Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have you offered to help someone today? Part II

Rather than trying to connect primarily by asking new people to help you, consider ways you can help them. If you want to really connect with people, a LOT of people, and achieve your goals - try this method. While it is not a short-term strategy, it is very effective.

Connect to people and organizations that are just neat, and those who you are more likely to want to reciprocate the connection back to you. I would suggest finding a skill set you are good at, which provide value and is easy for you to provide, and do so. For me, the skill I have that helps people and organization is photography.

For the last decade I have done a substantial amount of event photography for non-profits, trade associations and political campaigns - all of it free or only for reimbursement. It is great practice and often fun. At a minimum, the experiences, stories, and contacts I have received are a huge value to me. Some of these include photographing Hillary Clinton within the "bubble" of the U.S. Secret Service for 3 hours in 2005.

I also have repeatedly photographing Sen. Barack Obama for several events, along with many other national figures.

More locally, I was able to photograph for Texas State Sen. Kirk Watson twice at the Austin City Limits Festival events, last year with Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, and also with Robert Earl Keen.

More recently, I offered to photograph my friend Erin Ivey and her group "Grand Hotel" [see also the photograph in Part I at the top], at the Driskill Hotel. I have provided Erin and Rolf some great photos they can use, and I think they are destined to break out. Erin and Rolf are just neat people and I was glad to help them. Listen to their music at:

This last week on Friday, I was also able to photograph a closed reception for Qiao Hong, Consul General of the Houston Consulate for the People's Republic of China, as a courtesy for the Austin Asian community. The weekend before, I photographed the "Heroes" event the weekend before that, for the Central Texas Chapter of the American Red Cross. Both neat events.

I have even been able to photograph Sarah Butler as Mother Ginger during the Nutcracker from backstage at the Bass Concert Hall. That was pretty neat, too!! For the Butlers, I have repeatedly offered my photographic skills in humble "thank you" for the great things they do for the arts in Austin, and for me in particular. I am a Knight of the Symphony because of the Butler family.

What talents do you have and who can you offer to help by volunteering your time? Ask yourself that question and then find ways to help! It is an excellent way to get great opportunities and connect to the very people you seek.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Have you offered to help someone today? Part I

Often I have noticed that people seem lost in their efforts to connect to others - particularly when they want help. Often when we need help the most - we feel desperate, and we are too quick to assert our needs over the needs of the other people around us. Another huge stumbling block is the interest in only having the other person provide help, and not ensuring reciprocity.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, this is a bad move to assert one's own needs too aggressively. This tendency, while seeming to be direct, is actually somewhat selfish and unproductive. You are essentially saying, "hey, I don't know you, or don't care about your situation, but you ought to help me because I am me." Unless they already like you for whatever reason and are willing to help you for their own reasons, you probably will not get what you are seeking on the short-term, and may even have sacrificed great long-term benefits.

Why? Because you have not honored the need to develop a relationship or friendship with others that will be true before making the ask for help. My wife, a non-profit development officer, has helped me understand these principles from a development perspective. My wife would tell you that "people don't give to causes, they give to people." People connect best by developing a relationship first - based upon common goals, common beliefs, common attraction, whatever. Even with people who are most generous with their time, they are often going to be hit up by too many people, and you have to ask yourself if your cause or need is more worthy then those they already support. Maybe! But until you know more facts, maybe not! And even if it is, it may well take time and experience before the prospect might agree.

Here is an example I have experienced. A non-profit called me up and said, "hey, give to us because we are a good cause!" although I have no prior relationship with them. Often in such instances, I indicate that we have already given to many non-profits and are currently tapped out. In some of those occasions, I had overly zealous non-profit solicitors get abrasive or simply insistent that they are the most worthy cause. The more effective way to develop that relationship as the solicitor is to say sincerely in response to such rejection, "Thank you so much for being involved and what you do in the community!," and then giving them contact information in case they might be interested in your mission in the future. You might not get their $$$ that time, but the next time they would regard you well - and might contribute or help in some other way.

