing? The great career coach Richard Nelson Bolles once wrote: " many people end up doing, consciously or not, what others expect of them, or they settle for less because they think achieving their dream is too hard." Remember what the writer Carl Sandburg once said: "Nothing happens unless first a dream."

Expand your horizons: When we expand our horizons, the world becomes a much wider place. New possibilities appear. How do you expand your horizons? Read. Travel. Meet new people. Listen. Explore the unfamiliar. Study a topic outside your field. Do something you have never done before. Expose your mind to some radically new ideas.

Attempt the impossible: A couple years ago, a friend of mine said, "I'm impressed by your accomplishments, but you have to go further, much further." We all have our limits, some of which are self-imposed. Where, in our lives, have we put up a fence saying "Go No Further." What if we were to knock that fence down and go further than we have ever gone before? What possibilities lie beyond our limits? Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it is done." Visualize the dream, and take the plunge.

Make it happen: There's a saying that "Some people make things happen. Some watch what happens. And some ask 'What just happened?'" How many of us fall into the second and third categories? What does it take to be a "Make Things Happen" person? In a nutshell, you must do it. Do what it is you want to do. Don't let doubts drown your dreams. Walt Disney once said: "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Support and serve others: There's a saying "Get over yourself" that says, Our biggest obstacle may be our selves. The solution? Forget your self by focusing on the needs of others. Take your Self out of the spotlight and replace it with someone else that you could help. This is where volunteering comes in. One great way to do this for job hunters is to support and serve other job hunters. Ask yourself every day, Who can I help today? You may find that you are the answer to someone's prayers.

Walt Disney once said this about the importance of dreams: "If you can dream it, you can do it. This whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”

Lastly, St. Francis gave this formula for achieving the impossible: "First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible and the impossible will happen."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on April 15, 2011. For more ideas on job search and following your dream, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your group.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making Your Workplace Happy

I just read a great blog entry by UK performance coach Joan Henshaw called 4 Ways to Delight Your Employees where she says: "Most of the business owners and managers I work with genuinely want their employees to be happy at work. Why wouldn’t they? For one thing, happy employees are always far more productive than unhappy employees!."

How do you delight employees? Henshaw says:
1. Get clear on your expectations
2. Help your employees connect with the mission and purpose of the business
3. Give feedback and recognition
4. Show care, interest, and concern

Great points. I couldn't agree more with the importance of these steps to a happier workforce.

To add my two cents, I would say that the way to a happy workplace is L*O*V*E:

L = Listening: The power of listening cannot be emphasized enough, I believe. Why? Because we usually half-listen. We take it for granted most of the time. We pay lip service to listening, rather than actively listening with empathy.

O = Open Communication: The power of open communication, like listening, cannot be emphasized enough. Open communication is two-way communication, not one-way. Open communication is honest and direct. For communication to be open, employees must feel that it is safe to say what is on their minds and in their hearts.

V = Voice: When employees have a true voice, they are heard and respected. Their opinion counts. And wherever possible, their input is implemented.

E = Empowerment: And when a manager does the four things that Joan Henshaw recommends, plus Listening, Open Communication, and Voice, the result can be Empowerment, where people have the confidence (their own, and yours) to do the right thing.

If you really love something, as the song says, you set it free. Setting employees free means trusting them to do the right thing for your customers.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday April 13. For more ideas on empowering people, contact Terry and invite him to your organization.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Social Media, Job Search, and the Engine of Success

Many of today's job hunters are wondering about the value of social media, asking such questions as What is it? Is it safe? How much time will it take each day? and Why should I care?

Recently at the St. Matthias Employment Ministry, we have been addressing such questions, attempting to help our job hunters to get more comfortable with linkedin, twitter, facebook, and blogging.

If you have such questions yourself, maybe it will help to revisit the Engine of Success.

Back in 2007, I blogged about "the Engine of Success," an idea formulated by Systems Engineering professor Ken Modesitt. He says it is his core theory of success and his idea is a cyclical process that goes like this:

- The Quality of Our Relationships has an impact on our thinking...

- The Quality of Our Thinking affects our choices and actions...

- The Quality of Our Actions determines the outcomes we get...

- The Quality of Our Results affects our relationships...and the cycle continues...

Describing the cycle, Modesitt says: As the quality of relationships rises, the quality of thinking improves, leading to an increase in the quality of actions and results. Achieving high quality results has a positive effect on the quality of relationships, creating a reinforcing engine of success.

Everyone wants to achieve success in life. And success can have many meanings: introducing a new product, finding an elegant solution, discovering a breakthrough. For job hunters, success could be landing a good position in a valued organization.

So how can social media be a useful tool toward achieving success? It fits beautifully with Modesitt's Engine of Success.

- The Quality of Relationships: The success cycle begins with enhancing the quality of relationships. At its best, that is what social media does! Social media facilitates the process of connection between purposeful people. For example, people look for other people with common interests, and follow some of those that they find. Then, in some cases, they connect. This happens on twitter every day, for example.

