Finding Our Place in the World, Part 1: The Strength of Association(s)

November 4, 2011

Traveling extensively, colleagues have suggested, can be a very lonely experience. But I don’t see that at all. In an onsite-online world that offers far more connective tools than any of us will ever be able to adequately explore, we’re never very far from what our varied associations can offer.

While earning an online Master of Library and Information Science degree through the first-rate program offered by the University of North Texas a few years ago and traveling extensively, I thrived on connections with my wonderfully supportive community of learners; all I had to do was log onto our course discussion boards if I wanted to keep up with the latest exchanges of ideas. When I’m on the road now and missing the stimulation of conversation with colleagues who are spread all over the country, I simply make a phone call, send an email, or catch up to those who are online via online chat functions, Skype, Twitter, live (or archived) online discussion sessions, and, as of a few days ago, via Google+.

And as an extended writing-training-consulting project kept me far from home over the past few months, I gained newfound appreciation for what my association with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) means in terms of being part of a tightly knit professional family.

Shortly after arriving onsite in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area from San Francisco in early August, I took the two steps that immediately helped me remain connected with my local and extended community. I obtained my West Palm Beach Public Library card so I could start reading and learning about the local community I was briefly joining, and I asked Florida-based ASTD colleague Jennifer Tomarchio whether there was an active ASTD community there. Jennifer’s response was an invitation to the ASTD South Florida chapter’s upcoming Friday evening social event, and that’s where the fun and extended connections blossomed.

The initial greeting from ASTD members whom I was meeting for the first time was warm and welcoming; I knew I was among peers. But the real value of association in this case became obvious when I looked up and unexpectedly saw two familiar faces: Steve Feinstein and Steve Parkins, whom I had met at national conferences without realizing they were based in South Florida and are currently president and president-elect of the chapter. And it just kept getting better: at the next chapter meeting, I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Michael Sabbag, another colleague I absolutely adore from the national association and who, I learned that evening, remains quite active in the South Florida chapter. And when several of us were at ASTD’s Chapter Leaders Conference last month in Arlington (VA) and I was missing my ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference this year, my newly established South Florida ASTD family agreed to adopt me (and we tormented the Mount Diablo branch of the family by tweeting the news and a photograph back to them).

I often hear comments about how acquaintances and colleagues can’t afford the cost of joining an association that operates at the level of an ASTD. And although I do, at a visceral level, understand how tightly squeezed the economy has left many of us, I have to agree with my ASTD colleague Ken Steiger, whose response to the comments is “I don’t see how I can afford to not join ASTD.” Whether we pay for our associations, seek them through different means, or, in the best of all worlds, seek them everywhere we can, there’s no denying that if we want to overcome the personal and professional isolation from which so many suffer, we need to take that first step of seeking association. And then becoming active contributors and collaborators within the communities we have joined.

Next: Place in an Onsite-Online World


Trainers as Leaders: Spontaneity, Learning, and Leadership

July 12, 2011

A colleague once suggested that trainer-teacher-learners need to be careful that they don’t lose control of their learning environments and “let the inmates run the asylum.”

Co-facilitating the second meeting of the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Trainers as Business Leaders @Mt.Diablo ASTD special interest group with Diane Fleck last month helped me realize that there are times when the “asylum” does very well with the collaboration of the “inmates.”

Members of that rapidly-growing training and leadership group—which is sponsored by the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter and is open free of charge to workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area—began our June meeting with a broad-based discussion of the characteristics and behavioral patterns we observe in great leaders. The comments captured much of what comes out of any discussion on leadership: a willingness to give associates autonomy to make decisions; an ability to inspire others and display the sense of inner authority that inspires trust; an ability to connect with and bring out the best abilities in the people being led; knowing how and when to listen; and a willingness to engage in the decision-making process to shape those decisions.

What happened next was far from routine. Group and chapter member Steven Cerri built upon the conversation by describing a workshop exercise he often facilitates to help others become comfortable with themselves so they are more comfortable and effective in leading others. The exercise came out of neuroscientific and neuro-linguistic programming ideas about connections between mindset and physiology.

“There are actually ways you can affect the physiology and change the mindset,” Steven explained. What he does with his learners, he continued, is designed to help us quickly achieve “that comfortable state where you have the sense that you’re moving through the world comfortably, and, in that state, you have much more access to your full capability. Imagine what it would be like to act as a leader from that state. Once you get this really nailed down, you can access it no matter where you are. It’s just that ability to notice. Why not move that way through the world? Why pick anything else?”

