Thursday, April 28, 2011

Realistic Expectations

I am always advocating that we need to touch base with our customers, to find out what is happening with them and what we can do to improve our services.

And I do walk the talk. This week we sent out our annual survey to women who are part of the Company of Women community and slowly they are trickling back.

As I read through the feedback, it’s gratifying to learn that we are doing OK, but I find myself gravitating to the few negative ones. Why do we do that? The majority are super- positive, and people have some great ideas and suggestions that we will consider implementing, yet I still get drawn into the negativity of some people.

I find myself getting defensive – wanting to reply and explain how much different aspects of our programs cost and that we’re a small team. Or counter with my feedback on what we have done in the past.

It boils down to expectations. While we are there to support and connect you as much as we can, we can’t make your business a success, only you can do that.

I guess my lesson from all this is that when we ask for people’s opinions, that’s what we get and you have to be prepared to take the good, with the bad, and at least this time there was no ugly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

bizwomen: Day by Day

bizwomen: Day by Day: "Well it is official. I have a book. I picked up copies from the publishers last week and already this week we’ve sold quite a few copies. ..."

Day by Day

Well it is official. I have a book. I picked up copies from the publishers last week and already this week we’ve sold quite a few copies. It does feel strange to think that likely over the long weekend people will be reading about the ins and outs of my life.

I guess I knew that when I wrote it – but it is different now that moment is here. Will I hear back from them? Will they look me straight in the eye again or avoid me? Oh the pangs of self-doubt start to roll in. Why do we do that to ourselves? It also makes me feel vulnerable – not a role I like to play.

The funny thing is that no sooner had the book arrived than other writers approached me about the whole publishing process. Like I am the expert. I mean I am just a few weeks ahead of them, that’s all. But I did meet with some women this week and it strikes me that there is merit in us all getting together to share ideas, resources and support.

Writing a book and getting it published is just the first step. If you don’t do any marketing, it will just gather dust on your bookshelf or sit in your garage waiting for a good home.

Like any product you have to sell, you have to consider who is your target market and focus your energies on reaching them. That’s where I am lucky in a way. My book is aimed at women and is about running a small business while trying to have a life, which means that it will appeal, hopefully, to women in Company of Women and other small business owners.

A fellow author – oh that sounds so sweet – suggested that I post an entry on How this works is you type in page 99 of your book, and people give you feedback on whether they would buy it or not. Now she did warn me that it could be brutal and you certainly have to leave your ego at the door and don a suit of armour.

Only three people have reviewed the page, and so far one might buy it. One reviewer was a guy, so he just didn’t get it and with the other negative comment, I wanted to email her back to explain. I guess it makes you a bit defensive. But again, it does emphasize the need to be targeted in who want to reach.

So often when you write a book, you put so much of yourself into it, and when the book is actually your story – then even more so. For those of you reading Day by Day. Tales of business, life and everything in between I hope you get something out of the book. Even my kids learned something new about their mother ☺

Monday, April 18, 2011


A few weeks ago one of our team was publicly put down in front of a whole group of people by someone participating in a program. She came back to the office shaking and near tears. When said individual then followed up with an equally attacking email, it was hard to not just retaliate and bring ourselves down to her level. However, we took the high road, even though we were gritting our teeth.

So I read with great interest a recent article by Martha Beck in which she talks about people trying to rob us of our good mood. She called it emotional mugging and explained that there are six types of muggers – from the puppy kickers who take out their frustrations on someone else or the exploding doormats who will take so much, and then explode at the slightest provocation, and who harbour festering hostility towards their targets, to other more serious offenders who long term can damage your core belief in yourself.

The deflaters, and you may even have these in your family, are the ones who burst your bubble and sees virtue in pessimism. They can “take the air out of any good time and make a bad time feel even worse.” shares Beck.

The most insidious is the secret keepers, because you can start to question your own sanity. You know something’s not right but when you talk about it, the secret keeper pounces back, anxious to stop you from learning the truth. The cannibals are the ones who can bring you down in a split second with their tales of doom and gloom. Beck recommends not feeding into this person’s misery but instead reinforce with them that they have the resources to resolve their issues.

The last are the dementors, who take pleasure in publicly humiliating another person. They, Beck points out, are “endlessly unhappy, addicted to the sense of control they get from violating others.” The dementors are the most vicious of the muggers and her best advice was to avoid them completely or if that is not an option, to keep your emotional distance.

To protect yourself from emotional mugging, Beck compares her advice to learning self-defense, except instead of learning karate-do to protect yourself physically, she advocates practicing emo-do – the way of the emotional master.

As for our troubled lady, she most definitely fit into the dementors category and we intend to follow Beck’s advice and keep our distance.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I have a thing about being on time. Punctuality is important to me and as many of my members will attest, I work hard to finish my events on time. I feel it is a sign of respect to do so.

That being said, twice this week I have been late – for an event and a meeting. Why? Because I got lost. Not only lost, but my GPS had me going around in circles.

By the time I was forty minutes late picking up my volunteer Melanie, I was almost beside myself. I knew I was going to be late for our event and I had the name tags, registration material etc… And sure enough, when we arrived people were waiting for us, several concerned because I am never late. Well after this week, nearly never.

A few days later, I decided to try a different route home from Kitchener. Big mistake. Again following my trusty (or not so trusty) GPS, I started to notice familiar sites – I literally was back where I started from, and suddenly where I thought I had plenty of time to get to my meeting, I was behind and stuck in traffic. Fortunately the people I was meeting with were flexible and we were able to get together, albeit half an hour later.

