Five Tips for Intentional Networking


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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


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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.

Leaving Job Titles at the Door Promotes Better Team Culture


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Good leaders recognize it can be hard to build a team culture that says we’re all here to work together and win if there is an air of hierarchy in their organization. To truly build a team, often leaving job titles behind can be very important. Here are some ideas to remove the feelings of hierarchy from your organization:

  • Stop introducing yourself with your title. Many people pay careful attention to how someone introduces themselves and it’s likely your team does too. Next time you introduce yourself refer to the team you’re part of rather than using your job title (for example, I’m Bill Smith with the marketing team, rather than Bill Smith, Vice President of Marketing). I think it sets the tone for what’s really important, and it’s often not your job title.
  • Be mindful of ways hierarchy is demonstrated at your organization. Do you have special parking for “the boss” at your company? What about a special area or break room that only VPs and above can use? Although there are times when this is warranted, it often just tells people who the company believes is most important and in all reality, everyone is important in making a company run effectively. If everyone plays an important role, then look at ways your company says that someone is more important than another and determine if any of those could be removed.
  • Maintain an open door policy. Organizations that strive to build a true team culture have front line employees that wouldn’t hesitate to email or walk into the office of the top ranks or leaders in the business. Does everyone in your organization feel comfortable coming in your office?
  • Take time for casual conversations. In a world where everyone is busy and the pace seems to be getting faster every day, it’s important for leaders to take time to have “corner of the desk” type conversations. This means that leaders simply stop by someone’s desk (without a meeting invitation!) and see how things are going. No agenda, no formal conversation – just making sure people know they care and are genuinely interested in how they are doing. These casual conversations go a long way to removing the barriers hierarchy can create.
  • Dress the part. At my organization, Fridays are casual dress days. I think it had to do with how I was brought up, but I just didn’t feel comfortable wearing jeans to work (the old “you never know who you may run into” kept popping in to my mind). I was actually one of the few people that came to the office on Friday that wasn’t wearing jeans. One day, someone on my team asked me why I didn’t ‘dress down’ on Friday like everyone else. Although they didn’t say as much, I felt as though their assumption was that I either didn’t want my team to see a casual side of me or I was ‘above’ dressing down. I was mortified! This was obviously not the message I wanted to send and it never occurred to me that people would interpret it that way. Needless to say, on Fridays I now fit right in and wear jeans to prove it!

I am fortunate to work at a company where titles are rarely mentioned in introductions and employees feel extremely comfortable reaching out to anyone in the organization, regardless of their role. If your business or organization is like most, people just want to come to work at a company where they feel valued and that they are making an important contribution. Removing the sense of hierarchy helps people realize their role is just as important as anyone else’s… because it really is!

Drive Innovation & Change by ‘Removing the Filters’


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When was the last time you really listened to one of your customers? What about your front line employees? Many business leaders find themselves so busy with meetings, phone calls and planning that they end up somewhat removed from the most important thing that goes on in their business – engagement with their customers! After all, customers are who determine whether or not a business is successful.

Although as a leader you likely have great meetings and conversations with your direct reports or your immediate team, sometimes they don’t tell you the small details, and not because they don’t want to or because they are hiding something, but rather because they don’t necessarily think you will find it important. In other words, they may not want to bother you with the small details. However, what you will learn by spending time with your front line employees (the ones who directly interact with your customers) or your customers themselves will undoubtedly drive change and innovation in your business.

A great example is a CEO I work with that said some of the most valuable time they spend in their business is listening to support or sales calls. They learn what the customer painpoints are, what their front line employees are saying on the phone, what their customers are asking for, etc. In your business, a customer may ask “Do you provide X (fill in the blank) service?” and the employee they are speaking to may answer “no” which is correct. However, that call may spark an idea for a new service opportunity for your business which you wouldn’t have thought of if you weren’t listening in.

Alternatively, having a team meeting with front line employees can provide similar information regardless of what leadership position you’re in – right up to the CEO. Try a townhall type format, where you write three headings on your whiteboard: what’s working, what’s not working and areas of opportunity and then just let them talk while you write and ask questions. Some of the things they tell you that aren’t working will cause you to scratch your head and say “we need to fix that!” and you can just get it done! The changes that result from your learnings can drive revenue, innovation, profitability and also motivate your organization because they know their voices are heard all the way to the top.

At the end of the day, it’s rare that someone purposefully leaves out details or information in an effort to hide something from you, but they do filter information (often without intending to do so) based on what they think you need (or want) to know. Do yourself, and your business, a favor and occasionally remove the filter because what you learn will lead to great improvement!

