An Interview with a Top Influencer

A/N My interviewee this week is recognised as one of the Top 25 European Office 365 Influencers. Only two women made this list.  She is also one of the 4 women recognised in the Global Top 25 Office 365 Influencers.   As if that’s not enough, she’s also been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I was born as the first child of a very poor family, living in Eastern Hungary. I inherited my father’s skills at problem solving; he had been always good at school, but he didn’t have the chance for any higher education.

In school, being the smartest and poorest child in the class was a very bad combination. Since I didn’t have too many friends, I turned to what I was good at: learning. My math teacher recognized my math skills and managed to let me into the programming classes. I loved sitting next to the Commodore +4s! Controlling what they should do was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had at that time. There was never any doubt that I wanted to study programming after high school.

When I was accepted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, I thought my life was on track – but a few months into my studies, I realized that university was too much of a burden. The costs of my studies and living in the capital were way too much for my family to afford.

I was at a huge decision point. Everything suggested I had to stop my studies and look for work. Nobody believed there was any way to avoid this and stay at the university, continuing my studies. But I didn’t give up. I was sure there must be some way.

I made the decision: I would look for a job AND continue my studies. Due to the programming awards I had received during my high school years, I found a programming job at one of Hungary’s biggest and most well known IT companies.

Five months after starting university, I found myself working there. I was saved! Those years were the hardest period of my life, though. I studied hard. I worked hard. I slept for only a few hours every day. My parents got divorced. But I was free.

For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved, and I could do this because I made it possible for myself. In the end, I finished studying and got my degree after seven years. And I already had 6.5 years work experience which proved to be a HUGE benefit.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
First of all, you have to be passionate about your job and you have to be persistent. Also, you have to love learning new things every day.
Last but not least, you have to be a team player. Even if you work from home like I do, IT projects are always complex, there’s always a whole team of professionals involved.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
What I do is quite complex. I help enterprise organizations with their Information Architecture (how to organize and classify their content, how to “clean up” and optimize their processes, etc.) as well as with Enterprise Search (how to make the content findable and discoverable, how to help users reduce the time spent with searching – especially with non-productive searching).

It sounds like it’s an IT role, but it’s much more about understanding people’s content, intent and behaviour. It’s much more about psychology. Maybe this is why I not only like working on people’s Information Architecture and Search solutions, but also mentoring them with their own life and career path. It’s amazing how similar these two things (consulting and mentoring) can be!

What can be challenging about your profession?
First, in IT, we have to solve complex problems and we have to deal with new kinds of problems every day. If you don’t like that, you’re lost.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a programmer, an administrator, a project manager or a system architect – if you don’t like solving complex problems, you cannot be good at it.

Secondly, in what I do, it’s very challenging to be able to think like my customers. Even organizing our own stuff can be challenging, just think about your kitchen or children’s rooms. But being able to understand the content and knowledge of someone else quickly and to provide a structure that helps them – this is something that’s never easy. But this is why I love doing this!

Thirdly, you should never forget: IT is always about serving humans. Always. Even if you never see the end users and customers, working with those bits is always about making people’s life easier in some way.

What do you most like about your profession?

I really like solving the complex problems of my enterprise customers, I like it when I have to use my brain power. Because every customer and every project are different, I learn a lot from each engagement. What could be better than being paid for learning time? 😉

But beyond that, I like the human part of my job the most. I like travelling the world and seeing beautiful places. I like meeting people, making new connections, having friends literally around the globe. I like helping others with their journeys.

I especially love helping young women with their career paths: to find their real passion, their real mission. To motivate and inspire them – this is what I like the most.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
A few years ago, before my children were born, I was working for a company in a role I didn’t really like, for quite a low salary. I wanted to quit, but at that time I was too young and not brave (self-confident?) enough to discuss it with my managers.

I applied for a job, which I really wanted, at a consultant company. To my great delight, they invited me for an interview. I thought the interview went well, and felt good that evening. The very next morning, one of my managers invited me to his office. Each of my managers were there, and when they closed the door behind me, I realized it must be something serious. It turned out, that one of the guys who invited me to that interview the day before, was a good friend of one of my managers. And of course, he’d called him asking about me.