No one likes to get lost. It makes you feel vulnerable. With places to go and people to see, my frustration level was at an all time high. But it made me realize how it must feel when you are lost in life, when you don’t know what to do next, and are drifting with no sense of direction or inner voice telling you what to do. It’s not a comfortable place to be, and yet all of us have been there at some time in our lives.

As business owners, it can often be when we have some tough decisions to make and we aren’t sure how or whether to make them – whether it be to take that big step and hire staff or undertake a major expense or at the other end of the spectrum, to face the unwelcome reality that your business isn’t working or is not financially viable and it’s time to close the doors.

In his book The Dip, Seth Godin talks about how often we give up when success is just around the corner. Certainly I set myself a time limit and had determined that if I hadn’t found Melanie’s farmhouse by a certain time, I was going to have to give up and sure enough, seconds before that deadline, I found it.

With my second tardy experience, it bothered me more than the people I was visiting, so really I could have cut myself some slack. Maybe we expect too much of ourselves.

Whether you are lost physically or mentally, one thing I know for sure, asking for directions can help you recognize and reach your destination. Talking it out with a friend or family member can bring a different perspective, one that brings objectivity to your situation and help you see a clear path and sense of direction.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Like many I have admired and been in awe of Mandela’s courage after spending 27 years in prison, and so I was interested to read the book Mandela’s Way Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage by Richard Stengel.

Mandela was 44 when he was first imprisoned and before that time, he would describe himself as an emotional, passionate and sensitive man but when he came out at age 71, he was described as balanced, measured and controlled. “I came out mature” he says.

In this book, the author describes Mandela’s lessons, which as business owners and leaders we can all learn from and grow – both professionally and personally.

1. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s learning to overcome it.
He would pretend to be brave but inside wasn’t feeling that way, he was just putting on a front.

2. Be measured. Control is the measure of a leader. Calm is what people are looking for in tense situations. As a young man, he was a hot head, easily roused to anger but he emerged from prison as someone almost impossible to rile. He liked to make decisions after considering all the options – think, analyze and act.

3. Lead from the front. Leaders must not only lead, but must be seen to lead. This meant doing things not necessarily to attract attention, but to be doing the same as others, in his case, with the other prisoners. When you lead from the front, you can’t let your colleagues get too far behind.

4. Lead from the back. As much as Mandela liked the limelight, he knew he had to share it. The author compared it to herding cattle, you get behind them and prod with a stick. This style of leadership means listening and getting consensus. Mandela preferred to reach results in a harmonious way, believing that what’s good for you, is good for others.

5. Look the part. Appearances matter. If you want to play the part, you have to wear the right clothes. At any political or social event, Mandela was always the first to stand up and clap; he would greet people, not be greeted by them and was always the host, never the guest.

Mandela’s smile is unique. It spells confidence. When he was released the one message he wanted to convey was that he was a man without bitterness.

6. Have a core principle. Everything else is tactics. Mandela’s core principle is equal rights for all, everything else is a tactic. He is a pragmatist and sets about getting things done.

7. See the good in others. He believes in starting with the assumption that you are dealing with people in good faith. Mandela felt that seeing the good in others might actually make them better. His premise was that if you expect more of people, they often contributed more.

8. Know your enemy. In his youth, Mandela was an amateur boxer and his coach taught him to be nimble and strong, but that he also had to know his opponent. So he learnt Afrikaans as he thought if he could speak his opponents’ language, he could to straight to their hearts.

To him, it was the art of persuasion – you don’t address their brains, you address their hearts. So in business, if you want to make the sale, you address the heart. He would do his homework and prepare for meetings with opponents. And when he won, he never gloated. He wanted to let them save face because then you could turn your enemy into a friend.

9. Keep your rivals close. Mandela never stopped tracking his opponents. In fact he believed that you needed to keep close tabs on your friendly rivals. He wanted to be close enough to see trouble coming.

10. Know when to say no. Mandela was decisive in his decisions, not given to saying “maybe” when he knew it would be “no” in the long run. His advice was that if you are delaying a decision because you are avoiding saying “no” as it is unpleasant, you are better to do it right away, and avoid a heap of trouble down the road.

11. It’s a long game. After 27 years in prison, you learn how to play a long game. He learned how to postpone gratification, whereas our culture rewards speed and impatience is regarded as a virtue.

He advises not to let the illusion of urgency force you to make decisions before you are ready. He prefers to marinate ideas and keep the total picture in mind.

12. Love makes the difference. He always was a romantic, dreaming of love and family. It was a lonely life for him - as a prisoner and when he first came out of prison, as being a celebrity trapped him. Who could he trust? But he remarried at 80 and has found love in his life again.

13. Quitting is leadership too. His greatest act of leadership was renunciation of it. He felt his job was to set the course, not steer the ship and at 80 he retired. He knows that it doesn’t pay to fight over every issue, and sometimes it’s best to call it quits.

14. It’s always both. There are no simple answers to most difficult questions. All explanations may be true but every problem has many causes, not just one. Shades of grey, he observed, are not easy to articulate. Black and white is seductive because it is simple and absolute. We often gravitate to yes or no, when both may be closer to the truth. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person with whom we disagree.

15. Find your own garden. When he was in prison, Mandela got permission to grow a vegetable garden. It became is oasis and helped quieten his mind. He believes that each of us needs something from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction.

I thoroughly recommend this book. It is a quick and easy read, with lots of meat to it and ideas to ponder on.