Leading from the Bottom

Leading from the bottom is never easy. When you find yourself in a place of lesser respect with your peers and you don’t want to be there, there are ways to climb out from the pit. They are difficult. They require commitment, self-honesty, tenacity and courage. That said, take it from someone who used to be a failure, who used to be a quitter: giving up should always be your last resort.

I had to start by asking a not-so-simple question: “why am I here?” It’s easy to point to others around you in your organization and say: “it’s their fault and here’s why”. There are bullies and cliques in every organization, and we will address them in a bit. Generally speaking, however, I discovered the only thing I can fix is myself. Taking self-inventory and finding out where I stand is Leadership 101. I’ve learned to ask myself when challenges arise: “am I sabotaging my influence, and if so, how?” On accepting difficult truths considering that question, and making some hard changes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how my influence has increased, propelling me in a positive direction.

But what happens when the criticism is unfair, the reputation is no longer earned, and you are still the butt of jokes and condescension? What do you do when the problem is external to you?

I’ll tell you, I spent years doing the wrong thing: I took it personally. It’s hard not to. That led to me to becoming as critical of them as I saw them being critical of me, which was a huge mistake and an instant saboteur for all influence on top of my flaws. It just made them look “right” when they said negative things about me in the eyes of others. When I learned how to take inventory and started making the hard changes to eliminate those flaws, I still found myself under the gun more than I should have been.

I have two words to describe the right way for handling the criticism of others: love and kindness. Remove all criticism from your lips, treat people with respect no matter how they treat you, ignore the scoffs, side-eyed glances and casual as well as implied insults. Be kind, and practice love for others. It’s that simple. I speak from experience when I say you will become a beacon of light and your reputation will follow. Just think about the man or woman you know that everyone likes-if ever anyone spoke a harsh word against them, it would be piled back on their heads.

Proverbs 5:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

That leads me to this: one can practice a “charm offensive” without having made any personal changes. Politicians do this quite frequently. When it counts, however, character is what true leaders look for. If someone has no character, they collaborate with other leaders who do the same. Eventually, they will stab that person in the back. When walking in shady circles, people get backstabbed all the time: there is always someone smarter and better equipped than they are.
I can honestly say, after having worked out some character flaws, and having put down the defensive criticism, I was able to love others again and I find myself respected today. The exclamation point to my story hasn’t happened yet, but God has been developing a testimony in me that I cannot ignore.

The Point is Production

Right now, I have three main goals:

  1. I want to meet leaders, in person.
    • Once again, this refers back to the “Know” Principle, Christopher Barrat identified when talking about how to network. My original end-goal was to find work. Now, I feel like the networking itself will lead to provision in time, but without any expectations, I’d just like to get to know people-and in turn, maybe be known by them.
  2. I want to discover their stories.
    • It’s as I’ve said previously, I am looking to learn from accomplished people. I’m also listening for their needs, and seeing if perhaps I might be able to connect them with someone else, or help them myself in some way.
  3. I want to stay in touch.
    • Even if only once every other month or so. This will become more challenging as I develop more contacts, which means there needs to be some way to prioritize my time.

In other words, if my overarching goal is to network, making contacts is how I can be productive. This week, however, I started getting that nagging feeling again-that feeling of restlessness. Right now, I’m invited onto two leadership teams, I’ve met and befriended leaders of great accomplishment, and I’m volunteering my time toward greater causes. I believed I was being active.

“What does your day look like,” asked AJ.

“Well, I watch a TED talk, then I play a computer game, I listen to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, then I watch a YouTube video for a movie review, I blog, then I go volunteer at the Ministry on Sunday night.”

“What I’m hearing is that you’re not that busy.”

The words sunk into my soul like an anchor.

“Production over Maintenance, Cris,” he said.

You see, in the opinion of my oldest and most esteemed mentor, if I am doing things like blogging, reading leadership tomes, watching videos on leadership-all of these are good things, but none of them involve networking. The blog, yes, minimally-it’s a tool toward networking in addition to a record of my journey and an attempt to help others. But his point: if making new contacts isn’t in there somewhere, I’m not really being productive. And if I’m not being productive, restlessness will set in. Maintenance is very important, but if you aren’t maintaining for the sake of your best form of production, it’s pointless.

Of course, he didn’t even mention the entertainment that I’d thrown in there. Although a little of that is a good thing, I should have seen the excess as a sign.

