Being True to Yourself Series – Part 3. Right – wrong: is it a matter of perspective?

A/N – I’ m delighted to have Bob McInnis as my very first guest blogger.

Right – wrong: is it a matter of perspective?

While I believe there are some absolutes, I am less certain about a lot of things. I read voraciously, listen attentively, think deeply, reflect and synthesize. The condensed product bears a resemblance to the original ideas and witness to a subtle and supple value set. As a recovering postmodern fundamentalist, I lived for decades with a clear, if not personally interpreted, set of rights and wrongs. In 2000, a shift happened in my belief structure (which is a whole different post) but an idea horizon was created and I can never return to that self-satisfied and self-assured state.

So, on this side of the divide, how do I manage truth, fact, discernment and right or wrong? In unfamiliar situations, I am careful, thoughtful and cautious. My understanding is informed by my current values and available information. I do make decisions quickly but my rigorous defence is less strident. If new information disrupts the value pattern, I rethink and where possible re-enact the choice. In familiar circumstances, I think the process is similar but feels more intuitive; as if I can blink and true is revealed (or not).

Regardless, testing right or wrong should be a habit we adopt in every situation. Is the decision just? For me? For others involved? Is it ecological? Does it conform to confirm the values you espouse and aspire to? Will you celebrate or regret the choice in one day, one week, one year? Are you committed to making the right choice? Even when the wrong one is easier? If yes (or no) are you prepared to accept the consequences?

I have applied a current burden of proof to the idea that we are all both responsible for our actions and complicit in the side effects of our inaction. I believe this is right. I have adopted a principle, which I first saw posted in the San Francisco airport “If you see something, say something.” Even though the poster was from the Department of Homeland security, I have expanded it into a wider vision. If I see anything that is immoral, illegal, hurtful, abusive, unsafe or manipulative I name it loudly. This approach isn’t without consequences. I have lost friends, caused a ruckus and received a black eye for my troubles, but from my wider perspective, it has always been well worth it.

Right-wrong: it is a matter of perspective. Yours. You arrive at the decision point, with the sum total of your knowledge, experience and biases. If you put the choice to a factual burden of proof, as best you can and apply the personal rigor above, you will be blessed with discernment and confidence to choose right from wrong in each situation.

You’ll find  more great reads from Bob MInnis on his blog.

An Interview with a Ghost

My younger self - Kashmir
My younger self – Kashmir c1977

Do you remember wondering what you would like to do during your late teens and early twenties?

When I was making the transition from educational life to working life, I was keenly interested in career options and in hearing about others’ experiences – particularly if they were in a field I was considering.

It’s occurred to me that, within my network alone, there’s probably several hundreds of years’ worth of experience and insights, which the young me would have found informative at that stage in my life.

The idea of sharing with the younger generation appeals to me, so I’ve come up with the “Interview With A (job title)” series. I’d love to know what you think of the concept and if you’re willing to contribute.

Here’s the first instalment

Interview with a Ghost

I:      How did you get into ghost writing?

G:     By accident, or serendipity … I’ve always written, since I was a kid.   In my working life, I was asked to write skits, newsletter pieces, marketing collateral, training material.   Mostly corporate stuff.   About 8 years ago we were managing an international event for the not-for-profit sector and needed a no-cost means of promotion.   So I wrote print media community interest pieces which journos ran under their own by-line.   It worked really well.   The event had participant numbers equivalent to the Winter Olympics.   That was really the start of my ghost writing.

I:      What makes a good ghost writer?

G:     Understanding the target audience and having a good handle on the personality, or entity, you’re ghosting.

I:      How do you achieve that?

G:     I’m from a sales background, which is all about representing your organisation and communicating their product or service in ways that are relevant to the target audience’s interests and motivations.   With ghost writing, you’re putting yourself in another person’s shoes and thinking from their perspective.   We (Dragon Sisters) use a range of tools and research to get to know a client and their audience, to make the content authentic, personalized and engaging.

I:      Who uses ghost writers, and why?

G:     In my field, public figures, professionals and all kinds of businesses and organisations use ghost writers for promotional purposes.   The reason is that they are too busy and or, they don’t know how to write strategic, engaging content themselves.   There’s a surprising number of PR agencies who sub contract to us.   Audience engagement and growth is faster and more effective through social media and on-line platforms than any other professional and business development means.   In marketing terms, strategic content creation is king.

I:      What mediums do you mostly write for?

