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  • Seeking: Stories, Cool Opportunities, Transformation.

    For some time now, I've had this idea that I wanted to write about my search for work. I wanted to do so as a reflection of how I think about teaching my class Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, and to a lesser extent the article I wrote many years ago the first time I engaged in an extensive job search: The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Your Self, and Crafting a Career.

    The idea came to me, because just over 18 months ago I left my long time place of employment. I didn't have a plan and I suddenly had to look for work for the for time in a long time.

    I thought I had been open to opportunities before that, but I hadn't really been doing anything. Yes, I had been keeping my resume up to date and my eyes and ears open for interesting things, working side gigs, taking meetings, looking to get my name on projects and publications, opening doors, and pushing, always pushing to work on the next cool thing.

    The thing is, these are the action you take when you're employed, and not exactly willing, or wanting, to leave something that you like, or are comfortable in. When you're scared and not really sure what comes next.

    A job search though is something else. It's contacting everyone you've ever met, worked with, talked to, sat with in a meeting, or next to on a bus, plane, or train, and asking them if they have anything or know anyone, and to keep you in mind if an anything comes up.

    It's also punching-up your LinkedIn page, using it to follow organizations you admire, and connecting with people who do stuff that you want to do even when you do not know them.

    It's saying yes to networking events, finding confidence, and putting yourself out there. All the way out there.

    And it's getting your story down, who you are, and where you've been, what you want to do, and how it all connects. It's also telling that story in a succinct, but slamming fashion, while somehow remaining authentic.

    These are things I know to be true, these are things I teach, and these are actions I have taken.

    What I have ignored, or overlooked, though during these past months is the need to work on things you love and feel passionate about. Sometimes that means, looking back over your career, and life, to remind you what it is that energizes you most. Sometimes it's reminding yourself about what you don't like spending time on. And most difficult, is coming to both understand, and embrace, that there are things you just aren't good at, something that has become painfully clear to me as I sought the next big thing.

    None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Being happy is important. Knowing yourself is important. Spending time working on things that energize you are important.

    In the past few months I've revisited many things I once worked on, but hadn't recently - leading teams, collaboration, story development, strategic planning, building partnerships, organizational change, facilitation, and book promotion - and things I want to spend more time on - storytelling, branding, teaching, and training.

    I've also made a decision: I'm going to go out on my own, I'm going to consult, chase projects that excite me, and look for cool opportunties that are focused in these areas.

    I'm going to craft a new story for myself and figure out how all of these things hang together. I'm going to help people and organizations tell their stories in new and exciting ways. And I'm going to explore how I can link people who want to promote their work and their ideas in cool and innovative ways, with the endlessly fascinating artists, designers, changemakers, and thought leaders I've been cultivating, curating, and connecting with over at (my once faux) cultural and lifestyle (empire) site This Blog Will Change Your Life.

    You can read more specifically about my intentions on my website here and I hope that you will. After that, please let me know what you think about all of this, tell your friends and networks about me, and then let me know how we can work together.

    Cool?

    Thanks.

  • In thinking about leadership, team building, training, and facilitation, I am looking forward by looking back.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about leadership, team building, training, and facilitation, how so much of my early career revolved around these ideas, and how much time I spent thinking about trying to make sense of them. I also did a lot of writing about my thinking, trying to operationalize my thoughts in simple, straight forward strategies and guidelines, and when invited transformed that writing into training. One such piece was titled "Zen and the Art of Team Building," it was published way back in 2002 by the Society for Nonprofits and you can still download a PDF of the piece here. I also thought I would share the piece, however in its entirety in this post, which I have done below. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know, and if you just want to talk about the themes captured therein and how you might apply them in your work, please let me know that too, because I would love to discuss this with you. Thanks.

    Zen and the Art of Team Building Redux

    How many times has this happened to you? You ask staff members to join a work group for a one-time project. At the first meeting, you tell them how they can help implement your vision. The loudest among them speak, a lot. The quiet ones have little expression, though their body language makes their lack of interest clear. After that first meeting, the group barely meets. The project is completed, but few feel much ownership for it, much less a sense of team.

    Why do things go so horribly awry when it seems so easy and you’re such a good leader? The answer is simple: You haven’t thought about what team members need. To lead a successful team, you need to do six things:

    1. Stop Flying Solo.
    The main reason your team efforts fail is this: Even when leading a team, you still act like you’re flying solo. To overcome this tendency, here’s what you need to do:

    Rethink your idea of a leader.
    Leading a team calls for immersing yourself in a messy process in which your sense of identity and your need for individual recognition gets lost. What you need to recognize, however, is that a leader isn’t just someone who can get things done. Almost anyone can get things done. Leaders do so while building confidence, loyalty, and trust in those they lead.

