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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Community

The past seven months have truly been a journey, and powerfully transitional. If you have read any of the other posts on this blog, perhaps that goes without saying. Emerging Leaders isn’t any old professional development experience – beyond participating in a program that assists me in developing core competencies and furthering my managerial skills, I exit each session feeling inspired to do and be more.

Each Fellow is so special, driven and inspiring in ways I wouldn’t realize without the skillful facilitation of each gathering. We’re each drawn outside of ourselves to see the bigger picture even as we look inward to explore the value we bring to our respective organizations. The peer coaching, distinguished panels and group discussions strengthen us. The curriculum alone has helped me to cultivate my own professional growth but for me it is in analyzing and sharing our experiences that the real learning happens. Yael, our facilitator, poses the right questions at the right time to foster a space where curiosity is encouraged, and exploration leads to results. 

Over the past few months, my core competencies have evolved for the better, and I feel my organization has already begun to benefit. Furthermore, I better understand myself and my role as part of a broader community committed to social justice. 

We rarely have the opportunity to liaise with others outside of our respective fields, and there is so much learning and skills sharing that we can clearly benefit from. My only regret (aside from the fact that as with all good things, this program must come to an end) is that I didn’t experience such a program earlier in my budding career. Little did I realize on day one of Emerging Leaders that these strangers around the table were to become my strongest community of peers; sounding blocks for ideas, champions of my professional development.

I was struck by a statement from a fellow Fellow (couldn’t resist) who remarked that it was exciting to feel this much professional growth within such a rapid timeline. Without a doubt I can attribute much of my continued evolution to Emerging Leaders – not only due to the valuable content of our curriculum, but even more so due to the relationships fostered around the table between Yael and each Fellow. It’s a community I’ve come to count on and am thrilled to be part of.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Filling a Need in Non-Profit

Last night Marie-Jouvelle Aubourg and I represented the Emerging Leaders Program at the Young Non-Profit Professionals Network (YNPN) Professional Development Fair.  That is a mouthful, but what it basically means is that we spoke with a variety of people working in and around the non-profit world (or hoping to) about Emerging Leaders and why they should apply.  We met a range of people from government agencies to community micro-lending orgs; recent grads to not so recent grads.  Regardless of where they were coming from, there was a striking commonality among them: many had been in their fields for several years, wanted to find a way to progress professionally, but didn't have access to any programs or internal support to help them do that.

Over the course off the evening, it became really clear that Emerging Leaders, with its emphasis on training early to mid-career non-profit professionals, is filling a huge need in the field.  People just lit up at the idea that they could step away from the crazy crush of their normal day and take some time to learn about leadership and growth.  They all bemoaned feeling stuck at their desks or in the field, and found it hard to even think about next steps, let alone talk to anyone or explore other opportunities.  The positive response to Emerging Leaders really demonstrated how much people are hungering for a program like this.

Talking about Emerging Leaders also reinforced to me the value I have been getting out of it, and was a great reminder to squeeze as much out of these last two months as possible.  I certainly hope some of those we spoke to will apply, and will in turn benefit the program with their ideas and different perspectives.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Beware of the T-Rex

There isn’t a more fitting and unavoidable time to play catch-up than in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (albeit with electricity and Internet, so we are incredibly fortunate). One of the first things I did was open an email I had been avoiding: the video of our short presentations from our last Emerging Leaders session. No time (and no excuse) like the present, so I opened it.

With the inevitable cringe set on my face as I hit “Play” I was immediately struck by something – it was so much better than I thought! I then thought about my colleagues who had presented and I remembered being so impressed by the ease with which they commanded the front of the room, the relaxed use of their hand gestures, the intentional eye contact they made and the thoughtful insights they put forward. Were we all holding ourselves to the same double standard?

After we all presented we processed how it went. I remember saying, “I just want to do it again. I know I could do it much better!” I could see others mulling over their private self-critiques and wanting to take that second pass at it. That all being said, we all agreed, perhaps grudgingly, that we knew we probably did better than we thought.

Mark House, our guide and guru for day, could not have been more disarming and more engaging in the adrenaline-high session he ran before we all took our time in front of the camera. I remember thinking as the time for presentations grew nigh, “You could not ask for a safer environment to do this.”

And I was right. A few minutes after my presentation ended the chatter in my mind started to quiet. Later that evening I realized that I wanted to do it again not just because I thought I could do it better, but because I realized I actually like presenting. Through training and practice you can focus less on the mechanics of presenting and more on what you’re doing up there in the first place – making a case, presenting a new idea, sparking a dialogue, etc.

