Another Tactic for Cultivating Professional Contacts

Last time I described the tactic of sending cheerful and brief congratulations or acknowledgement messages to professional contacts who Linked In reports in the Updates section.  This is an easy, non-intrusive way to initiate communication with a valued contact with whom you have never interacted or with whom you have lost touch.  I hope you tried this and got some positive results!  If so, maybe you are emboldened as I was and are now ready to take another step!    

Mysteriously Linked In provides fairly accurate suggestions of “people you may know.”  I’m not sure how it does this but it does manage to come up with names of people I have in fact actually spoken to or worked with at least a little.  My first thought when I saw these suggestions was “Oh, I haven’t seen or spoken to that person in ages, how could I ask them to join my network on Linked In?”    But then I started thinking “How would I feel if I received an invitation from the person – pleased or deeply offended?”  “Pleased” was the immediate answer. So I started selectively sending personalized and inquisitive invitations to the people Linked In suggested with whom I felt would really like to be in touch.  Personalizing the invitation by briefly referring to something we had worked on together or a shared professional experience assured me that we really did have something in common.  Inquiring briefly about what the person was currently doing professionally and how they were enjoying it assured me that my invitation was as motivated by my genuine interest in the other person as by my desire to expand my network.  If I find it easy and authentic to include both these components, I  press send.  When I get an acceptance, I make a point of sending a short, warm message back asking to get together to catch up or to catch up by email.  Three bits of advice:

1) Don’t overwhelm your new contact with tons of email or requests for help.  It is unlikely you would feel comfortable doing this in person, so don’t do it electronically!

2) Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an immediate acceptance.  Many Linked In members only check their messages infrequently.  Be patient and enjoy watching your list of contacts and expand and the number of hits on your profile spike!!!

3) Do stay in touch periodically with your core contacts – send a note every 2 or 3 months.  More on how to do this in later posts.

Cultivating Your Network

After I give my Building Business Contacts seminar, participants often come up to me later and say “I have a lot of people in my Linked In network but I don’t feel like these are people that I know well enough to ask for help.  What can I do?”  I suggest that they start cultivating their business contacts strategically, respectfully and generously. There are many ways to do this but I got personally re-connected to a few techniques just recently. These techiques are easy, quick and very productive. I will share them with you over my next few posts!

NUMBER 1- Keep your eye on updates from your contacts that Linked In provides on your Home page.  You can easily see who in your network has gotten a new position or updated their profile or posted a comment or link.  When you see this kind of activity from a person in your network with whom you would like to have a deeper connection, drop that person a note via Linked In.  Keep it short, keep it focused on your contact, and make a reference to the specific activity that caught your eye.  Conclude your note with a request for more information or a question about your contact and their work.  Keep it light, keep it sincere and keep it generous. After you proof read the note and before you hit send, read the note out loud and ask yourself if you would feel good if someone sent this note to you.  If the answer is yes, press send.  If the answer is no, tweak your note until it makes you feel good as a recipient.  This is a great way to start a dialogue that can lead to you being able to help out your contact and to your contact learning more about you.

Try this technique and let me know how it goes!

Where Does Confidence Come From?

Do you wish you had more control over the results of your professional interactions and transactions?  Do you wish you felt more comfortable speaking about who you are and what you?  Do you wish you felt more comfortable in interviews?  Do you wish you felt more confident making a cold call or dealing with a difficult or intimidating person at work? Do you wish you felt more comfortable speaking publicly and extemporaneously?

The good news is that about 90% of the human race wishes for the same things!  The even better news is that you can start feeling more confident and comfortable in these situations NOW.  A very wise person once told me “you can only have confidence if you know what you are doing!”  The fact of the matter is as soon as you get a few skills under your belt, you can navigate challenging interactions more effectively and miraculously confidence follows!

In future posts,  I will share with you techniques and insights that you can apply immediately to get more powerful, positive results in your professional interactions and transactions.

Act More; Think Less; Make the World a Better Place

Actions.  Do you remember being told when you were growing up to think before you act?  Think before you cross the street, think before you speak, think about the consequences of a poorly thought out action.  This good advice creates an automatic “stop and think” reflex in kids.  It can be a great survival (both social and physical) strategy, but it can also become a terrible self-limiting behavior; sometimes referred to as analysis paralysis.  Every day we have lots of impulses to act. We experience something either in the world or in our mind’s eye and we think “I would like to do this, or “I could do that.” Then the “stop and think” reflex kicks in and suddenly we are thinking about all the reasons we shouldn’t or couldn’t or won’t.  Sometimes we substitute a safer action for what we really want to do because it passes the think before you act criterion: it is safe.  How much trouble can you get into watching an NCIS re-run?  So we watch a re-run, or clean out a drawer, or order something off Amazon instead of doing the thing we actually wanted to do. We feel the satisfaction of having done something but what difference did it make, really?