G:     Blogs, articles, newsletters, marketing collateral including websites and of course, social media – mostly LinkedIn and Facebook.

I:      What can be challenging about your job?

G:     Writers block! It can be a bit of a challenge since all my work is deadline dependant. Weirdly though, I often come up with better stuff working under pressure than when I’m cruising.   Luckily!

I:      What do you least like about your job?

G:     Time zones.   Sometimes I’m racing to beat the clock at 2am because I know my client across the globe will be getting up and getting on line then.

I:      What do you most like about your job?

G:     Great clients!   Many of my clients are over-seas or inter-state so I never get to meet them face-to-face, but ghosting them creates a unique relationship; they trust me with their reputation and that creates quite a bond.   I really like all the clients I work with.

I:      What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?

G:     I wrote a bit of an off-the-wall skit for a national conference when I worked with Vodafone.   I wasn’t told ‘til the 11th hour that I’d be the one to deliver it.   I had to wear a ridiculous get-up and I had the public speaking skills of a sausage.   Thank God there were no iPhones or social media sites back then!

I:      What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

G:     Appearing on the Bert Newton Show.   (It was a long-running Australian national TV show).   That was a horrible 10 minutes which felt like 10 hours.   I was so nervous I thought I would throw up over the presenter; a very elegant, popular presenter named Moira.   (Moira was very thin – it’s true what they say about the camera adding pounds – and next to her, I looked like a nauseous blimp).

I:      What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out in your field?

G:     Where I started out and where I’ve ended up (so far) are really different places and I’ve taken some circuitous routes, during which I’ve learnt that nothing is ever wasted in terms of building experience and skills.   So my advice would be:   when an opportunity presents itself, even if it’s apparently not on the trajectory towards your immediate goal, make room to accommodate that experience; you never know where it might lead, even much later in life, and there’s no substitute for experience.   If you want to write, a wealth of experience makes for a nice fat memory bank – which is a great resource for any writer to have – and especially for a ghost writer, where you have to relate to a diverse client base and target audience.

Photo of Yvonne Toering
Yvonne Toering 2015

Yvonne Toering is a business development consultant and ghost writer with Dragon Sisters, Australia.

Back at my own desk – finally!

What a whirlwind it’s been the last six weeks. Whizzing back and forth across time zones between Australia and Europe meant no time to get really settled in properly at home.

It’s great to finally be back home this last week with my feet back under my own desk. All my own bits and pieces surround me, including the dogs who take turns coming into the office and curling up on the carpet.

Don’t get me wrong globe-trotting is great; especially with business class upgrades – thanks, Qatar Airways – as it meant arriving back home, after delayed connections, less drained than usual. I’ve been able to hit the ground running rather than staggering in a fuzzy jet-lagged state. Sky beds are wonderful!

Michelle & Yvonne
Yvonne and I at the end of our intense, but fun-filled strategic planning day.

As I’ve been absent for a year, there have been no face to face meetings. Online meetings and agendas are all very well, but sometimes a face to face meeting is essential. Tuesday saw us hold our first Dragon Sisters strategic planning meeting for the new financial year (in Australia the financial year starts on 1 July). Yvonne and I also factored in a ‘Me time’ lunch down at Cornucopia. So lovely and relaxing down by the water.

The end of year review in June allowed me to take a helicopter perspective of operations. It showed just how much is changing; how new developments have been shaping our modus operandi in exciting ways. Being a collaboration of global professionals, we’ve been lucky in that we can almost always react in time, and frankly opportunistic, ways, to meet needs and demands.

I found it very interesting to note how diverse client businesses share marketing commonalities no matter where they are located or what their business is. I was surprised to see the biggest growth areas of our operation is brand and strategic positioning for businesses that have been in existence for over five years as compared with newer businesses. I guess it just goes to show that everyone is conscious of the need for a regular and independent organisational objectivity assessment. Clients must also be impressed with what we are doing with their LinkedIn profiles and social media management as additional requests continue to come our way from the same businesses.

The Dragon Sisters Writing Bureau Service is another area that grows on a daily basis so we’ll be continuing to beef up our team. I’ve personally had the pleasure of tackling a broad range of fascinating subject material.

As a result of the review, we have packaged some services based on most popular requests. As always, there is never a dull moment, but those of you who know me well, know I love to keep challenged. So if you know of another wonderful challenge or a client who might benefit from working with me don’t hesitate to make a referral.

