Some direct advice

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I’ve been thinking about leadership today – topic for this week’s blog post. About a week ago, I attended a talk during which the speaker referenced this acrostic:

Dedication
Integrity
Respect
Energy
Credibility
Trust

That’s what you need to look for not only in the people you hire, but also yourself. What example are you setting as a leader?

More on Friday.

Thoughts on networking

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On a scale of ‘deathly allergic’ to ‘I love it to the end of the universe and back’, how much do you like networking? To what extent is it like some secret cabal for people in the know?

I used to see myself as extremely introverted: wallflower, hates parties, world is too peopley, socialising is utterly draining. Even amongst loved ones I needed to escape to a darkened room after a couple of hours. And then networking – ah, hell on earth. Can you relate? (If not, maybe keep reading anyway.)

Some five years ago I was taking part in a coaching trios exercise (where you take turns being the coach, client and observer). I was in the client chair, and had just mentioned my dislike of networking. My coach in the trio said: “Well, why don’t we talk about that – in fact, let’s try it out now and see how you get on.” and I physically recoiled with a “No!” “Aha!” she said. “Look at that! You actually leapt back in your chair! What’s behind that?”

To cut a long story short, I realised that day that I had a bit of a phobia about it all. I hated it because I always felt like I didn’t have anything to talk about and was scared of coming across as stupid and uninformed. I also realised that it wasn’t just professional networking; it was any group setting where I felt surrounded by far more intelligent people (even among friends) and therefore felt unable to put in any twopenneth worth talking about.

That day I discovered two key strategies for overcoming my fear: first, learning how to take a step back, away from the perceived pressure to appear intelligent, and into a space where I asked questions instead (because even if you don’t, lots of people do like to talk about themselves). Second, once I was out of the perceived spotlight and a conversation had started to flow, I realised that I actually knew more about any given topic than I thought I did.

More recently, I’ve moved from being better at networking to actually enjoying it. There are, I think, a number of factors that have led to this, primarily the fact that, in having started to love myself properly, my happiness and confidence have grown markedly and I seem to have developed an expanded capacity to welcome others into my world. There is also a great deal to be said for finally doing something that I care passionately about; now I actually want to talk about my work.

The funny thing is, now that things are easier in the context of networking, it’s as if the tumblers have fallen into place, the lock has clicked and the door’s wide open. I keep finding myself initiating conversations with strangers simply to make a connection. And then I find that me being happy and wanting to connect is somehow contagious, which is a lovely effect to have on people.

The way I’ve started thinking about all this is that I really don’t like to call it networking, because it can be off-putting jargon for what is, at its core, creating relationships, finding things to bond over and seeing how you can help the people you meet.

I think everything flows from this. Ultimately everything you do is about people. Getting to know people, being curious about people, building connections with those people, and having mutually fulfilling interactions. Selling products? Focus on what your customers want. Service-based business? Find out what problems your potential clients are trying to solve and then focus on that, not what you want to push out to them. Attending a professional networking event? Find out about the person you’re talking to, not just their job or business. Tricky colleague? First, make them feel heard and understood.

I don’t know about you, but I hate small talk; I’d much rather skip straight to the meaningful conversation. Don’t be afraid to go deep. Shall we skip past the weather and the state of the country? Let’s pretend we’ve known each other for months and have that conversation instead. Suddenly we’re entering interesting and worthwhile territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d probably still rather curl up at home than dress up for a night out, which also explains why I often look like I’ve gone out in my pyjamas. But that’s me, you know? And on that final note – just be yourself. I want to know you, not the person you think you should be. Everybody is fascinating when you take the time to get to know them, which is exactly what I’ll be doing.

 

Humankind cannot bear very much reality

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I’m reading poetry, which I do when I’m stressed. Stressed is desserts spelt backwards. Lemon tart is a dessert. I thought I’d move on from this in the chain of thoughts but now I just really want lemon tart.

Jokes aside, I love Eliot. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality” – being authentic isn’t easy. Accepting yourself, knowing yourself – in some moments all we can do is admit that really we know very little. I’ve written before about constructionism; we have the liberty and ability now to construct new realities that are more to our liking, but always there is the challenge of remaining authentic and loyal to our truths.

Lightbulb moments

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I love this moment when it happens. Just as you’re doing the heavy lifting – and then a pause, and sometimes an ‘oh’ or a ‘hmmm’ or equivalent, because a light’s gone on in your head. Aha.

Have you had any moments of clarity this week? What are you going to do with those revelations?

The value of experiences

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Throwback to early 1999 and a backpacking trip around Spain during my first year at university. This is the Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey in Catalonia. It’s been nearly twenty years, but I still remember the feeling – if not the details – of the day we visited the abbey.

When I was much younger, I used to balk at spending on travel and holidays – nothing ‘concrete’ to show at the end of it. Over the years I’ve learnt how much more worthwhile experiences are, rather than the collecting of things.

Embrace new experiences. They keep you learning, marvelling, transforming. Travel to discover other people’s worlds and become more empathic about their realities. If you can’t travel in person, journey through books. When you do buy things to possess, buy less; buy better. Buy things that make you smile and your heart sing, not throwaway things to forget next year.

What do you value?

Goodbye 2017, hello 2018

A year ago today, I bid goodbye to my year of crisis. In 2016 depression got the better of me and I spent the rest of the year hauling myself back to a better place. I learnt lots of things, including how to take much better care of myself. Like how not to take things personally, leaving work in the office, knowing when to say no, making micro-resolutions, not sweating the small stuff, and embracing lots of new experiences. I started playing rugby and running regularly, joined a choir and dabbled in acro yoga, and attended my first music festivals and live gigs.

2017 has been kind to me, and I’ve been kind to myself. I’ve been altogether more sanguine about life. I completed my postgraduate qualification in career development and coaching, then took the plunge with a year-long work sabbatical. In just two months since leaving the 9-5 in October, I’ve launched Quiet Space, established a website and social media presence, networked, designed and developed programmes, and learnt so much about business development, branding, sales and marketing. None of this has actually felt like work, because I finally feel like I’m doing what I should be. And above all – I’ve been proud to be part of the transformational journey of my amazing clients.

I have lots of plans for 2018, but for now I’m looking back to appreciate all the things I’ve achieved. I’m proud of myself, and enormously thankful for all the love of my family and friends, who’ve gotten me through it all.

Look back on 2017 and see just how far you’ve come. Notice what skills you’ve learnt. The insights you’ve had. The people you’ve helped. The new experiences you’ve embraced. The challenges you’ve faced head-on. The friendships you’ve made. You are amazing. I guarantee it.

I wish you all an amazing 2018. Love is louder than all of it.