Friday, October 14, 2011

Networking in Overdrive

The 2012 Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP) class went full speed ahead during a Speed Networking event. It was a chance for the 25 leaders in the MCLP class to meet key players in the community, ranging from leaders from small businesses to higher education and corporate executives. Participants walked away with more confidence and knowledge. They also picked up at least 30 new contacts in McLean County! COUNTRY Financial manager Melinda Zehr sums up her experience:

If you’ve heard of speed dating, then you probably understand the idea behind speed networking. In speed dating, you meet a lot of people in a very short time, and decide based on first impression if you want to meet up later. Speed networking uses the same concept. But instead of looking for romantic companionship, you’re looking to make some good business and career contacts.

A few weeks back, I participated in the Multicultural Leadership Program’s speed networking event. My head is still spinning from meeting so many wonderful people in such a short amount of time.

I found in the beginning, I wasn’t very good with managing the tiny amount of time I had with each person. We’d get started talking about one topic, digging deeper and deeper into it, and the next thing I knew our time was up and we were scrambling to exchange business cards before our next speedy encounter.

But by the time I got to the last few, it seemed we all got down the knack of speed networking -- ask for business card first, find out where each other works and outside interests, and then discover a topic we both have in common to explore during the last minutes.
In the end, I walked away with nine business cards and contacts that I didn’t have before. And just as with speed dating, I discovered a few people I want to have a longer conversation with in the future. Thanks MCLP for putting me in contact with so many people I may have never met otherwise.


Cocktails with Panache

This session was led by two ladies who put the 'C' in classy: Sandy Bentley and Pat Lingenfelter. They have a wealth of knowledge of what to do and what not to do during cocktail hour.

First, they explained the purpose of cocktail receptions. It's not a contest to see how many cocktails you can down or how many hors d'oeuvres you can stuff in your belly. As Sandy and Pat said it best, these events can make or break you. Leaving a good impression is key. I now know that you should always carry your drink in your left hand, to leave your right hand free to shake hands. And for goodness sake, leave a napkin behind that drink, nothing's worse than shaking a wet hand in this type of setting. If you want to dip into the hors d'oeuvres, they advise you to put down your drink. Bottom line: when it comes to food and drinks, you should only have one or the other in hand. I highly suggest this event, especially for those who are into the schmoozing scene. Participant Nancy Komlanc explains the personal impact the session had on her:

The Speed Networking/Etiquette Night was an opportunity for the MCLP participants to showcase their range of skills in a social setting. During this event, the MCLP participants were more than eager to share anecdotes about their companies' social events. The timing of this event was on-target as this venue gave them the opportunity to share the excitement they have for their projects, which was refreshing. Congratulations on another well-organized MCLP event!

Both of these exercises were insightful. It will be interesting to see how the 2012 MCLP class will use what they learned from the program while they're out in the community. I know many of the class members have already put their skills to the test!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Evolving or Devolving

By Juan Garcia, MCLP Class 2012

I have always thought one of the most important goals of humankind is harmony. Sounds natural, right? Everybody living together in perfect harmony, accepting, helping, and caring about each other and being truly happy about each other’s accomplishments. Those sentiments were reflected on a Strengths Finder assessment I took in 2006. Harmony was on my top five, it actually ranked first or second. I was constantly pursuing it, achieving it, living it.

My approach was simple. There was no room for pointless conflict. For some reason I was always able to find my coveted common ground, keeping futile confrontations away and focusing on the bigger picture. I was the mediator, the negotiator, the glue that held everything together. My life aligned exactly with how the strengths finder book describes it: “we are all in the same boat, and we need this boat to get where we are going. It is a good boat. There is no need to rock it just to show that you can.”

Before I continue, I think it is important to clarify that I don’t shy away from conflict. I think there is value in conflict as long as it is intended to challenge each other, help grow, and improve. I am not talking about that kind of positive conflict. I refer to people rocking the boat just to show they can.

After I took the first Strengths finder, a series of personal and professional situations made me realize some people need chaos and conflict in their lives as much as I need and value harmony. I still don’t understand why would anybody prefer conflict over harmony but trust me, some people do. I think they just need it so they can feel alive. According to my observations, some people may just be addicted to pointless conflict just like some people are addicted to adrenaline. I started thinking about how much energy I was spending (wasting?) fostering harmony among those around me.

I started suspecting this when regardless of the situation people addicted to conflict always found a way to disrupt my harmony. It didn’t matter what the situation was, there was always a reason to start a new conflict. It was clear to me that these conflicts were not to challenge each other, to improve, to advance. Conflict was being created simply because it was too calm or quiet for their liking. At some point, which I don’t know exactly when, I involuntarily stopped working so much on the pursuit of harmony. I didn’t want to waste all my energy in something with so many variables out of my control and with such a short-lasting result, especially when I needed it to last because my other dominant strengths is “achiever”.

I did not make this change purposely; I think I just learned to live with worthless conflict in my life by effectively blocking it along with the people creating it. I was able to move forward by focusing on the positive of the situation. I didn’t realize I had made this adjustment until I took the Strengths Finder assessment again in 2011 as part of the MCLP. This was my greatest finding this time around. At that point everything clicked; I realized the involuntary change I had made. I was so surprised when Harmony was not listed on my top five that I immediately started thinking about it: Was it a defense mechanism? Was I evolving? Was I taking the easy way out? Unfortunately the more I think about it, the more unanswered questions I have. I feel like maybe I gave up on one of my true beliefs because I didn’t want to fight that battle. I am still thinking about it, I am still a work in progress and I hope this is just part of my evolution as a human being and not just that I am “devolving”.

I wanted to share this because I would like to know what has been your greatest finding about yourself so far from the self assessment tests we have taken or the discussions we have had.