Michelle

A coach or a mentor?

Allan Jagger OBE & Michelle Hanton OAM

I suspect that each of us can fondly remember our best coaches and mentors.

Why? Because they have shaped our lives and influenced the development of our personality.

We may not have recognized that at the time, but with hindsight it is easy to look back and recollect them.

But are coaches and mentors the same thing?

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, mentoring and coaching are two very different experiences.

The result of both coaching and mentoring is success and personal growth. However, each takes a different path towards the ultimate goal.

The benefits of having a mentor

Sharing is something we are usually taught as children, to share our toys, and our sweets are often our first lessons in sharing. Research suggests that most people are not selfish when it comes to the proliferation of knowledge, we are genuinely happy to share.

A mentor is someone who shares and often has a personal, emotional stake in the outcome of a certain situation, being biased in your favour. Mentoring does not usually produce short-term results, rather it lays the groundwork and plants the seeds of growth.

Allan Jagger OBE & Michelle Hanton OAM
Allan Jagger OBE – a wonderful mentor – and myself

It’s no secret that humans use emotional tags to process information and develop behaviour.

Mentoring is a lasting arrangement that shapes much more than a career. It validates you as a person because a mentor’s job is to nurture and help you discover and develop yourself.

You can draw strength from a mentoring relationship, and many of us have a wide range of formal and informal mentors in our lifetimes.

A mentor’s influence will always depend on the strength of your relationship.

Given that human interactions and emotions are unpredictable, the volatility of this arrangement is a double-edged sword. A disagreement between the two parties can destroy your professional gains, given that the entire structure is built on admiration.

Mentoring can be done at a conscious or unconscious level. It is often a profound, long-lasting experience that is mutually beneficial for both parties.

The benefits of having a coach

On the flip side of the coin, we have coaches. Of course, each person’s approach is different, yet there are certain commonalities.

In contrast to the warm, nurturing, mentor, a coach is someone that is expected to be there doing a job, just like a sports coach, to bring out the result you desire.

Coaches must be pragmatic, performance-driven and logical. They must shun the broader, long-term approach of mentoring.

You could say coaches represent the boot camp of life: you may not like it, but they can teach you skills that can turn your life around fairly quickly. If you are in such a position, affection and respect are optional.

Coaching is a business relationship, where money changes hands, and a result is expected.

Coaching is usually a formula approach to self-improvement, with more predictable, consistent results. If you are going through one of the life’s rough patches and you want to resolve your issues as soon as possible, a coach is what you need.

A coach is a person to call if you need a performance boost, short-term results or some tough love. A mentor is more of a life guide, with a genuine interest in each person they choose to mentor as there is normally no financial exchange taking place. There are definite benefits for both parties, but these are generally personal satisfaction and at the pay it forward level of making the world a better place.

In my opinion, you can be a coach without caring (although good coaches always care!), but you can never be a mentor unless you do care.

In addition, the results of mentoring are less consistent than when working with a dedicated coach. That said, mentoring relationships tend to be more fulfilling and often turn into lasting friendships even when the mentoring days are long finished.

As always, I’m happy to answer inbox queries and love to see your comments here.

Michelle


Being True to Yourself – Part 2 – Responsibility

Responsibility. The word is loaded with connotations. There are so many ways that we can view them, and there are so many different types of responsibility. Sometimes people look at responsibilities as a burden. I choose to take a different perspective. I look at them as a gift.

You might well be saying to yourself, she’s an idiot! Perhaps I am.
I’m an optimist by nature and believe that, whatever we are given, we have the ability to handle. Maybe not all by ourselves, sometimes we need a little help from others. Whom we turn to for help usually depends on the nature of the help required. Seeking help is a sign of strength.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there seems to be a proliferation of individuals and companies professing to offer solutions to any problems that we face in our lives. There is also a myriad of life coaches, professional development experts and solution sellers, going under a gazillion different titles. Some use a fancy spin, some use a high-pressure sales techniques, while others take a more strategic approach using a formula.

I’ve been involved with coaching and mentoring, in one form or another, for many years now. Why? I like helping people. I always have. It’s my strength and also my weakness, but I genuinely enjoy what I do, even if there are sometimes challenges that throw me a curve ball.

There is no doubt that the personal development market and life coach business is a booming industry. I want to be very clear and say that there are some truly excellent people out there doing wonderful work, and I’m fortunate to count many of them amongst my associates. However, what I do find very worrying is that there is also a slew of offerings, from some very slick marketing operators, but they do not have the life experience to back up their claims. They fail to understand the responsibility that comes with working with individuals.