AJ has been there before. What is happening to me, has happened to him. The bottom line? Real networking is a challenge. It’s always tempting to ask ourselves: “What if I’m rejected?”, “What if they won’t talk to me?”, “What if they are ‘too big’ to talk to me?”, “What if I’m bothering them simply by introducing myself?”, “What if I alienate a leader by breathing wrong?” If we are not carefully paying attention, we might begin to listen to those voices, stop to count our successes, and fail to move forward without ever noticing it.

As AJ puts it: “If there is no potential for embarrassment, it’s probably not production.”

That’s not an excuse not to come into any situation with a leader as prepared as possible, but there are some things you can only learn by doing them over and over again. When growing a network, numbers are a key to success. So is the success, versatile abilities, and other leaders your contact has connections with.

I want to conclude with some thoughts about just how I’ve started collecting stories. For some leaders, the best way to find out who they are and how they got there is to hang around. Some others like the idea of a blog and are interested in being formally interviewed for it-I’m beginning to casually reference Tenets once in awhile, just to see if anyone might be willing to give it a go. Still others, I’ve found, are most comfortable talking about their journey in their office hours, and you’ll want to make a formal appointment. I’m thrilled to have discovered multiple avenues, but I’m still figuring out how to discern which leaders might go for which option.

If you have any positively-oriented thoughts about this or other blog posts, or even if you just want to say “hi”, I’d love to hear from you-feel free to leave me a comment anytime.

Facing Rejection

When attempting to get anywhere in life, rejection happens. It’s a facet of reality that most of us fear. Jia Jiang, in his TED Talk “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” faces down that fear in the best possible way and talks to his audience about what he learned from his experience.

Before you face rejection:

  1. Come Prepared to Do What You Want to Do.

When you face rejection:

  1. Don’t Run!
  2. Listen For Them to Ask You “Why?”
  3. Echo Potential Concerns
  4. Explain Yourself/Negotiate
  5. Ask Them Why They Rejected You.

Pretty amazing stuff!

You can find Jia Jiang’s TED Talk on “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” here:

Failing Forward

I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s “Failing Forward” and considering some of the lessons therein.

I have a tendency toward perfectionism. When I make a social misstep, or a networking misstep, I have a hard time forgiving myself. I’m irrationally afraid I won’t get another chance. In other words, I’ve been entrenched in “Conditional Regard”, the ugly cousin of “Unconditional Positive Regard”, where I only accept myself when I meet certain criteria. The fact that they are unreasonable criteria is only icing on that cake.

Though Maxwell makes it clear through his stories that we must be aware of how wide or narrow our windows of opportunity really are, I discovered something that applies to all forms of performance anxiety:

Giving myself grace is the only way out.

As long as I am serious about change and it’s evidenced through a majority of my behavior, allowing myself grace when I make mistakes is acceptable. In fact, it’s necessary. What I had to figure out was there is a difference between a mistake and a backslide. A mistake is something I usually recognize right after it’s happened and it’s not something I want to repeat. A backslide is a series of “somethings” that I barely acknowledge and allow to continue unchecked. Guilt is only useful for the second one, but not the first. Guilt slows you down, but grace powers you forward. If I allow guilt to overtake me for a mistake after my performance record suggests positive momentum, all I’m doing is sabotaging myself from continuing in a positive direction.

Maxwell’s core concept is found in the title- “Failing Forward”. In it, he suggests that in order to succeed, you need to give yourself permission to fail. I’m new to this, but I’m beginning to understand just how important that permission-that grace is-to my personal growth, my networking, my business, and my life.

The Hero’s Journey

Another piece to the puzzle of what makes a great leader? The journey.

Think about it. Every great leader I’ve ever heard of is constantly on a journey; I mean literally, they are always traveling. Their stories often take place in cities I have only dreamt of, talking with people I used to believe I’d never have access to, flying thousands and thousands of miles around the earth on deep pockets. While out and about, they nurture and maintain contacts to the point where, because of their vision, their network, and how they treat people, they accomplish great things. These accomplishments create a burning urge to get the message out because the stories are fascinating, and potentially helpful to humankind, while having the added benefit of increasing their influence among the masses.The cycle repeats.