Becoming Intentionally Extraordinary


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I’ve found myself hearing a theme lately at conferences, workshops, meetings and even in conversations with my colleagues, and that theme is focused on becoming extraordinary. Whether you use the term extraordinary, excellent, amazing or whatever suits you, it is about the desire to go beyond the ordinary and do something (or many things) great. At one conference I recently attended, they keynote speaker shared a phrase that stuck with me… “Average is over” and I think he hit the nail on the head. Extraordinary also doesn’t have to apply to just one area of your life – it can be extraordinary at home, as a parent, as a spouse, in your career, through your volunteer work or in another area of your life. Extraordinary is about raising the bar and delivering your “best work” in every area of your life.

I am passionate about the subject because I believe everyone has the ability to become extraordinary. However, I was trying to summarize the underlying message in all the books I’ve read, speakers I’ve listened to and conversations I’ve had and there is no doubt about it – it is tough to do. There are literally thousands of ways to become extraordinary, but when you get to the heart of it, there are two things that are consistent – it has to be intentional and it will likely take hard work. It won’t fall on your lap, knock at your door or hit you over the head. It’s about a plan… a plan to take your life to the next level and do something great. Life is short and none of us know just how short ours is, so the longer you spend pondering what path to take or opportunities to pursue, the clock is ticking. Every day requires you to make a conscious decision (and action!) to move one step closer to extraordinary.

How are you living today with intention to further your journey to become extraordinary?

Doing What You’ve Always Done Won’t Get You What You’ve Always Got


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Everyone knows what it’s like when someone new joins an organization or company. They come in with all these fresh, new ideas and full of energy. Some of the “long timers” may even laugh under their breath at the fact that this individual thinks they can change the way things are. Maybe you’ve heard phrases like “I tried to change that many times – good luck!” or “Wait until they’ve been here for a month – they’ll understand why we don’t do that” or “That idea will never fly around here!”. However, in many cases, these new individuals really do come in and make a significant difference because they don’t have all the ‘baggage’ some of the long-time employees have and have the ability see things in a different light.

Have you ever wondered what the other people in your organization think of you when they look at how you operate? Do they see you as someone who brings fresh, new ideas to the table and challenges the status-quo or are you a naysayer with lots of baggage and history that is weighing you down instead of being used as a building block? The length of time served at any company can be a very valuable asset as long as you continue to replenish your knowledge and acquire new perspectives and insights.

I believe an important part of anyone’s career is learning. Learning new skills, perspectives, best practices, ways of doing things, ways of thinking… and the list goes on! I had a call yesterday about the coaching process and during the conversation, the leader I was speaking with shared a quote with me that really hit home, which was “do something every quarter that could add a line to your resume”. In other words, learn something new that adds to your portfolio of skills, education and experience.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got”. I actually don’t think that’s the case with your career. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll be passed by everyone around you and be left behind. Doing what you’ve always done won’t get you to the next level in your career so what are you going to do to add to your resume every quarter?

Leadership Imperative: Say What You’re Going to Do & Then Do What You Say


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There are many things I can live without or look past, but one thing I consider a critical part of the foundation in any relationship is trust. I think this belief partially stems back to my younger years and repeatedly hearing my Grandmother say to anyone that would listen “I can handle many things, but I can’t (and won’t) tolerate a lie”.

There are literally hundreds of ways that trust is built in your career as well as in your personal life, and there is a saying you have likely heard many times rings that true for me in both areas; “Say what you’re going to do and then do what you say”. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? However, many people miss the consequences of not being able to deliver on this.

Think of someone that has made a commitment to you on multiple occasions and then hasn’t delivered. Think of a friend that has promised you something and then didn’t follow through. What is your trust level with these types of individuals? Now think about a time recently when you made a commitment to a colleague, friend or family member and then didn’t deliver. If you want to frame this very boldly, making a commitment and then not following through is almost like telling a lie and as a result, can deteriorate trust in that relationship in the same way.

There are many reasons why people don’t follow through on what they say they are going to do, which can include lack of time, lack of a proper system to track what they’ve committed to and in some cases, they just said “yes” because that’s what the person wanted to hear and they never did plan on taking action in the first place. All of these ‘excuses’ can be overcome by under-committing and over-delivering, setting proper expectations, implementing effective systems to track deadlines and to-do lists and being realistic about what you commit to.

As you continue to build your reputation as a leader, as well as a trusted friend and family member, I challenge you to be extremely self-aware in regards to the commitments you make and ensuring you deliver as you promise. Trust, or a lack of it, will play an important role in how your future unfolds in many ways.

Leadership Imperative: The “How” of Knowledge Share


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I was on a call with a colleague yesterday that I consider to be a great mentor to me and as the call was wrapping up, I thanked them for their mentorship and what I actually said, without putting too much thought in to it, is:

You’re the ideal kind of mentor and leader. You share your wealth of knowledge abundantly without ever making me feel inferior.