Which, of course, raised the obvious question: “Can you run us through that exercise now?”  And which then produced a much-appreciated response: Steven’s agreement to do exactly that in what was a beautifully effective spur-of-the-moment example of delivering just-in-time learning to a group of his own peers.

What Steven did, in the space of a few minutes, was to encourage his eight peers to sit in comfortable positions, relax, and quietly observe what was contributing to that state of being in the world comfortably. Noting our own individual positions—whether we were sitting forward or leaning back, for example. And then thinking about how we might quickly slip into that physical posture at moments when we most needed that sense of being centered to respond to the needs of those we are leading.

The learning continued as we debriefed the experience to note what Steven had produced among all of us: an increased ability to observe ourselves in ways we rarely do; an appreciation for the already strong spirit of cohesiveness among members of the group that made it possible for us to fully engage, spontaneously, in the learning opportunity Steven provided; and an awareness of the strength of this group of leaders in development—our willingness to work as peers in ways that quickly move us from theoretical to practical and personal engagement in whatever topic we are exploring.

“Really effective leaders know how to adjust in real time to what is going on in the room,” Steven observed as the conversation was drawing to a close, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the example he provided will be one that sticks with us and serves us well in the months and years to come.

N.B.—This is the second in an ongoing series about the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter Trainers as Business Leaders group; for information about upcoming meetings, please visit the Chapter website at http://mtdiabloastd.org.


Trainers as Leaders: Thoughts, Words, Actions, and Congruence

June 16, 2011

“Congruence,” the contributors to Wikipedia remind us, “is the state achieved by coming together, the state of agreement,” and that proved to be a tremendously fruitful theme to explore at the initial meeting of Trainers as Business Leaders @Mt. Diablo ASTD recently.

The Trainers as Business Leaders special interest group, sponsored by one of the two remaining chapters of ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) here in the San Francisco Bay Area—there are nearly 130 chapters across the United States—is built upon a firm foundation of helping Chapter members and supporters develop and hone their leadership skills in ways that serve the larger workplace learning and performance community.

And while our initial discussion around the importance of congruence in leadership may not have resulted in complete agreement—after all, have any of us ever seen a group of trainers engage in a conversation where the resulting product was complete agreement?—the exchanges did produce immediate results.

The small group of initial members agreed to hold monthly rather than quarterly meetings. The broad-based discussion around the role trainers play as leaders within the organizations we serve created a short list of books that we expressed interest in exploring on themes of leadership, collaboration, and even Neuro-Linguistic Programming. (Titles included Lead with LUV, by Ken Blanchard; NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming] at Work: The Difference that Makes a Difference at Work, by Sue Knight; and Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell.) Participants walked away with a short list of ideas they could use in their own workplaces the day after that initial meeting took place. And participants even used a challenging situation one attendee summarized as a case study in how effective leaders might find creative and positive solutions to vexing workplace problems.

What felt most promising about this gathering of workplace learning and performance professionals exploring and sharing thoughts and proposed actions on leadership was the way these current and prospective leaders modeled the very behavior they were promoting. One participant’s suggestion that “if you are defending a position, you are not hearing another one” reflected the overall openness of group members to exchanging ideas without displaying any inclination to debating those thoughts to score points at a colleague’s expense.

The suggestion that “sometimes you don’t want to shut down people that you think are wrong” continued that theme of inspiring positive actions through collaboration rather than complete reliance on confrontation, and there wasn’t a word uttered during the 90-minute session that would have led to those with conflicting points of view hindering the conversation that took place.

And the theme of seeking congruence between ourselves and the situations in which we work not only served as a foundation for positive interactions among the group’s members, but also became one of the themes that members proposed to explore within their own workplace settings in the days and weeks that followed that initial meeting.

As the discussion drew to a close, individual group members listed some of the actions they would take as a result of their participation in the Trainers as Business Leaders group: working toward establishing congruence within their own work settings; striving to remain in “investigative mode” by listening rather than simply diving in with solutions for each workplace challenge they encounter; seeking to find a few advocates for positive change within their organizations rather than being overwhelmed by the amount of opposition change sometimes inspires; and “putting ourselves in the shoes of the executives instead of acting from our own agendas.”

All of which suggests that members of this dynamic group of trainer-teacher-learners are well on the way to creating wonderful learning opportunities for a larger set of colleagues while modeling the behavior they are promoting.

N.B.—This is the first in an ongoing series about the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter Trainers as Business Leaders group. Information about upcoming monthly meetings is available on the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter website at http://mtdiabloastd.org.


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