I started this journey seeking employment and somehow it’s turned into so much more than that. Seeking employment meant learning about how to find it effectively, which also meant learning about myself. Learning itself suddenly became valuable to me. Then, I learned that networking was the best possible way to find a way to meet my financial needs. Now I seek connections and listen for the needs of others, with an ever-strengthening belief that I will be provided for. Through continued learning, I realized that I’m a leader, although a novice one, and that is where I will find my bread and butter. I began questing locally to see what it means to be a great leader. I’ve discovered so far that leadership, more than anything else, is about honest self-exploration, a willingness to learn, to grow, to improve. All of these things are building into each other. The more contacts I make, the more books I read, the more my network grows…well, it’s becoming something bigger than me and my needs.

And I realized something today in the shower (where all great ideas come): I think I’m going to have to leave soon. I mean physically. I can see it on the horizon: I have to travel away from home. The time will come soon to start my own “hero’s journey”.

I’m not really sure why it is nascent leaders need to do this, but you see it throughout history. Jesus Christ-the founder of Christianity-pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his home country and he traveled everywhere throughout Samaria and Judea. Saint Paul himself was rumored to have reached all the way to Spain from a journey that started on the road to Damascus-that man started, lead and nurtured several of the earliest Christian churches under threat of death, imprisonment, torture, and a couple of shipwrecks. Saint Thomas (Doubting Thomas!!) was said to have reached India. INDIA in 54BC from Judea! He successfully started a Christian tradition that still exists today and claims him as their founding apostle. Theodore Roosevelt was elected to governor of New York after travelling to Puerto Rico and leading the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War; we know what ends up happening to him. We remember Herman Cortes for bringing the downfall of the Aztec empire through conquest and disease-he wasn’t the best guy, but he was a leader and sailed across an ocean, burning his ships behind him to accomplish the mission of his journey. Sir Edmund Hillary is known for being one of the first to summit Everest and definitely the first to touch both poles as well as summit Everest, ever-nobody would deny his influence. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two to land on the moon and walk on it, and they carried sway for the rest of their lives (Aldrin is still alive!).

What’s my point? Great leaders travel, inspired to accomplish great things through their journey. For me, my mission or purpose has been clear for a long time, but up until now, I’ve been clueless as to how I get there. I am fantastically glad I didn’t delete this blog, as I considered doing once or twice. I was afraid that my open exploration would reveal that I am a novice leader and that it would end my story before it began. Now, I realize, great leaders share. Though I am not a great leader yet, that this is part of my journey. I hope it inspires others to find ways to accomplish what they are meant to do.

Attention Span

There is a conflict within my personality.

I have a gift where people want to open up to me. It happens even with strangers, and it’s a little like when people find out that someone is a doctor and want talk about their boils-I get all kinds of interesting stories thrown my way from people who have little to no personal interest in me.

Most of the time, I have a vested interest in the person sharing. Especially when it’s a friend, I want to do the best I can to serve them and be there for them through whatever they’re going through.

The problem is, I get easily distracted. I have a self-flattering theory that I am the psychology version of a “meatball surgeon” in a M.A.S.H. unit during the Korean War. Instead of piecing together parts of a bullet hole-riddled stomach, I was designed to help shoulder the emotional burden for people during emergency situations. Emergencies are fast-paced, require quick responses, and short-term, patchwork solutions. None of those things require having to pay attention for extended periods of time.

A real surgeon I am not.

As an extravert, I naturally do best being in front of audiences. As a leader, I should be fully capable of becoming the audience. Listening well to people is imperative for building influence and for being a good leader in general.

Points For Attention-Span Development:

  • Interact. Although I should still let the other person do most of the talking during situations where they need to unburden, there is a concept referred to as “active listening”: remember what is said, ask questions that engage deeper reflection on the part of the speaker, further clarify a murky concept, or encourage the speaker to expound upon what they are saying.
    • This works with textbooks and articles as well, only the interaction there is doing things like note-taking, and even affiliating a piece of music to the information for enhanced recall.
  • Meditate. When alone, I need to consider tuning out all distractions and focusing on one concept in my mind for periods of time that I gradually extend. Eventually, I’ll add distractions and see if I am able to focus on the singular concept despite what is going on around me. Such mental exercises are often thought to increase overall ability to focus in real life.
  • Monitor. Sometimes, when someone has been the sole speaker for ten minutes or more on topics that are not situation critical, they are being poor conversationalists. As a “bottom-line” personality, I will sometimes politely interrupt. Although having a long attention-span is a good thing, I still need to be the guardian of my time. I should not enable people to take advantage of my willing ear. There are those who are natural talkers and those who are natural listeners-it’s good for both types to meet in the middle and actually have an interactive discussion. Think of conversation like a dance-if someone is speaking for more than five minutes on a given topic, it is polite to check and see if who you are speaking with is interested. During that pause, it is polite to either contribute to the conversation yourself, or be honest and politely change the subject.

