Why Everyone Should Advocate for Someone


, ,

As a fairly new foster parent, it’s already become clear to me that one of our most important roles is to advocate for our foster kids. Whether it’s for special education programs, medical attention, specialized treatment or therapy or simply their best interests, things just move faster when they have an advocate fighting for them. I’m sure one day the kids will be able to advocate for themselves, but like most foster kids they are at a point in their lives when they aren’t in a position to do that.

Yesterday I was thinking about how everyone has points in their life when they could use an advocate. Maybe they are struggling with a tough situation at home, are overwhelmed at work or just can’t see what they need to do to get one rung higher on that corporate ladder. Sometimes, for any number of reasons, people just get stuck and could use someone to help them get ‘unstuck’… and that person could be you.

Think back to a point in your life when someone took a special interest in you. Perhaps it was a mentor, teacher, colleague, friend or family member. They invested in you with their time and experience to help you overcome the challenge you were up against and because of them, you are where you are today. Most people can think of someone in their life (or if you’re lucky, a few people) that went above and beyond to invest in them. Sometimes you aren’t sure why, sometimes it was someone unlikely and sometimes you didn’t even realize the significant impact that person was making until years later.

Regardless of who you are, your age, your experience, your job title or where you are at in your life, there is someone right now that needs you to advocate for them. To lift them up, to share your experiences, invest your time and just listen and care. You may be the only person that really takes a special interest in that individual. It doesn’t need to be someone that is going through a rough time. It could be someone that has plateaued in their career and can’t figure out how to get that next promotion and needs someone just like you to provide perspective and show them the way. To be their mentor, their coach and their guide on the path to their next big thing.

Today, take time to reflect on all the people in your life; people who are very close to you as well as those that are acquaintances. And then think about who may need you to invest in them and advocate for them. There is a big difference you can make in someone’s life starting immediately – it’s just up to you to take the first step and make the commitment. Be the person that years down the road someone looks back and says “Because of them, I am where I am today”.

Turning Insights in to Action – 5 Steps to Building Your Post Conference Action Plan

Today we wrap up Sage Summit 2014 and wow! The caliber of speakers and content was like no other conference I’ve ever been to, which lends itself to the question “Now what?”. We just took in four days of non-stop education, inspiration, motivation and insights, but the real key is how we’re going to turn all of that in to an action plan to ensure each of us gets great ROI on the investment we made to attend the conference.

I thought I’d share what my plan of attack is going to be coming out of this week, which may help you craft your own action plan.

#1 – First, it starts with setting time aside for reflection within a few days of the conference wrapping up. You don’t want too much time to go by because you run the risk of forgetting what’s most important or don’t end up making any action plan at all. I’m planning to go through the #SageSummit hashtag on Twitter, my own tweets from the conference, all the notes I took in the meetings I had, notes I took in sessions I attended and key takeaways and learnings from any sessions I presented at. I’m also going to take a final read through my conference agenda which may jog my memory as to other highlights.

#2 – Next, I’ll identify my ah-ha’ moments and insights. As I review all the information above, I’m looking for those things that made the lightbulb go off above my head and making a consolidated list of what all those ah-ha moments were.

#3 – Once I have that consolidated list, I’m going to identify my top five favorites. What were the ‘best of the best’ as far as insights and learnings.

#4 – It’s time to build my action plan. How am I going to take those key learnings and use them to change my trajectory, shape the future and help me achieve a new level of success? I am going to keep in mind that if I just make even just one small change a week, that is still over fifty small changes a year which can lead to big transformation.  What is going to change as a result of my learnings? All of this needs to ultimately build in to my action plan, which of course is specific, measurable and time-bound.

#5 – Set the cadence to check in on progress. I need to ensure I schedule time to check in on my progress, even if it’s a meeting with myself.

Everyone that was at Sage Summit made an investment of their time and resources to attend. Don’t let the opportunity slip by to turn all your great learnings and insights in to action and catapult your own business (and life) to a new level of success.

Time for Some Fresh Perspective


, , , ,

Let’s face it, life is busy. Deadlines, commitments, responsibilities… and the list goes on. There are rarely enough hours in a day to get ‘it’ all done (whatever ‘it’ is), let alone step away from all the craziness for some fresh perspective. But when I make time for it… wow!