    Rethink success.
    Another reason you prefer flying solo is that you’ve never seen team efforts yield greater results then the solo ones you successfully perform every day. Ask yourself this though: If you haven’t witnessed team success, is that because the team failed or because the team was failed by a lack of belief in its strengths and promise?

    Learn to trust.
    A third reason you favor flying solo is that you don’t trust others to do it as well as you do. You don’t want to share, and you don’t want to give others a voice. But staff members want to be challenged. They want to develop leadership, facilitation, and collaborative skills. If you don’t give them such opportunities, they’ll go elsewhere or, worse, stay on, unhappy, unsatisfied, and ultimately unproductive.

    Be patient.
    It’s easier for you to dive in, bull through, and make things
    happen when flying solo than when working with team members. Teams require time, buy-in, and an appreciation for the team process. However, teams also let you draw on staff members who possess a variety of skills, experiences, and perspectives. While that takes patience, the result is always more visionary and creative then any one person can be.

    Learn the process.
    Finally, you prefer to fly solo because you don’t know what a team needs to be successful or what a team process looks like. Following the tips in this article will help you learn about the team process and your place in that process.

    2. Engage People.
    Here’s what you need to do before the first meeting ever takes place:

    Tell people why you want them.
    Don’t just ask people to join your team. Recruit them. Spell out your goals, and explain why you want them to participate.

    Ask people what they want.
    You need to learn what people want to gain from the effort. Explore their feelings about the project in advance so you’re prepared to address their needs when you get started.

    Identify dissenters.
    You need to know up front who holds dissenting views. They’re the people most likely to disrupt a planning process with incessant second-guessing. The key is to talk to them beforehand and discern the issues that lie behind their dissent. Then you’ll be able to build those issues into the discussion.

    3. Facilitate People.
    Next, you must guide those you have invited to participate. Here are the keys to facilitation:

    Create a safe place.
    Foster an atmosphere in which people feel free to express themselves. Assure that all participants are heard, regardless of what they say and how loudly, or quietly, they say it.

    Listen.
    Take the time to listen actively. Clarify people’s comments when necessary.

    Think progress. Don’t get mired in process at the expense of progress. For the most part, it’s progress that brings participants back.

    4. Deal with Dominators.
    If you’re not prepared, dominators—people who agree or disagree strongly, feel they know a lot about the subject, and are all too willing to dominate the discussion—can derail the discussion. When dominators take center stage, you lose respect and authority. You also lose the insights of people who are quiet or internally focused.

    Before beginning your first discussion, ask the group for suggestions on dealing with dominators. There are group dynamics at play, and the group has to take some ownership for them. Just bringing up the subject at the beginning of the discussion may be enough to forewarn people to give everyone a chance to express their opinions.

    If that doesn’t work, and someone still insists on dominating, follow this series of responses:

    Look in the direction of the dominator. Sometimes a glance is enough to remind them to let others talk.

    Ask someone else for their thoughts.

    Call a break, and talk to the dominator separately.

    If all else fails, ask the person to leave. Schedule a time to meet with them to discuss their behavior.  

    Whatever you do, don’t get into a power struggle with dominators. Participants need to feel they’re in a safe working environment. They don’t feel safe when a tug-of-war breaks out between their leaders and fellow participants.

    5. Share the Vision.
    A team needs a vision of where it’s going and how to get there. Without vision, a team has no direction, much less anything to fuel the team process. It’s not enough, however, just to have a vision. The team has to own that vision. To own it, they must have the opportunity to share their thoughts throughout its development.

    Letting everyone have their say about the vision may seem time-consuming. But if team members don’t help shape the vision, they won’t be invested in its success.

    A common mistake is to arrive at the first meeting with a plan, looking for people to put that plan into action. This approach discourages other team members from feeling any sense of ownership in the vision. It also fails to take advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge, expertise, and perspective that participants bring to the table.

    Leave your personal agenda at home. Share your ideas only as the discussion progresses. Let your vision complement and shape the team vision rather than control it.

    6. Commit Yourself to the Process.
    Leading a team takes time, patience, and respect. You need to assess your role in the process and your personal issues around control, power, and trust.

    Given all this, you may ask whether you’re capable of leading a successful team. The question you need to ask yourself, though, isn’t whether you have the capabilities— you do—but wheher you have the interest.