By responsibility, I mean things like the need to understand that we are dealing with human emotions. There may be deep-rooted issues, which are blocking personal success, that bubble to the surface. As a mentor or coach, it is vital to recognise this and deal with it appropriately. This includes being responsible enough to recognise when you need to admit that you are not actually the right person who can help. Often, you can facilitate an introduction to another professional you know and trust.

Not so long ago a newly trained coach, who had very little life experience, came to ask me to help with client referrals. I asked my usual due diligence questions and was appalled when she confidently told me that she had no backup supports in place, for any issues that might unpack beyond her experience. Her reasoning was she had all the skills necessary and was so confident she would never need support. Whoever had trained her had certainly done a great job to confidence build and I applaud that. However, this raised a big red flag for me as there was no sense of responsibility. Woah! It is just not possible, for anyone to know everything. Even highly qualified and vastly experienced coaches, mentors and psychologists that I have worked with over the last 20 years all have their professional support structures.

I position myself as a bespoke business strategist and sometimes this includes a level of coaching and mentoring, but I certainly do not have all the answers. Blowing my own trumpet, I know I satisfy my clients because they tell me so. They tell me I’m really in tune with their needs. I feel it is more accurate to say I’m actually in tune with myself. I take my responsibility very seriously, with my family, my students and my clients. This means knowing when I am struggling, asking for help and turning away or terminating client relationships when I know I am not the right person for them.

Family photo
Definitely out of my comfort zone with the snake, but a family photo was required.

Being responsible, also entails responsibility for self: consciously making time in your schedule, for a holistic balance in all life areas. Time to nurture relationships, time for family and time for friendships. Earlier this week, I took the day off to go with my adult family to the Wildlife Park, we had a great day connecting with each other and with nature. Moments like this are priceless as time is the one commodity that cannot be recaptured. If we cannot exercise self-responsibility, then how can we, as coaches and mentors, effectively guide others in life areas?

If you’re a coach, or looking into coaching in some capacity, and would like to know more about support structures, etc., I’m happy to answer any queries to my inbox – michelle@dragonsisters.com.au

Michelle

Being True to Yourself – Part 1 – Authenticity

The Being True to Yourself Series, is a result of personal observations and experiences.

Authentic means being true to who you are.

Genuine.

It means not allowing a spin doctor, campaign manager, copywriter or another well-meaning advisor to change your way of speaking or behaving. Certainly there is a need to gain poise and polish, but this does not need to mean a loss of authenticity.

That is not to say we don’t evolve and change over time.

Of course, we do!

It’s part of life and the experiences we go through shape us as individuals. Some of us are very fortunate to have great role models and mentors come into our lives naturally. They help us evolve.

I am lucky to have had some wonderful influences, from a range of professional and cultural backgrounds in both my business and personal life.

When I embarked on my public speaking journey way back in 2004, or to be more accurate was thrust into it as a result of winning the Telstra NT Business Woman of the Year Award, I was a terrible speaker.

It was my biggest fear; I had to face it head on because there were expectations that went with the role. Expectations that I would travel around the country and speak at different functions.

Thankfully, I had wonderful support and improved no end, now I always receive excellent feedback. I developed and grew, but I have never lost my authenticity.

I will also never forget how hard it was to learn and how nerve-wracking.

The Turning Point

The turning point was when I received a very sage piece of advice.

It was simply ‘never lose sight of who you are; it’s what makes you unique’.

Those simple words gave me confidence and, amazing as it might sound, permission to be me.

I knew early on that I could not be a slick joke teller to break the ice, that’s not me.

I’m hopeless at jokes as I never remember the punch lines! I don’t try to tell them in the course of my normal conversations so how could I be expected to include them in a speech?

Sure, I’m not the same speaker I was 18 years ago. I’ve changed and evolved. A little older, a little wider physically and a little bit wiser, but I am still very much me.

How often have you a speaker and felt they were not genuine?

They may have something great to say, but because they are not using their own expressions, the words don’t ring true. They sound false even if they are genuine.

That’s because they are either, consciously or unconsciously, imitating someone or delivering a message in a style that is not their own.

The very best speakers in my book are those who have a passion for their subject and have had some training in public speaking, but remain true to who they are.