I recently started reading the book Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Oneself. The first chapter in the book is an article by Clayton M. Christensen titled “How Will You Measure Your Life”. First, if you don’t already own this book I recommend heading straight to Amazon and getting yourself a copy – it’s amazing.

I paused many times throughout this chapter to simply reflect because the concepts, lessons and perspective gained were so profound. A few of my favorite points were…

  • Being a great leader affects so much more than helping people perform at their best to achieve your company’s objectives. Being a great leader means the people who work with you and for you are positively impacted by you so when they leave the office, they are excited, rejuvenated and in a position to achieve their greatest life ambitions away from work as well. It means that because of their interaction with you, their personal life is better. You’ve built them up in a way that allows them to be a better parent, spouse, volunteer, etc. Wow. That extends well beyond what many think a leader’s role is.
  • Christensen shares one of his greatest learnings; “It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than 98% of the time”. Through life experiences, he knows that the phrase ‘just this once’ almost always turns into ‘more than once’ and he won’t compromise his values… not even a bit.

These are just two examples of what I took away – there are many more great insights. All week I’ve been thinking about what I read on leadership, life purpose, values and other great principles. All from one author. One book. One chapter. A lot of the concepts weren’t new to me, but Christensen’s approach allowed me to think of them in a new way, providing a fresh context to get me thinking. The rest of this book is proving to be just as thought-provoking.

How do you bring fresh perspective and new context in to your life? Perhaps you read, or maybe watch some of the great TED talks that are out there. It could even be a conversation over a coffee with a mentor or friend that will challenge your thinking. Whatever your preferred approach, just make sure you do it. Carve out time to think differently. Challenge the status quo. Because after all, life is about continually growing, evolving, becoming better, and then taking action so when your days are over, you can say with confidence “I truly became my best self and gave everything I could. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I achieved my life’s purpose”.

Lessons from My Mom

My mom was my greatest champion, an endless supporter, my biggest fan, and my best friend. I think back to the challenges she faced raising kids for many years as a single mother. At times, we didn’t have spare cash to get the toys and ‘luxuries’ the other kids had. But, we always had a firm foundation.

My mom taught us with encouragement, never entertaining the word ‘impossible,’ but rather telling us anything we dreamed was within our reach. Through example, she taught me how to be a strong businesswoman by reinventing herself as many times as necessary to support our family. She innovated when innovation wasn’t a trend.

She instilled in me a priceless moral compass that I come back to every day to guide my decisions. She brought me up with faith much bigger than any obstacle put in front of me. All of these lessons are valuable beyond compare, but there’s one in particular I’ll never forget.

It was Thanksgiving Day 2005 and my family was gathered, waiting for my mom to arrive so our celebration could begin. She never made it. My mom was in a fatal car accident on her way to my home; just two months shy of her 51st birthday. The loss of my mother was the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. My mom was a firm believer in ‘everything happens for a reason,’ and while I struggled to understand what the reason could possibly be for this tragedy, I attempted to make sense of it and find the lesson in the midst of my grief.

Through her passing, the biggest lesson my mom unintentionally taught me was that life is short and to not put off until tomorrow what your heart is telling you to do today. Don’t wait for the perfect day to pursue your dream. Don’t wait for retirement to travel. Don’t miss out on priceless family moments. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you. Don’t miss a chance to build someone up; you may be their only champion that day or in that moment. We often live today like it’s just another day and tomorrow we can try again, but there’s no guarantee that we have tomorrow.

Many years ago, I created a bucket list – a list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime – and I update this list every year. A bucket list typically includes things that seem out of reach, so they’re moved to a ‘someday’ category. Through the last lesson my mom taught me, my someday has become today. I’ve taken all the things in my bucket list and have been making them a reality – one by one. This Mother’s Day, I’ll take another look at my bucket list and the amazing things I’ve been able to bring to life over the last year. Then I’ll make a plan on how to bring forward those someday items. #NoRegrets

The One Thing That Could Change Absolutely Everything

This morning I received a bit of an unexpected blessing. Some good news, if you will. I took a few all-too-brief minutes to appreciate it and then immediately moved on to get ready for my day. As I was enjoying my morning coffee I was struck with a huge realization – the good news I just spent a whole five minutes appreciating is the same news that would be the ‘one thing’ that could change absolutely everything for someone else.