- The Quality of Thinking: Often when people connect, they share ideas on a topic of mutual interest, feeding and influencing one another's thinking, leading to new ideas, new models, new vistas.

- The Quality of Action: With new thinking, each party can then make new choices and take new or renewed action toward their goals.

- The Quality of Results: As someone wisely said "If you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting." But with new choices and new actions, the results are bound to be different.

Modesitt says that the success cycle is self-reinforcing: when we start getting a better quality of results, it fuels our desire to continue connecting with people and nurturing those relationships that nourish our thinking.

Isn't that the secret to an effective job search too? Most job hunters will find their next job through networking. Social media can help expand your reach and your findability.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on April 10, 2011. For more ideas on using social media in your job search, contact Terry.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Three Keys to Organizational Change

My friend and colleague Dan Tobin, author of such books as Feeding Your Leadership Pipeline, is in the process of writing his next book, to be called "What Did You Learn at Work Today?" Dan says the book will provide guidance to employees at all levels on how they should be learning at work every day in order to improve their job performance and build their careers.

A major feature of the book, Dan says, is going to be many personal stories of ways that people have learned valuable lessons at work (other than by attending a training program or taking an e-learning course).

Here's a story that I submitted to Dan for his consideration. It's a story about organizational change.

I was the Training Manager supporting the R&D unit in NJ of a global pharma-chemicals company based in Germany. The business unit head from Frankfurt had flown to NJ for a management meeting and, to my great surprise, asked to see me.

In a meeting that lasted only a few seconds, he shook my hand and said, "Please help them to change."

He was talking about my client group, a community of research scientists and technicians. The change he was referring to was the need to become more customer focused. The customers, the business units in North Carolina and Texas, had grown fed up with the lack of commercially viable new product ideas from the NJ R&D unit.

Over a number of years, the perception had formed that the R&D unit in NJ was an out-of-touch ivory tower, disconnected from the real needs of the revenue generating business units. The truth is, the R&D community had stopped engaging with their customers, had stopped listening to them.

The moment of truth came at a town hall meeting. The head of the R&D unit put it plainly: Unless we start generating commercially viable new product ideas that the business units want, this R&D location will be closed.

What did we do? Working in concert with R&D management, HR, and Quality, I developed several initiatives, including an intra-preneuring course that showed the scientists how to frame their new ideas as business proposals. An important feature of this program was the new product idea presentation where the research teams presented their pitch to management (including business unit managers) and got direct and unvarnished feedback. Some ideas were killed on the spot, while others were sent back to the drawing board for more work. From this iterative process, the strongest ideas were given the green light for further development.

As well received as this training program was, the real breakthrough was a series of new idea brainstorming sessions, comprised of max-mix groups where researchers met with reps from the business units. Conceived by one of my clients, a young researcher, these brainstorming meetings produced many innovative ideas that excited the business units, and helped shift their perception of the NJ R&D unit. As the meeting facilitator, I had the thrilling opportunity to see a bunch of great minds interacting and coming up with so many possibilities.

Through this experience, I learned some important lessons about changing an organization:

- It takes a team: No one person could have done this alone. But as Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

- It takes engagement: To shift such deeply entrenched negative perceptions, the parties have to re-engage, start interacting again, start listening again, and start trusting again.

- It takes vision: What one thing will turn around an organization that was headed for the chopping block? A very clear, unambiguous view of what John Kotter termed "the burning platform." And a clear alternative vision of a brighter future.

Oh! And one more...

- It takes acceptance: For an organization to change, the members must accept it. If they understand the need, they are more likely to embrace the change. And in accepting it, they will be open to learning (about themselves, about others), open to influence, and open to growth.

Yes, there will be some loss and pain associated with organizational change. But, as the old saying "No pain, no gain" points out, there will be a new beginning.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on April 6, 2011. For more ideas on leadership development, change management, and storytelling, invite Terry to your organization.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Time to Develop

Here's a question for all Managers reading this blog entry: When is the last time you took a Time Management seminar? What? You don't have time for that?

Though humorous, it's all too true. Many (if not most) don't have time for Time Management. But if You did make the time, and if you took my Time Management course, you'd come face to face with Yourself and your own priorities.

Time Management, after all, is not about managing time. Time is an abstract concept. Rather, Time Management is about managing yourself: your values, your choices, and your actions.

For example, let's consider Delegation. Someone once said, "The price of delegation is training." There's a great truth there. We don't delegate because it would take too long to explain the task and show the associate what we want and how to do it. So, we end up doing the task ourselves. It's quicker. We get it done the way we want it done. And we retain control.

The problem? At the end of such a day, we have not developed our people. And we are stressed out by having too much to do.

The answer? Managers must bite the bullet. The price of delegation is training. You must find the time to grow your people. Incrementally.

If you don't, your tombstone may say, "He did it all. And it did him in."

The time to develop is now. Develop yourself. Develop your people.

Remember: Grow your people...and they will grow your business.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday April 4, 2011. Do you and your Managers need help with managing time, getting things done, delegating work, and growing your staff? Invite Terry to your organization.