As I hung up the phone I realized how truly valuable that attribute is in a leader. Experienced leaders have so much information, experience and expertise to share but if they do it in a way that is condescending or makes people feel inferior, the lessons can easily get lost.

Next time you’re sharing your knowledge, pay careful attention to the “how” to ensure you maximize the message.

Leadership Imperative: Your Ability to Hear (and Action) Feedback


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I am convinced that skill, knowledge and even expertise will only get you so far in your career and at a certain point your ability to grow, advance and move up in an organization will become dependent on your leadership and ‘people’ skills. Don’t get me wrong, you need knowledge and practical skills as well, but those alone won’t get you to the top.

I believe a key imperative to being an effective leader is your ability to hear (and action) feedback. Here’s the interesting part – it doesn’t always come in the form you’d like to hear it. There are (of course) ideal ways to hear feedback. For example, this may involve a conversation that begins like this… “I have some feedback I’d like to share with you and I mean it in the most constructive and sincere way possible”.  Their tone is calm and professional, they are clearly looking out for your best interests and it is from someone you already trust and respect. Here is the reality – it often doesn’t come wrapped in such a pretty package.

It may come from someone you don’t like or don’t feel as though has enough information to provide that feedback, it may be an email with a condescending tone or it may even seem destructive or critical. The person providing the feedback may be emotional or angry and may not have your best interests in mind. It may not be given thoughtfully, considerately or kindly. But keep in mind that perception is someone’s reality. To the person providing you with the feedback, they sincerely feel it is the truth whether you think so or not.  The other reality is that it is more than likely that someone else feels the same way.

When receiving challenging feedback, I encourage you as a leader to consider the following:

  1. Don’t react. Regardless of how crazy the feedback is, or how un-true you may believe it to be, don’t react because chances are, you’ll regret it later. Remain professional and thank the individual for taking the time to bring this forward and let them know you’ll evaluate how you can improve in the future taking their feedback in to thoughtful consideration.
  2. Determine how much truth is in the feedback.  This takes some careful, thoughtful consideration and in many cases, can be a bit of a painful journey.  The fact that someone is calling you out on something you may not want to deal with or may not be very proud of can hit a nerve and be uncomfortable, but don’t      simply brush it off or disregard it. Take the time to evaluate how much truth is in what they are saying (because there is likely some) and recognize it for what it is – an opportunity for improvement.
  3. Make an action plan to improve. Now that this feedback has been brought to your attention, what are you going to do about it? As I said, it’s more than likely that someone else feels the same way so don’t simply brush it off. Spend some time debriefing (even internally) and make an action plan for improvement. The feedback given could eventually be the one thing that could stand between you and your next promotion or career move – don’t miss this opportunity to improve.

Even though you’d like feedback to be given in a way that suits your style, that just isn’t always going to happen, but at the end of the day think of feedback (in any way, shape or form) as a gift and use it to grow yourself as a leader.

Your Key to Success in 2012: Goal Setting


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I believe the greatest “game changer” in your life and business in 2012 is goal setting.  Here are six key factors I believe are important when you’re setting your goals:

  1. First, be accountable.  If I make up a number of goals and am accountable to no one but myself, I have learned that my chance for success is reduced.  Sometimes having someone give you a kick if you’re off course or not moving forward as planned can be very effective.  If you don’t have someone that can do this for you, a business coach is often a great solution and based on my previous experience, an investment in a business coach pays off ten fold.
  2. Run your New Years resolutions like you run your business.  You wouldn’t run your business without a written business plan (I hope) and you likely always tell your clients to have a business plan, so why would you treat your goals any differently? Having a written plan for your goals with detailed action items can mean the difference between success and failure so make this happen!
  3. Set timelines.  Saying you want to achieve a specific goal “sometime in 2012” is too vague. Make sure you set deadlines around each goal so you know when you’ve been successful.
  4. Detail how you plan to get there.  If you want to grow your revenue by 20% in 2012, set monthly tasks around action items to help you achieve that goal.  Whatever your goal is, it needs a set of supporting tasks so make sure you take the time for this step.
  5. Keep your goals visible.  Writing down your goals won’t do you any good if you put them in a drawer afterwards and never look at them again.  Pin them on your bulletin board and make sure you look at them every day and keep them top of mind.
  6. Remember one of my favorite sayings that I have heard many times… “If everything is important, nothing is important”.  Don’t plan such a long list of goals that they are impossible to achieve – pick out your top five and commit to sticking with them and making them happen.

I have read many leadership books around what makes successful people different than the average person, and in 99.9% of the cases, very successful people have a written set of goals and stick with them.  If you want 2012 to truly be your best yet, make sure you take time to plan ahead for success.  This year, instead of saying “Bah – New Years resolutions never work”, take a different approach and embrace the opportunity for a fresh, new start.  This can be the year where life takes a different turn, but it’s only up to one person to make that happen – YOU!