The reality is that most of my days are a series of back-to-back blessings. I wake up with a roof over my head every single day of the year, I always start my day with a hot shower and a coffee, I have a job that I absolutely love to go to that challenges and stretches me, I learn something new every day, I have a husband who supports me and enables me to do what I do… and this list goes on… and on. Perhaps it’s that constant series of blessings that caused me to gloss over yet another one. What a tragedy.

I think about the millions of people around the world who would say that just receiving one of my every-day blessings would change absolutely everything. Think about it…

Millions upon millions of people would say – If I just had…

• A roof over my head, it would change absolutely everything.
• A job that could pay the bills,
• Running water,
• A feeling of safety and security,
• The opportunity to learn something new,
• A spouse who loved me unconditionally.

You get the idea. The point that just hit me over the head like a ton of bricks is that just one of the very simple, every-day blessings that we (or more specifically I) gloss over or accept as the norm would be for millions the ‘one thing that would change absolutely everything’.

As we move through this season of bounty surrounded by family, friends, freedom and a life many would call ‘living the dream’, let us all take a moment to say thank you for all we have and appreciate every last little thing that alone would truly be life changing for someone else.

The Art of Truly Listening


, ,

It’s a crazy busy, multi-tasking, information overloaded, multiple-device kind of world out there. You likely have very little time to just ‘be’ – to step away from the hectic pace, turn off your incoming texts, emails, tweets and Facebook messages and just relax. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there are side effects of this information rich, 24/7 world we’ve created, and one of those side effects is the decline of an individual’s ability to truly listen.

Read my full post on the Virgin.com Entrepreneur website.

Having an Attitude of Gratitude Year-Round

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays – it’s a great time to reflect on how fortunate we all are and how much we have to be grateful for. Whether you’re Canadian and celebrate Thanksgiving in October or American and celebrate Thanksgiving in November, we definitely have more than enough abundance on both sides of the border to be thankful long after the official holiday is over.

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate both American and Canadian Thanksgiving and over the last few months of Thanksgiving festivities and celebrations, there are some lessons learned that I consider worth remembering year round.

  • We have more than enough. Enough what, you may ask? Everything! We live in a culture where the more we have, the more we want and the more we think we need. Although not everyone is in the same boat, there are many people who feel they go without, when in fact, there is very little that most of us go without. Andy Stanley reminded me last week that we (as North Americans) live in a world where we have a perfectly good car that does exactly what we need it to, yet will go and trade it in on a newer, better model. Or, we have a kitchen with a fridge, stove and counter space that meets all our cooking needs but yet will rip it out and start over so it can all be new. The truth is, we often have exactly what we need and shouldn’t take for granted how many ‘extras’ we really do have.
  • Opportunity is everywhere. What a great place we live where we have the opportunity to change our circumstances. When we’re in school we’re encouraged to explore all the things we could be when we ‘grow up’ and once we’re in the career phase of our life, the world really is our oyster and we can shape and mold our own destiny. There are an abundance of opportunities all around us – all we need to do is look for them and then take action and make them happen.
  • Freedom is a privilege. When I watch the news I am frequently reminded there are countries where all people hope to get out of a day is a safe place to hide from the gunfire surrounding them, or maybe they dream of a day when they can openly profess their religious beliefs. We often take freedom for granted, but because every day you get to decide what you do and where you’ll go, we should be eternally thankful.
  • We need to complain less. It’s easy to get caught up in what I’ve heard referred to as ‘first world problems’. I saw a Saturday Night Live skit that had a number of technology experts complaining about all the issues with the iPhone 5 and then they brought on a panel of people representing the factory workers who make the iPhone 5 to respond to the complaints. When you look at the life circumstances of many of those overseas factory workers, the technies felt ridiculous complaining about how the iPhone wasn’t fast enough or how the maps didn’t work properly. I also recently heard someone talking about how they felt over-taxed when they withdrew money from their retirement savings. Think of all the people who dream of having any retirement savings at all! Next time you catch yourself complaining, think of how you may sound because it may come across as ungrateful.

If you need some reminders about why you should be grateful, especially on days when you feel you don’t have a lot to be grateful for, click here for a list of 19 reasons that was recently posted on one of my favorite websites, Practical Tips for Productive Living.

I think at the end of the day, if you had a heart-to-heart conversation with anyone you’d be able to get them to a place where their gratitude came to the surface. However, we should all strive to live our lives in a way where our gratitude for the amazing abundance we have is evident to all those we connect with on a daily basis.