I don't think asking for help is a bad thing, but definitely soft sell the ask if the relationship is still maturing - and I might suggest putting it in generic terms. Try saying, "I am trying to find people to help me do X; if you know of anyone who might be able to help and don't mind, let me know!" Also, make sure to measure the ask against what they might reasonably be able to do. If the ask is small, you might make it - but still be gracious with a "no." If they are in a position to help, they might. If the ask is a big one, avoid asking people you don't know well, if you can. If you feel you need to ask people who you do know well, I would even suggest saying, "You probably can't help me and I understand but I am desperate and need X. Do you know someone who can help?" In other situations if the relationship is a strong one, you are in a better position to be direct, but if you get a "no" in any circumstance, find a way to lighten the mood immediately so they know your relationship is still strong. You want them to know you care for them regardless of whether they help you at that instance!

While the above utilized analogies to non-profit, the tips by no means are limited in that context. They, however, are enlightening about "what not to do!"

Tune in to Part II for a better way to develop relationships, by offering to help instead!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can you have a leader without a team?

Recently in an answer I posted to a question on Linkedin, I provided some thoughts on whether leadership is born or bred, part of nature or nurture. I felt that this was an appropriate point for this blog, as well, since leadership is all about connecting. To be a leader you have to have a team - or else there is no one to lead.

Often leaders miss the importance of connecting with those around them, and often may focus on the importance of their own ego of being "the leader" and their own success. With leadership, though, the focus has to be on the leader's team, not the leader. To be an effective leader, one also have to be skillful at connecting to others. The successful leader (regardless of their skill sets and natural ability or even training) must understand this point first and foremost.

Some might argue that certain leaders have superior genetic tendencies that help them succeed. I don't think it is unlike athleticism. Some people are going to naturally excel at sports, but others might struggle to get to the same point. However, as much of one's success is as much about one's heart and passion, which can also be a kind of natural talent. The ones who are born with the most natural ability, if not carefully crafted, often fail in the end. It is their own egos of not wanting to learn (and assuming that they know it all - the star "ball hog") that keeps even naturally gifted people from being able to connect to their team. Such individuals ultimately fail in leadership - despite exceeding talent. If you are someone without a team willing to follow, can you really be a leader? All of us can learn to improve our leadership. Thus, a component of leadership has to be nurtured and must certainly be learned.

There are definite qualities of leadership that do arise from genetic tendencies, but I think like the senses, other tendencies can often make up for talents that are lacking - if one learns to use such substitute abilities. For example, empathic leaders will effect their team in a different way, than someone who is a stoic leader. Each may be as effective, with the right team and in the right circumstance - if they are able to adjust their natural tendencies to achieve the same goal - which is to motivate their team to succeed. Like a parent, a leader also cannot always use the same methods for every teammate. Each individual may have to be led differently. If a leader lacks a skill set needed to succeed, he or she must also understands his or her limitations and empower a lieutenant to support that weak area, so he or she still can success in the mission. Thus, sometimes it is about empowering a leadership team to lead the rest. Good leaders often give the credit for success to the team, and take the blame of failure on themselves - as a method of empowering the team.

At the end of the day, a successful leader must set aside the ego and individualism of leadership and see how to engage the team. The leader must be certain to have everyone in the right position for their own talents, empower them to achieve their objective, and motivate them effectively to want to do so. Even with this, though, it is all about the team, not the leader. Whether you are ultimately the leader, the lieutenant or the follower, ... it is all about connecting.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where have all the good Jedi gone?

It is funny that often the most powerful archetypes are ones that, while inspired by myth or imagination, have a powerful ability to inspire reality for change. One of those that impacts Gen-X strongly is that of the "Jedi." Many of us were in the waves of movie goers who went to the original "Star Wars" in either 1977-78, since the movie ran for months at the Theatre. We grew up in backyards with sticks imagining them to be light sabers - many of us wanting to be the Jedi, while some wanting to be Darth Vader.

However, for those that know much about the original source of many of the aspects of the story for George Lucas, you know that much of these themes he developed were taken from prior film or mythology - since those archetypes often are classic. For the generation before, it was the Lone Ranger. For the generation before that, it was Elliott Ness and G-Men against Al Capone. Each generation has its own version of these types, whether it was Patriots and Red-coats or some other group. Often the view that inspires the mind is not the actual historical view of these characters, which may be lost, if they were based on true fact, at all, but on the story telling of those facts. The Jedi were probably as much tied to the Musketeers as to modern fantasy.

But when we "grow up," do we have to loose that belief in things greater than ourselves - do those times of our childhood play have to be left completely behind in adulthood? I say no!