For more information on extending your attention span, check out this lifehacker article from 2010:


On the Search for Open 3’s-Networking According to Christopher Barrat

The Four Tenets of Networking

According to Management Development Skills Author Christopher Barrat, all of networking breaks down into these four simple concepts: “Know”, “Like”, “Trust” and “Buy”.

“…and you have to do them in that order. You can’t jump it, you can’t suddenly go to the buy bit, you can’t get people to buy you without the first bits. ‘I need to know you, I need to like you, I need to trust you before that can happen.'”

Christopher believes that the first two steps of that process are usually what you cover at your first networking even with someone: Know is a process that only happens by meeting people face-to-face. Like comes from listening, and incorporating the WAIT principle, which stands for “why am I talking?” Mr. Barrat encourages you to draw people out and as people naturally enjoy talking about themselves, by transference, they Like you for allowing them to do so. While they get to know and like you, they may grow to Trust you, especially upon providing them with needed contacts and finding ways to serve their needs based on what you learned from drawing them out. And at some point, usually not immediately, you will be rewarded for your patience and giving attitude-the network provides for you with a Buy event, where somebody pays back into you.

Social Configurations

When entering a large party of people, either for business, pleasure or some amalgam of both, Mr. Barrat suggests searching for what he calls “open threes”, or a configuration of three people, standing staggered in such a way that although they are speaking to one another, they are somewhat facing out, rather than all three directly facing each other and forming a triangle (and thereby closing the group). Think of them as an open square or an incomplete diamond.

“If they’re closed groups, ignore them. Go for an open three with at least one woman.”

“…and there’s a really important reason for that […] women tend to be more socialized in bringing people in groups. That’s been proven in sociological in research.”

He recommends then, joining the group of “open” three by asking politely if you can join them, thereby closing that group of open three, and creating a closed group of four.

The Tennis Match

Tonight I was able to integrate “Know”, “Like” and WAIT from this talk into a conversation with my driver as I took a Lyft to a concert-she was a natural introvert, and I was able to curtail talking about myself and made every effort to draw her out. At some point, when the conversation stalled, I was able to keep her talking by doing a reverse and relaying a relevant story about my life; I discovered sometimes it’s okay to share when your intent is also to focus on learning about the other person. It’s part of drawing people out because naturally, conversation is always a bit of a tennis match.

After the concert I Lyft-ed to was over, the networking (also known as socializing in non-business parlance) started and I went up to greet the band leader who was a friend of mine. She was actually in a “closed five” (a band-leader speaking with her band-mates) so I awkwardly stood there for a bit, caught myself approaching a closed group, and turned around to seek out my buddy until she was available. She was gracious, because when she opened the group, and saw me facing out, she invited me in to introduce me to everybody. I learned I need to scan the room a bit more closely, as I get single-minded and excited when I am seeking to speak to friends.

As usual, I’ll try to incorporate my life experiences using these lessons into the blog, because I’m definitely excited to try them all out. You can find Christopher Barrat’s TED Talk here, entitled “Successful Networking – The Ultimate Guide”:

The Marriage of Learning and Networking

In a discussion with a well-read friend this evening, we batted around the possible reasons why the children of the wealthy have an easier time of making something out of their lives than the rest of us. Money is the conclusion I normally come to, but if that were true, scores of lottery winners who quit their jobs wouldn’t end up destitute the following year. The answer is found in other aspects of the consistently wealthy.

“If you examine them closely,” said my friend, “you’ll find that wealthy people are constantly learning and they are constantly making connections with others. Not everybody does that.”

Being out of work has driven me into books, like “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles, which both teaches you about yourself, and leads you into a form of networking called “Informational Interviewing”. Over the next two months, I’m going to do my very best to connect with successful people and find out how they got to where they are. I’m going to be reading every book, and listen to every TED talk I think might be applicable to the foundations of this blog. And I will relay everything I learn back to you, dear reader. I hope to prove the points my friend has made, and perhaps in the process, make something of myself.