Five Tips for Maintaining Perspective in Challenging Times

Although the idea of going through life smoothly with very few hurdles to overcome may seem appealing, that usually isn’t reality – and it actually wouldn’t provide the insights you ultimately need to get to your next level. Individuals and businesses often learn the most when they are faced with adversity, tough economic times or even health challenges. Next time you’re going down a challenging road, remember these five key points:

  • Situations are temporary. Danielle LaPorte has a “Manifesto of Encouragement” on her website and one of the quotes is “Someone is in profound pain, and a few months from now, they’ll be thriving like never before. They just can’t see it from where they’re at.” – very wise words!
  • Accept help. You likely have people that say “if I can help with anything, just let me know” and believe it or not, they aren’t just saying that. Take them up on their offer for support – whether that means them taking your kids off your hands for the afternoon, bringing dinner,  putting in some extra hours at work or just listening, let them take some of the pressure off you.
  • Look for the lessons. There are usually a few valuable lessons to be learned in every challenging situation. If you can manage to, try to take a step back and look for those lessons – how did you end up in this situation, what did you contribute to arriving here and what will you do differently in the future so you can avoid (if possible) ending up here again. Simply “surviving” the ordeal isn’t nearly as valuable as what you can learn in the process.
  • Keep a positive attitude. This is likely the toughest of all. When things are going sideways, it’s much easier to get caught up in how bad things look and think of the worst case scenario. True leaders will try to rise above the situation and be positive, partially to try to avoid insanity and partially to keep the troops (aka – your team, family, etc.) from needless worry. Having everyone worried that the worst case scenario may become reality doesn’t benefit anyone so stay positive (even if you’re faking it) and everyone in your life, including you, will be further ahead.
  • Take care of you. Sometimes it feels like the best solution is working around the clock and burning the candle at both ends to get it solved, but that likely isn’t the case. In fact, exhaustion will leave you without enough brainpower to figure out how to solve the problem. Get rest, eat well and get some exercise – even if that means a short walk around your neighborhood. Without looking after you, you won’t have the right frame of mind to get anything accomplished.

Remember, in times of challenge, perspective is sometimes what it takes to make it through and these five points will help provide that perspective when you’re having a hard time doing so yourself.

Five Tips for Intentional Networking


, ,

There are never-ending opportunities to network online through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – and the list goes on. However, we all know some of the best networking comes when you meet someone face-to-face, shake hands and just talk! When you go to a conference or trade show, how much time do you put in to advance preparation for what I call ‘intentional networking’. This isn’t the same as randomly meeting people while you’re wandering the trade show floor (although that can have value too), it’s about creating a plan in advance, clearly defining your networking objectives and then working the plan.

Here are five ‘intentional networking’ tips for your next conference, trade show or networking event:

  • Master your pitch. I work a lot with accountants and many times when I meet an accountant, they will introduce themselves in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown, and I have an accounting firm”. Exciting, hey? Does that type of introduction make you want to do business with Joe? What if Joe introduced himself in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown and I help small businesses increase profitability and grow their revenue, while at the same time developing a long term strategic plan for success”. All of a sudden, you become interested. In fact, on the rare occasion when I’ve heard someone introduce themselves in this way, the response from the business owner they are introducing themselves to is “Wow – that sounds exactly like what I need”. Before you tackle your next networking event, make sure you have your elevator pitch mastered so when you introduce yourself, you clearly articulate how you’re different from your competitors, which will cause people to take notice and say “Now that’s someone I want to do business with!”.
  • Plan who you want to meet. Attendee lists are often available in advance of conferences or networking events – take time to study it and identify who you are going to be looking for when you arrive. Nowadays it’s easy to find people’s photos on LinkedIn so you recognize them when you see them, which also helps. Once you identify who you want to connect with, do your research. Take notes on their career history, read through their company website and become familiar with their      objectives. I’m always impressed when I meet someone and it is clear based on the comments they make that they have done their homework, so make sure you do yours.
  • Schedule in advance. Now that you’ve determined who you want to meet, you will likely see there are some senior level individuals or company executives on your list. Odds are these folks have a fairly packed schedule at most events they attend. Because of this, for the key individuals you want to connect with it’s recommended that you reach out in advance, let them know what you’d like to meet about and suggest two or three potential meeting dates and times, as well as a location. This will kick off the conversation and get you on their calendar which guarantees you’ll get some of their time at the conference. ‘Playing it by ear’ may cause you to miss a big opportunity to connect with someone who could change your business!
  • Maximize your time… and pace yourself! Leading up to the event, it’s ideal if you can plan well in advance so you’re not rushing around at the last minute finishing work projects or organizing things at home, which can leave you feeling burned out before the event even starts. Plan to pack early and leave some breathing room in your schedule for the days leading up to the event so when you arrive, you’re feeling refreshed and energized, ready to make the most of your time (and the investment you’ve made in attending!).  When you arrive, pace yourself. If your event is three or four days, don’t get caught burning the candle at both ends on day one and then find yourself feeling too tired to maximize the rest of the conference or event.
  • Break out of your comfort zone. When you attend conferences or events, especially when they only happen once a year, you likely have a list of colleagues or friends you haven’t seen in a while that you want to catch up with. Make you balance the “catching up” with breaking out of your comfort zone and meeting new people, which often leads to new insights and perspectives you can take back to your business. Also remember, there are many new attendees at every event regardless of size, so take a few moments to introduce yourself to someone you see standing alone. When I attend conferences I intentionally look for individuals who are standing alone and most of the time, those introductions and conversations turn out to be extremely valuable.