I grieve for all the un-actioned impulses.  How much innovation and joy and beauty and satisfaction go unrealized every day?  While some embarrassment, failure and rejection are avoided by unrealized actions, I suspect that the world would be a better place if more actions were realized. What is the ratio of differentiating actions that occur to you versus the actions you actually act on?  What would you like your action ratio to be?  How do you know whether not acting or taking action was the right decision for you?  I challenge all of us to increase our action ratio a bit and take note of how much more good we start putting into the world.

Getting Stuff Done: What Do You Want to Get Done?

What do you want to achieve?  Can you say it in a simple declarative sentence? If you can, then you have a good chance of achieving that goal.  If you can’t,  it is very likely  you won’t achieve that goal. How could you?  You don’t know what the goal is!  This may sound obvious but people are always trying to achieve goals without having really figured out what the goal is.  Ask the next person you see “what’s your big goal over the next couple months?” (This is actually a great way to start a conversation at a party too!)  Chances are you will hear a lot of hemming and hawing, a list of goals under consideration, a theme or two but I would be surprised if the person you asked responded immediately and confidently with a a clear, simple, observable, valuable goal.

Commitment, Confidence and Scope are three big inhibitors to setting good goals.  Saying what you want to achieve means at some level you are committing to do it and that is a big deal.  If commitment is your blocker, you probably hear yourself saying “but  I don’t have time” or “but it’s too hard.”   If confidence is your blocker, you may hear yourself saying  “but I would have to go back to school” or “but I could never make enough money” or “but I don’t know how to do it.”  If scope is your blocker, your goal keeps changing and getting bigger and getting pushed further and further into the future.  “I want to write a novel and have it published and be on Oprah and win a Booker award.”  This is a far cry from a sensible goal like  “I want to write a complete short story and read it out loud to my best friend.”  Scope may seem to be the opposite of confidence and commitment because scope is about wanting to do everything or wanting to do it all at once.  But scope, like commitment and confidence is just another sneaky way we use to get out of having to really achieve something.  Human beings are resourceful.  They can do just about anything they want to do (or at least approximate it) if they want to do it badly enough. Yes, a 50 year old person who wants to become a doctor could achieve a reasonable approximation of this outcome if he or she really wanted it badly enough.

The trick is to separate what from how.  As soon as you let your doubts about how you are going to achieve the goal interfere with what the goal is, you are sunk.  So in my next blog, we will talk about how to set a good goal.  Later we will talk about how to achieve it.

Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration

There are 21 key elements of great groups that I believe emerge from Bennis and Biederman’s analysis. I have listed them below.  While the 21 elements aren’t that surprising, the book does make three surprising revelations about the elements.  First, all of these 21 elements feature in all of the great groups.  It would seem that you don’t get a great group unless all of these conditions are met, somehow. Second, these elements are not planned and implemented top down.  They seem to evolve organically from the leadership.  Third, the manifestation of these key elements is not slick, fair, institutionalized or particularly attractive taken out of context. Human Resources and Senior Management are not likely to cheerfully sign off on a strategy to create these conditions. Even if they do, you probably can’t implement these 21 elements top down and get a great group.  That is the dilemma we are left with when we finish this book. We can see what a great group looks like but it is not certain that we can actually create one deliberately!  That said, Organizing Genius is a great read, the stories are vibrant and detailed and it’s a pleasure getting a little glimpse of what it was like to work on the first personal computer, Snow White and the first U.S. jet fighter. While the stories can’t show you precisely how to create a great group, they will give you good idea of what a Great Group looks like and feels like and that is a big help!

Great Groups – Key Elements – A Checklist

  1. A clear, tangible outcome. The best outcomes are widely recognized as important or fantastic.
  2. An outrageous vision for the outcome.
  3. A leader who can get people to get personally committed to the vision and the outcome.
  4. Exceptionally capable people on the team – the best talent available.
  5. A leader that the team respects.
  6. A leader who gives the team members the information, recognition and latitude they need to deliver the outcome.
  7. A leader who keeps the team focused without micro managing it.
  8. A shabby workplace with access to all the equipment, materials, tools and training the team needs to deliver the outcome.
  9. Team is protected from bureaucracy of the sponsor/sponsor organization.
  10. The workplace enables collaboration.
  11. Team is insulated from distractions.
  12. There is one focus for the team – the outcome.
  13. Team members have responsibilities that are aligned to their expertise, interests, and capabilities.
  14. Team members are willing to work on what needs to be worked on when it needs to be worked on.
  15. People don’t always get along but everyone wants to achieve the outcome so this common desire transcends individual conflicts.

What Do You Aspire To?

Aspire – to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive): to aspire after literary immortality; to aspire to be a doctor. to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive): to aspire after literary immortality; to aspire to be a doctor.  (

  • What do you aspire to?
  • What’s your strategy for achieving your aspiration?
  • What have you done in the last year, month, week, today to make progress toward your aspiration?
  • How would you rate your progress?
  • How has your aspiration evolved since you were 12, 24, 36,48, 60, 72?