What do the adult world think of such a notion? They often buy into it, as well. It was repeatedly said that former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff of the Texas Senate was its "Obi-Wan Kenobi," by no less reputable source than Texas Monthly. For all the praise that is often heaped onto the story of Sen. Ratliff's efforts there to balance politics for so many years, this one reference by Texas Monthly often conveys the message of his noble approach to politics like no other. Why? because popular culture often underlines the way we see our society, and even how we may see ourselves in that society.

In the current time, at least, our society seems to have lost the belief in heroes and the ability of some to raise up and do great things for noble and self-less reasons. With all the heroic individuals who might be identified in the press, often as quickly the hubris or simply humanity (and failings) of those heroes are the next story lead. If Anakin Skywalker were a real person now, you can imagine the headlines "SKYWALKER GOES DARK, VADER IS BORN" would hit the press - and it would lead the news cycles everywhere.

But just as with that series, maybe it is time for a generation that was raised on the original innocence of Chapter IV to see that "A New Hope" might still be possible. We might still see ourselves not simply as people with faults and foibles, which we are, but also as people who are also capable of greatness and who can champion our own hearts and spirits - to be Jedi again. It was not lost on the Scottish and Irish warriors that often the theatrical would inspire the ferocity of their armies in reality - with War Pipes (bagpipes) playing on the hill. Maybe it is time once again that we allow no less significant an archetype to inspire us also to greatness.

"I want to be a Jedi Knight, like my father before me." Luke Skywalker


Monday, April 14, 2008

Breaking out of Complacency!

Last week my wife and I had an "interesting experience." While walking our dog Ginger a mile (the normal loop) and then an extra block, my wife wanted to go yet another extra block . For some reason I decided not to protest the second extra block (which is unusual). As we were walking, we noticed a bicyclist with a headlight coming toward us in the dark. The bike was not going fast, and then seemed to slow, stop, and the light fell 1/2 block up the road. The light didn't come up again.
At first I figured it a child who laid a bike down in the street at house. There was no scream, no yelling for help, but my wife expressed concern that the light still wasn't moving after 1/2 minute. She started walking faster to a jog, pulling Ginger. A few steps behind, my flashlight showed a rider, middle-aged woman, who was not moving. My wife went to her, found out her name, Paula, and asked if she was okay. Paula wasn't - she was hurt and may have hit her head (she didn't have a helmet), her shoulder and hip. We asked her if there was someone we could call on our cell phone, and Paula said, "No," her husband was out of town and there was no one else. We called EMS with Paula's approval. I talked to 911 on the phone, while my wife talked to Paula to comfort her and keep her talking. We found out Paula was 49 years old. She seemed really scared.

Likely the most scary thing is that Paula was laying partially in the roadway, in a very dark part of the street. She was not making noise much at all, and if we had not come along, she easily could have been hit by a fast-moving car (they often go fast on that stretch) without her even being seen. It was about 9:20pm and who knows when someone else would have found her. Paula's bike lights may have been visible in one direction, but not the other way. Since EMS said not to move her, I stood over my wife and Paula with a flashlight in case any cars did come along. EMS arrived about 4 minutes later. Heather and I took command until the EMS arrived and stayed until EMS left with Paula.

If we had not come along, it is unclear how long Paula may have lain there, with no one to call, no way to call them (she didn't have a cell on her), and seemingly unable to scream for help. Even if she had a cell, it seemed unclear whom she would have called - and I think that is what was so frightening to her. In whatever grace exists, my wife decided to go "another" block and I decided not to fight it. What surprised me most, though, is that with an EMS truck in the middle of that block, the only neighbors who came out were two walking at a distance without offering help, and the neighbor whose yard we were in front of, who only came out after the EMS had gone. From talking to Paula, she was from that block and know one apparently knew her.

Do you know your neighbors? Do they know you? Who would you call in such a situation? Modern society seems to accept such isolation. Maybe this is a message to everyone to connect more, since who knows whom might be the next person laying on the road in the dark, injured and alone. While Paula apparently had a guardian angel looking over her, do you want to rely only on finding the kindness and leadership of strangers to protect you or your loved ones?

[Note: Paula expressed great appreciation for us at the scene and called us the next day. She was home from the hospital, her husband had returned home and she was doing fine, although very bruised. Her dislocated shoulder had apparently popped back into place while she was loaded onto the ambulance.]