As I watched the video of my own presentation this morning I made note of the use of “t-rex hands” (when you plant your elbows at your sides and gesticulate like a tiny-armed dinosaur) and my personal habit of closing my eyes when I get nervous, but that aside I was happy with what I saw. More than that, I felt grateful for the opportunity to see myself as others do when I present because it will free my mind up the next time I am standing in front of a room. I now know that my “baseline” presentation skills are solid, so it’s just a matter of building upon an already strong foundation…and keeping my eyes open.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Power of Positivity... Is real!

I'm so excited for tomorrow's Emerging Leaders Session! I read the book review last weekend on Positivity. As I was reading it, I was giddy with anticipation. The sheer thought of increasing my positivity, increased my positivity!  Being aware of your mood, your feelings, and what you are giving off to others really flips a switch inside.

I decided to take the positivity self test once at the binging of the week and again towards the end. It is fascinating how being aware of your own positivity levels, can really alter your state of thinking as well as productivity. I wonder if that's why I have the energy to write this blog entry now! :)

This session comes at such an opportune time; not only because it's our busiest time of year at iMentor, as we're matching thousands of High School students with mentors and launching numerous  large scale events (7+ in 3 months just at my school) but for life in general. 

A long time ago, I used to think positivity was limited. Example:  if I spent all my positive points at work, I wouldn't have enough left over for my personal life. So you had to spread them out. How in the world I did that I'm not sure.

I don't want to trudge around at home being negative and as we spend the majority of our time at our respective work places (typically 30 % - 45%) I don't want to be negative there either. I fancy the thought that positivity breeds more positivity and can create boundless positive reactions and cause us to flourish in our lives and professions.  It can be hard at first to uplift your own spirit and bring positivity to everything you do and to bring others with you but once you start it's hard to stop! I can't wait to hear every one's thoughts on the positivity ratios and hopefully Yael has some great tips on how to boost our own ratios!

Sending Happy Positive thoughts to all my fellow Emerging Leaders tonight!

See you in the AM,
Rossdlyn Palacio

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mentors - Lessons Learned

Without the encouragement of Emerging Leaders, I probably would not have sought out the two women who have now become incredible mentors in my life. 

I first had the great privilege of meeting with a strong, candid and independent woman who works as the Vice President of Administration for a private foundation focused on science research. She was the first person I have met in my parent's generation (age 65+) who gave me this advice: life is too long - not too short - to stay at the same job for years and years. take risks, leave if you're unhappy and try something new. don't let anyone tell you that in order to have a successful career you need to have worked at one place for 10+ years. Her fresh perspective was incredibly inspiring to me - and she was living proof of her own advice.   

My first mentor recommended that I also meet with her friend. She is the President/CEO of a historic girls-focused national non-profit. She too was incredibly open and honest, and I was struck with how down-to-earth she was even in such a prominent professional role. The questions that she asked me and the responses they solicited made it crystal clear how much my supervisor has invested in me as an employee. Our conversation inspired me to go straight to my supervisor to thank her again for supporting me, advocating for me and offering me so many important opportunities - including the Emerging Leaders program. 

Lessons learned? Seek opportunities that interest and challenge you - and take them. Don't turn them down because they don't fit into some prescribed path. Invest in your employees and remember to thank those who invest in you. 

- Julia FG Smith

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Go Build a House

Sitting here, reflecting on the first half of the Emerging Leaders program, I can feel the energy and excitement pulse through me. I am very aware that this unique program is arming me with such applicable and useful tools for engineering positive change at my organization. I know the toolbox metaphor may be overused, but bare with me as I develop it a bit more. I feel it fits too well here to pass up this opportunity to use it.

So, here goes:

I am emerging from my workbench, toolbox in hand, ready to take on the challenges that face the passionate workforce that makes up the non-profit sector. I am confident that my toolbox carries in it the right combination of wrenches, screwdrivers and drills, (with space to grow) that will enable me to take on a variety of projects.

Now a little on each tool:

Wrenches: first, assess the situation to determine the size you need. Once you have  the right fit, turn the wrench to the right to tighten the nut or bolt– whether it is trust building exercises for a dysfunctional team or providing feedback to a challenged peer or direct report.

Drills: powered by a network of passionate leaders and extended connections, this drill empowers you to dive into the toughest surfaces and make space for growth and development within any type of organization.