At your next conference or event, make a plan for intentional networking and you’ll be amazed at the doors that open and the value you’ll receive!

You Decide if Your Glass is Half Empty, Half Full or Just Plain Overflowing


, , ,

Every day, every hour and every minute serves up an opportunity for you to decide how to respond to a particular situation. The situation may be the hunt for misplaced car-keys when you’re already running late for your first meeting of the day, it may be a cranky person who takes your order at Starbucks in the morning, it may be big changes at work or in your career or it may even be personal health challenges. Regardless, the fact remains that each day presents you with literally hundreds of situations at you that give you an opportunity to respond positively or negatively – it’s simply up to you.

When things come flying at you throughout the day (as they always will) here are five points to ponder before you decide how to react:

  • Is the sky in fact falling? Sometimes your initial reaction to a situation is “it doesn’t get any worse than this!” but really, is that the case? Often if you give a situation a chance to settle in, you find that not only is it not negative, it more than likely has many positive outcomes as well. If you are caught off guard by something that was thrown your way, give it some time (or even sleep on it) before you react. Don’t be the person to jump to negative conclusions and overreact – instead always try to be the optimist!
  • You’re in control. Although you may not have the opportunity to shape or control the situation itself, you are completely in control of how you react to the situation. You can take something that truly may be negative, look for the positives in it, and turn it around. You ultimately control how the situation plays out by the way you respond to it, so keep it positive!
  • Your character will often be judged on your reaction to the situation. Anyone can be a ‘hero’ during the good times, leading people to celebrations and victory dances. However, a true leader will be able to shine during the tough situations by being authentic and gaining trust by showing their true character. Make sure when people get a glimpse in to your true character, it’s a side of you that you want to be seen.
  • Leaders set the tone. In times of challenge, people look around to see how the leaders are reacting. If you’ve ever been on a flight with extreme turbulence, I don’t know about you but I always look at the flight attendants. If they are calm, cool and collected I take a deep breath and relax. However, if they look frazzled and panicked, I get anxious and wonder if I should be in panic mode as well. Keep in mind whether it’s your team, your family, friends or even your spouse, you often have the ability to set the tone for how others react to a particular situation so make sure you’re setting the right tone!
  • You always have a choice. One of the great leaders I have the privilege of working with has a saying that comes to mind regularly for me, and that is “you always have a choice”. The more I ponder it, the more interesting that phrase becomes. If you think about what kinds of situations people all around the world are faced with every day, there are actually millions of people who find themselves in situations they have no control over. They don’t get to choose whether or not they work, what they will eat or where their next vacation is – their decisions are much more life and death than we face in North America. How fortunate are we that we live in an area of the world where we have so many choices in our lives. If a situation really is one you want to change, you have the freedom to do that.  If you can’t find a way to feel good or find the positive in a situation, count your blessings that you live in a country where you have a choice and can change the situation.

Next time you’re wondering if the glass is half empty or half full, remember that you are in fact the one that is filling the glass and can decide if it’s full, empty or just plain overflowing.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers