Libby New Friends

Introducing Libby Bingham, MBA, CAE

It’s been a quiet week here in the Creative Community, but that’s because we’ve been busy behind the scenes. I’m thrilled to announce that a few new folks will be sharing their worlds with you. Over the next couple weeks, you’ll be meeting some of my favorite people and getting a chance to find out what inspires them. They’ll be sharing here regularly as well, and I know you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

The first newcomer is Libby Bingham. I’ve known Libby for about a decade or so, and simply knowing her makes my life better. One of the first things people comment on is Libby’s sense of humor. She is wickedly funny and can get a laugh from even the crankiest of cranks. And while I do admire her wit, she’s so much more than just the funny girl. She is creative, loyal, smart, determined and has the world’s most generous heart (seriously, you can Google it…). Everyone I’ve asked to be a part of this project has a unique perspective on the world, and Libby adapts easily to almost any situation because she is genuinely interested in learning about those around her. She asks lots of questions and is quick to share her experience and find common ground. I’m incredibly lucky to call her a friend and colleague, and I’m grateful to her for sharing her time and talents here. And with that, I’ll let her tell you a little about herself.

Libby Bingham, MBA, CAE, Fun at Sea

When Catherine asked me to blog for her, I was shocked…I mean, really, what could I possibly do or say that would be of interest to other people?  I’m a middle-aged married mom of one kid, and I work part-time from home.  I was also very intimidated because, well, it’s hard to put yourself out there.  However, we discussed and I realized that there are probably a lot of people who share similar circumstances, and maybe, because I’ve just been given a platform, I could also give voice to some of similar day-to-day experiences or spark them to articulate things which are important to them.  That is cool…and important.  So I’m in.  If you don’t like what I say, that’s okay – everyone’s perspective is different and shaped by their experiences and personal histories.  Just be kind…I promise to do the same.

All that being said, I have done a few interesting things in my life:  I’ve lived in Switzerland, France and Saudi Arabia, as well as visited other countries. My professional life has included directing a coalition of businesses dedicated to building infrastructure and knowledge capacity all over the world; executive director for an association focused on providing an unbiased forum to discuss issues of international trade; working with teenagers interested in living and learning abroad; catering, waitressing and shoe-salesmanship!  At present, I am focused on developing educational programming for ASAE, both as a program manager and instructional designer.  One of my favorite parts is collaborating with our members and speakers – it allows for variety and creative approaches. I’m an avid reader (expect many book reports from me!), part-time gym goer, lazy gardener and hockey mom.  I look forward to getting to know you!


What’s Your Story?

Being authentic can be harder than it sounds. Herminia Ibarra recently published The Authenticity Paradox in the Harvard Business Review, which outlined how being authentic can backfire, despite being one of today’s most sought-after leadership qualities. Authenticity shouldn’t be viewed as permission to stay cozy in your comfort zone. Ibarra argues that when we are adjusting to new situations we should give ourselves permission to try on different variations of our own style to find one that works best given the new reality. We can still be authentic in these variations because we are not trying to become something we are not; we’re just tapping into a different set of strengths that may have been dormant or less developed. Ibarra details three steps to help find your “adaptively authentic way of leading,” but the one I find the most interesting is not sticking to your story.

The premise is that our personal narratives may be keeping us from growing and moving forward since they’re rooted in our past rather than telling the story about where we could go – what we’re capable of doing, given the chance. I think about my own career history and the story it tells. For some, my resume may look a little scattered since I’m not clearly one thing in one profession – I’m not an engineer, a teacher or a network specialist. However, I look at my time in banking, associations, retail and consulting and it’s very clear to me that one of the things I am is a customer service specialist. Whether it’s service to external or internal clients, I have always prided myself on being among the best. And that’s part of the narrative I need to make sure I’m telling, but it’s rooted more in what I’ve done than where I want to go. Adjusting my narrative to talk about the ways I can bring out the best in people is what I want to emphasize at this point in my career and that’s something I’ll be thinking about moving forward. What are the stories you’re telling about yourself?


Different Lenses

Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Essay from December 12th caught my attention. Women at Work: A Guide for Men may seem like it’s a few decades too late, but I found it interesting on the heels of few different conversations that have found their way into my life at the moment. For a current client project, we’re focusing on engaging half of the staff, plus one. While obviously we’d like to engage more than that, the thinking is that if we’ve got a majority (even the minimal majority of 50% plus 1) of the staff on board, change will be inevitable. Not wholly unrelated is the UN Women’s campaign HeforShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality, based on the idea that gender equality shouldn’t be a women’s issue led only by women. We’ll need the majority of the world to make real change, and that includes men.

When looking at change, be it behavior in an organization or discrimination of any kind, it makes sense that the change will be more successful with more people involved. We spend a lot of time focusing on women mentoring women, and let me be clear – I think there is tremendous value in that. That doesn’t mean, however, that men can’t also play a role in helping women up the career ladder. Managers and those at the top of the ladder are responsible for helping to cultivate the next generation of leaders, regardless of gender. I think to pretend we all approach things the same, however, is naïve and anything we can do to understand the lens of others is time well-spent – gender, generational, socio-economic, cultural, and so on. Whose shoes can you walk in for a bit to adjust your own lens?

Inside My Head

Push It Real Good

You know who’s bringing their advertising game? GEICO Insurance. I’ll admit that I find these commercials funnier than I probably should, but they’re just so damn good. I love Ickey Woods and his cold cuts celebration and I’m quite frankly surprised it took a company as long as it did to work Salt and Pepper telling people to push it real good into an ad (or maybe the price was finally just right).

I love Ickey’s cold cut dance because I think we could all use a little more of that in our lives. Why shouldn’t we celebrate when our number is called? Your wait is over, friend – whoop it up! There’s no reason not to high-five your spouse when all your bills are paid for the month – your streak of being responsible adults is still intact! Your meeting ended a full 7 minutes early? Fist-bump for some newly found time! And why shouldn’t you enjoy some 80s nostalgia when practicing your Lamaze breathing? Oo, baby, baby…push it real good! Sure, we all need some sort of insurance (it’s the responsible adult thing to do, after all), but can’t we have a little fun while we do the right thing?

“I’m pushing it real good!”

Full disclosure: I’m a State Farm customer, so perhaps we can talk about effectiveness and the main goal of advertising another time. For now, I’m just going to enjoy GEICO’s ads, thanks very much.

On the Job

Knowing Your Customer

I was having a conversation with a new member of a senior team who has been with her organization just a couple months now. We were talking about several initiatives designed to make the organization more efficient. Many of them were not large, expensive changes, but rather, small improvements designed to make daily work faster and easier. One of the things we were talking about was the organizational phone list. A seemingly simple enough tool designed to help you reach one of the hundreds of employee who worked there. The issue, however, was that the phone list was organized by department and title.

A phone list organized by department is great if you know you need to contact someone in accounting about your new paycheck and may not know who, but less helpful if you’ve been pointed in the direction of Catherine Wemette, but don’t know her department. It’s also incredibly challenging as you’re getting to know these several hundred new people and you can’t remember Catherine’s last name after you were told you should talk with her.

Surely the goal of the phone list was to be helpful, but the customer had been lost in the development of the product. Sure, as someone who has been with the organization for a while, a departmental phone list probably makes perfect sense. However, taking the process one step further and thinking through all the possible customers would have perhaps resulted in the same list organized three different ways – department, first name or last name – or a dynamic directory that was searchable in a number of ways.

This is just one example of the need to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes to deliver what they really need. And if we don’t know, it’s okay to ask. What could you be doing just a bit differently to provide your customers with what they need, maybe even before they know they need it?

Book Reports

The Heart of Change

I’m in the process of working my way through John Kotter’s The Heart of Change as my school book of the moment. Kotter has studied large-scale change in organizations over several decades and he’s found the science to support what many of us have found in our daily experience: successful change doesn’t lie in impressively presented facts and figures, but rather in the ability to get people to change their behavior.

Not terribly shocking, but it does seem to go against everything we’re taught to do in our companies. Gather enough data, present compelling numbers and get the boss to approve it, and you’re good to go. That’s the typical approach to change. That’s probably also the reason our change efforts fail more often than they succeed. (Kotter’s research indicates that about 70% of large scale change efforts fail.) And despite what conventional wisdom may tell us about keeping our cool and keeping emotions out of it, Kotter’s research shows the exact opposite. Appealing to people’s hearts is the most effective way to get them to change their behavior. And changing individual behavior is the only real way to effect organizational change. He summarizes this method of change management to: “see, feel, change.” If you can present a compelling visual to people – either an actual visual representation of the challenge or a compelling story – you’ll get them to feel something about what they’ve experienced. And only through those feelings will the desire for change take root. Their feelings spur them to take action, and the desire for change comes from within them, rather than being pushed on them externally.

I’ve got about two-thirds of the book left to go, but much like Kotter’s research demands, he uses powerful stories to drive home his points, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the rest of them. In the meantime, what is your change story demanding to be told? And who needs to feel it with you?

On the Job

Survival Skills – Facilitation-style

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of co-teaching a course at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which is an old stomping ground of mine. It was great to be back and teamed up Libby Bingham to present “Facilitation Essentials: Effectively Managing Conversations.” We had an exceptional group of folks, and they were great about staying with us as we moved between information sharing, exercises and small group discussions. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together and learned as much from them as I hope they learned from us.

We talked about the skills needed to be a strong facilitator, and one of my favorites is often overlooked. It’s common to talk about active listening, the ability to draw people into a conversation, and how to manage conflict in a group. While all these skills are critical, there is one that can help with any situation: the ability to improvise. For anyone who has ever been at the front of the room in any sort of capacity, you know the only thing you can count on is the unexpected. Despite all our preparations and best intentions, there is always something that catches us off guard — technology woes, a rowdy audience member or an extensive question in 7 parts. Improvisation is something created without preparation, typically a piece of music, drama, etc. I would absolutely argue that facilitation done well is an art form all its own, and there will always be opportunities to create an experience, a lesson or a memory without preparation. So the next time you’re presented with the unexpected, you can view it as a pain or take advantage of the opportunity to practice your improv skills. You never know when or how those moments will present themselves, and the more comfortable you are simply going with the flow, the better the chances are that your improv will leave them laughing and wanting more.


T. Swift

I can’t get enough of 1989, Taylor Swift’s new album. Yes, I am in my mid-thirties and yes, I am woman enough to admit Blank Space and Out of the Woods are my jams at the moment. I can’t listen to these and not enjoy the hell out of them. They’re great volume-turned-up-loud, singing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-when-no-one-else-is-around songs. And the video for Blank Space is pretty fun. You’ve got to admire a woman who’s honest about herself and how quickly she can turn the tables. I think when we’re honest with ourselves, we can all be a bit of nightmare dressed as daydream from time to time.

What’s just as amazing as her music, however, is the empire she’s built for herself all while seeming to have a genuinely good time doing it all. Dan Rosensweig, of Yahoo and Guitar Hero company fame, recently wrote about Taylor Swift’s CEO Triple Crown achievement – founder, CEO and entrepreneur all wrapped into one. And while the business accomplishments are impressive (1.2 million album sales in the first week of release and the only album to do so this year), he highlights “her clarity of purpose and willingness to do what she believes to be the right thing,” despite what the industry may want of her and for her to be. While we all may not have the same measures of success that Taylor Swift enjoys, I think the takeaway is the same: be true to yourself and what you think is the right thing to do and the rest will follow. And who knows? 1.2 million people may just follow you as well.

Inside My Head

Brave Space

A friend and I were recently talking about safe space – you know, that space someone creates for you where judgment is suspended and you can talk freely. I love safe space and try to create it as often as I can. However, my friend was explaining she had just heard the phrase “brave space” as an alternative to safe space. Safe perhaps indicated more passive behavior and more care-taking than brave, which carries with it an expectation of participation. Safe space is created for you and doesn’t necessarily require a lot of you. Brave space requires you to be a part of the conversation, as well as to speak honestly and with a goal. The more I think about our conversation, the more it resonates with me. It’s easy to use safe space as a place to vent and share your frustrations, but nothing has to happen from that. Nothing is required in the safe space. With the expectation of brave space, you can also share your frustrations, while exploring solutions. Being brave implies being bold and being creative to give voice to things you’ve only thought. To me, being brave means having the conversations that worry you. But engaging in those conversations is the first step to freeing yourself from the worry and madness that they cause. Where is your brave space?


Tools for Change

I was working with a team a while back and we were focusing on how to strengthen their organization and make it an extraordinary place to work. Dozens of ideas were thrown around – ideas about the physical space, ways the staff could work together and program improvements the organization could make. They outlined how they might be able to get to this extraordinary level and what they’d need to get there. And while the rest of the brainstorming focused on technologies, training and structure, one person took a different approach. He suggested that they already had what they needed, but would have to nurture these things: nimbleness, humility, camaraderie, sense of humor, time and patience.

His observation stopped me in my tracks. He is, of course, right, but how many times do we blow right past these tools? Change and growth are not only much harder if you overlook human nature and our behaviors, but it’s also a whole lot less fun. People who are adaptable, humble, funny and patient are far more enjoyable to be around than their counterparts who lack those traits. And to make any real change, you need a group of people to be out there with you or supporting you. How are you using your humility, patience and sense of humor to strengthen your life?