Hardware: the nails, screws and other thing-a-ma-jigs need to be used to hold together the pieces that make up your project – whether you’re building a table or a house – they will allow you give your project the structure it needs to become a success.

Now hop to it! Go build your house!

I am a problem solver. I become energized when I have the opportunity to think critically about a situation and come up with a creative yet realistic solution that will help further my goals and those of my organization. With each new Emerging Leaders session I feel more and more like a skilled handyman. I have a growing toolbox, but one that is sufficiently filled that I feel empowered to take on the challenges I face now and will likely face down the road as I pursue my career.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Who’s Got the Monkey?

Is anyone else still a little shaken by the Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” And not just because of the graphic metaphor of monkeys on your back as work problems. Before reading this article I thought of myself as a good and growing people manager. I had a basket full of buzzword-worthy skills—ready to empower, open to feedback, lead by example, manage for results, manage for change—that I tried to exhibit in my management. And now I can add a new and rather ugly epithet, “monkey hoarder.” Yep. I have a long history of hoarding my direct reports’ monkeys and treasuring them as long as I can. When I reflect back on my management experiences I see myself weighted down by more monkeys than I can count. Still I never recognized this tendency until I cringed my way through this article. Monkey hoarding is a subtle problem, not easily identified. 

The scariest part about the hoarding is how much initiative I have actively taken away from my direct reports as much as they have given problems me. Any why you ask? Well, doesn’t it feel great to be a problem solver, to be ready to put your work aside to help someone else? I always equated that quality with good management, as the building of a trusting relationship through a mutual dialogue. But, as Oncken and Wass note in the article, “Before developing initiative in subordinates, the manager must see to it that they have the initiative.” It is not good management, then, simply to solve your direct reports’ problems. You become too busy to be effective and your direct reports are robbed of their own development. In reality those quick fixes evolve into long-term management problems which are much harder to solve.

This article was one big “Aha!” moment for me.  I also recognize that monkey hoarding does not, on its own, disqualify me from being a good manager. It does, however, stop me from being a better manager. I am now doing my best to kick the habit.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

20 Miles from Teaneck to Tribeca

On March 30th at 3pm, having received confirmation that all three hundred and four of our students arrived home safely, I logged on to the Princeton Alumni Corps website to complete my application for the "Emerging Leaders Program." With only twenty- four hours remaining until the deadline, I was locked-in like Eli Manning in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, with only two minutes to go on the clock. Serenaded by the sweet sound of Multi-Grammy winner Adele playing in the background and having completed yet another work week which felt more like an episode of Survivor, I was rolling in the deep but felt right at home. Traveling to the surface for air, I managed to complete the application and began the process of waiting in eager expectation to receive a response. I didn't have to wait long before I received signals sent to my helmet, encouraging me to remove my closed circuit re-breather and hop on a call with one of the Program Directors. How would I describe what I felt following that call? I was excited, optimistic and nervous all at the same time. My first task would be to read two articles and come in with a self-portrait based on feedback I'd obtained from my co-workers. Fast-forward Sunday, June 10, 2012, I was making the "20 Mile March" from Teaneck, New Jersey to a "next level" Tribeca loft used as a think-tank for economist. However, on this day the space would serve as the home for our first session. We were encouraged to arrive at 8:45am and told that that the session would begin promptly at 9am. I arrived at 9 o'clock on the dot, hungry, but too embarrassed to grab anything from the breakfast table. I immediately thought, "This is going to be a long day." Upon entering the room, I looked around at the seating arrangement and decided I would sit at the first table, but in the far-right corner. My thought process in making this decision was, be out of eye view of the facilitator, while at the same time still close enough to all the action. Unaware of what to expect, my mind was oddly occupied by thoughts of a Jim Collins article I read earlier in the week. In reading "How to Manage Through Chaos." Collins introduces the term "Twenty-Mile March." For Collins, this term is used to define the concept for companies to keep a steady pace no matter the environmental factors. However, in typical me fashion, I only processed what my itching ears wanted to hear. I instantly begin to use the concepts from the article to get me focused on the events to come. I told myself on more than one occasion during the first session "Stick to a regiment of consistent progress." "Be yourself!" "Don't try to do too much!" "Stay far away from the red line of exhaustion!" I could hear Collin's cheering me on as I sat there. Unfortunately, this did not last very long. I quickly found myself impressed with the facilitator and both inspired and challenged by my peers. From just the first session, I feel like a fire had been lit under me to plan my work and work my plan. While I have no clue as to what will transpire over the next six months, I am optimistic that both my new team and me will make it to the South Pole safely.