Subtle Nuances

I’m told I am very perceptive because I detect subtle nuances, read between the lines and realise something is not quite right.

I have often come across materials purportedly written by high-profile individuals, yet the moment I read it, I just know, they have not written that article or blog post.

How do I know? The answer lies in the tone and ‘voice’ used.

The more prominent you are, the more public speaking appearances you will make. This makes is all the more important that written pieces, especially those that will go to print,  sound like you.

It is for this reason that it is vital that speechwriters and ghost writers really try to understand an individual before writing for them.

The writing is the easy part, understanding who you are writing for is what makes the difference.

I’ve also noticed that authentic people are generally happier, less stressed people and will deliver their speeches with ease. Could that be because they are comfortable in their own skins, that they are true to themselves?

I’d love to hear your views and experiences on authenticity, either as a comment or email me privately.

Michelle


My next steps

In Australia, July 1st marks the start of a new financial year. For most businesses, regardless of size, the precursor to this is a period of frenzied activity. Wrapping up the old financial year and preparing for the new: creating new strategies, setting and taking new directions, evaluating the past year’s performance success factors and deciding where to focus energies and resources next. It’s a part of the year-end process that I enjoy because it is a wonderful period of reflection where the results are normally visible and measurable. I derive great enjoyment from my involvement with my clients and personal students, both as a business woman, a teacher and as a bespoke coach.

En route with my niece
Singapore stopover with my niece

This year, the 1st of July also marked the date I arrived back in Australia after almost a year spent working in Europe. Instead of travelling solo, as I so often do, I was accompanied by my 13-year-old niece, who I was bringing on her very first visit to Australia. My son, who’s been spending the last couple of months in Europe was also accompanying me. We took time out to make a short stopover in Singapore and introduce Alexa to a little part of this island that hold so many memories for all the Van Buerle family.

My very long journey back also allowed me plenty of thinking time. Time to reflect on what direction to pursue next in life. Teaching, guiding and coaching is such a rewarding, enriching, privilege on so many different levels, not least of which, is the sense of making a significant contribution to both the personal and business growth of clients and students alike. The wonderful thing about introducing new experiences, concepts, thoughts and ideas is that I can help people develop and grow so that they can achieve their goals regardless of whether on a personal or business level. Alexa’s experiences on this trip to Australia will be with her for the rest of her life. She will be able to use them as building blocks for her future. It is not too dissimilar to the experiences I offer my clients in the sense that it is building capacity for growth.

There is a misconception that a coach/mentor is a guru-like figure who spends their time telling lesser mortals what they should be doing when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is about greater understanding, empathy, trust, respect, confidentiality, mutual liking and being on the same wavelength. It’s an egalitarian relationship of strong integrity and authenticity. I often develop a special relationship with those I work with and in some cases it even becomes an ongoing friendship.

My role as a coach/mentor has developed from working with diverse cultures and organizations. People began to consult me on matters that they were ‘stuck on’, life and business areas that they wanted better results from, identifying ways to move forward, strategies to move in new directions. My business achievements, life experience, cultural range and above all, my passion for progressive, empowering growth, seemed to resonate with individuals from widely varying backgrounds, age groups and levels of experience. They all have had the common objective of wanting to effect positive, meaningful change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could say that this kind of work crept up on me. I’ve found that there is nothing more fulfilling than working, either as a coach, mentor or teacher, to facilitate the achievement of powerful outcomes. With the wonders of technology, it does not seem to matter where I am geographically. My only real limitation of being able to help more people is time. Whilst working full-time I was only able take on a very small number of personal clients which was why the year in Europe was so wonderful, as it opened up considerably more free time in my work diary.

On my long journey from Barcelona to Darwin, I had time to think carefully and decide that I am making the time. I do not want to be bogged down in a corporate job. Sure a high salary is nice, but at the end of the day it is not fulfilling for me. Instead, I have decided that I am making the time to do what I really enjoy and that is being able to take on a few more personal clients through our Dragon Sisters global network. I am very happy with this decision and excited to think about the new goals, the new solutions and the new individuals that I’ll be able to work with over the next twelve months.

So, to all those who’ve been asking whether I will be available this year, the answer is yes. If you or someone you know is struggling to find solutions to achieve business ambitions or just generally wants to get life on track, I’d be happy to have a confidential, exploratory ‘chat’ about how I may be able to help.

Michelle

P.S. You can contact me via michelle@dragonsisters.com.au