As a coach, friend, consultant, colleague, I talk to people all of the time and in one way or another I ask these questions.  I find that few people can confidently answer them.  Often these questions put people off.  They get embarrassed or defensive or they just freeze like deer in the headlights.

What is important about aspirations is not what the aspiration is, it is having thought about what you want, having an approach to achieving what you want and staying focused on achieving it.  I worry about the people who can’t answer the questions.  I worry because I suspect they have  an aspiration but because they aren’t clear about what it is and because they aren’t actively pursuing it, it is only a matter of time before they start saying “oh its too late for me” and just give up.

Each of us has so much we could give to ourselves, to each other, and to the world.  When we think about what we want and how to achieve it, we can make good on this potential. When we make working on our aspirations a lower priority than dealing with daily challenges and distractions, we stand a good chance of only enjoying a small part of what life offers us and only giving back a small part of what we have to offer.

The keys to achieving our aspirations are Clarity, Strategy, and Focus.  Simple?   If only. But how?  More to come!

Give The Gift of You!!!

Alexandra Levit had a great post today about  How To Be More Visible At Work. I hope her readers take her advice to heart and turn it into action – especially the task-oriented ones, like me!  Those of us who tend to be more oriented toward information and doing the work than relationships, incorrectly assume that our knowledge or productivity will speak for itself letting us off the hook for speaking for ourselves.  Rather than seeing talking about ourselves as shameless self-promotion, we need to start seeing it as our responsibility.  We have a responsibility to let team members and decision makers know what we have to offer, how we can contribute and how we are making things better.  We are always happy when we find out about a product or service that is “just what we need.”  How are we going to find out about these things if someone, somewhere isn’t deliberately working on letting us know about them?  Similarly how can we expect our bosses to find out about what we have to offer if we aren’t letting them know?  So in the spirit of the holiday season, let’s all go out and give the gift of US!!!

Know It All Managers

I read an article recently by Steve Tobak titled “The Problem with Know It All Managers“. The issue that Tobak presents is that often when people become managers, they start acting like they have all the answers.  These managers stop asking questions and start telling everyone what the answers are.  Tobak’s conclusion is that this is bad for employees and bad for the organization and bad for business.  I agree but I have to ask myself what motivates people to become “know it all” managers? It could be arrogance or it could be an organizational culture that implies that value is linked to one’s ability to always have the answer. It is not uncommon for compensation and promotion decisions to be based if not explicity then implicitly on one’s reputation for always having the answers. Conversely and unfortunately, managers are often devalued by senior management and stakeholders when they are seen to ask a lot of questions, openly consider many alternatives, and rely on their subordinates for up to date subject matter expertise. As we transition from do-ers to leaders, our value to the organization needs to come from our ability to elicit knowledge, ideas, issues, and possible solutions from the workforce and then to use that information to develop and execute strategies that achieve differentiating business goals. Answers based on the experience of many are more valuable than answers based on the experience of one person. One of our challenges is to help our senior management and stakeholders recognize and appreciate the value to the business of this sort of higher order, leadership behavior.

Getting What You Want in Trying Times

With the New Year just two weeks behind us, are you still thinking about the year to come and what you want to accomplish? Are you thinking big?  A year is a long time and you are capable of so much.  Why not “go for it” this year?  If you did, what would “it” be for you?  Just about everyone I speak to has been touched by the economic turmoil of the last quarter.   A natural response is to hunker down, conserve, reduce expectations, make do with less.  Getting more fiscally thoughtful is sensible but it is never healthy to set our sights lower, to expect less of ourselves, to hope and dream smaller.  The only cause and effect relationship between the economy and the human spirit is the one we create; it is not a naturally occurring or inevitable relationship.

In my work with individual and with groups, I see again and again how much capability people have to get the things that are important to them.  My clients surprise and delight me (and themselves) with their ability to dispel the obstacles they have created for themselves and to overcome the obstacles that really do exist outside of them. Once they can see past the obstacles, they can see the way forward and then they make rapid progress toward their goals and they have fun doing it.

How do people achieve big goals?  They commit to their dream;  they set goals that have value;  they bravely confront obstacles and embrace enablers; they develop an informed strategy; and then they execute relentlessly.  I taught a very successful seminar last year called Uber Planning which is based on these five concepts:  Commitment, Value Proposition, Reconnaissance, Strategy and Execution. 

The steps help to organize thinking around achieving a big goal but the devil is in the details.  How do know when your vision is the right vision and not just a fantasy?  How do you find the tangible value in your goals and get others excited about it too?  How do you get past your own preconceptions and fears and blind spots so you can really see the obstacles and opportunities?  This is where it gets hard, and this is where even the most well-intentioned goal seekers often “hit the wall” and give up.  

There are two things that can help you on your journey to your big goal:  1) guidance (who would climb Mt. Everest without a guide?) and 2) support (who would climb Mt Everest all alone?).  I propose that we work together to create the conditions for success.  I will guide you and all of us can provide each other with encouragement, insights, and suggestions.  Together I know we will all surprise ourselves with what we accomplish in these trying times!  Fifty weeks to go!!!!!