It was a really embarrassing situation and an annoying discussion that I had with my managers that morning. I felt lost. I even felt stupid. But in the end I got a promotion at my existing company and my salary was almost doubled! It was a happy ending, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be as stupid as I was then.

Be self-confident. Be brave. Trust yourself. Maybe you won’t get the promotion I got that time, but even if you leave, it’s much better to do so in a friendly manner. I needed a few more years to learn that, but was lucky to learn that lesson through experience.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to a hall full of around 100 people I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something.

It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Never give up. Even if you feel it’s impossible – it’s not! There’s always a way to move forward! Be curious. Be passionate. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – See more here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t pull yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.

I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people who told me how important experience is were absolutely right.

Most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.

Agnes Molnar
Agnes Molnar

Agnes Molnar is a Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, Author and Modern Working Mother. She is based in Budapest, Hungary. You can learn more by visiting Search Explained

Contact details: aghy@aghy.hu

Interview with a Leadership and Management Development Consultant

A/N – this weeks interviewee is another strong woman who loves her job.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I started off working as a cashier in a bank when I first left school. I knew I wanted to be a teacher or work in a bank. I was good at maths at school and thought that would come in useful in banking. I wanted to be independent, so further studying did not appeal to me. I loved working with others and banking gave me a variety of career opportunities.

I worked my way around the different jobs available to me in the branch (that’s what everyone did in those days) and soon wanted to become a manager. I got my first management job, and boy was it a wake up!!

Managing people can be really challenging. I worked in many different ‘head of department’ roles within an office environment and then decided to go back into the branch and manage the counter and sales staff. This brought about new challenges; encouraging others to sell banking products to customers whilst working with lots of cash and being expected to balance to the penny at the end of every day. We asked a lot of our staff.

It was whilst I was managing a large team of people that the penny dropped with me that I wanted to know/find out what made people want to work hard for their boss – as that was the key to my success – no longer doing the work myself but motivating and encouraging others to play their part. I had had many different managers over my years and knew what I liked and disliked, but I didn’t know what ‘experts’ in the field thought.

I decided that I wanted to explore training; something I’d dipped my toe into a few years before. So I took a bit of a backwards step salary wise and bit the bullet. I started off training people how to sell at first and I enjoyed that as I still had contact with lots of people. I had an opportunity to work with managers too, and that side of the job really peaked my interest as it was more about psychology and how people ‘tick’. I got an opportunity to become a Leadership and Management Development trainer which is what I still do today – that was about 15 years ago. I haven’t looked back since. I now build managers capability, helping them to be good managers and leaders.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
What makes someone good in my field is
1. A positive attitude – not everyone who comes to a workshop will buy into what you are saying.
2. An ability to facilitate a meeting rather than talk at people – so ask lots of questions and get delegates to join in debates etc.
3. Being able to travel and stay away from home for a big hunk of the week. Usually training teams are based in a head office and sometimes it’s cheaper for you to travel to various locations rather than everyone travelling to you.
4. Understanding human behaviour – why people might react in a certain way. You never know what is going on for any person at any point in time and so, when you create an open and honest atmosphere in a workshop, sometimes you get negativity. Managing this negativity is sometimes challenging as you don’t want one person’s negativity to ruin everyone else’s experience of the day.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
I left the bank I worked for about three years ago after being made redundant. I now work for a small training company and we operate in the public, private and third sector. Training managers how to get the best from others generally are universal skills; it’s mostly about psychology. I love, love, love getting to know my clients and their businesses so that I can tailor my messages to business specific examples.

What can be challenging about your profession?
1. you never know what a person might ask and so you need to have quite a few tools in your kit bag to be able to pull upon them.
2. Working away from home a lot; sometimes means having to set off Sunday evening and not finishing until late Friday evening. It is not a 9-5 job. Staying in a hotel sounds exciting when you don’t do it; when you do, I can assure you it really isn’t.
3. I am very much a people person and so I miss having people I can talk to about my job as we all work quite independently. You have to be utterly professional when you are delivering a workshop and so can’t say “yes I am having a bad day too.”
4. Training adults is not like training children, you have to make sure that they feel their time has been well spent and sometimes that means changing the content and/or style of your workshop on the hoof.
5. You will not always get appreciated for what you do and, because you often work on your own, you have to be able to evaluate your own work and decide if it was a good day and you did the best you possibly can.

What do you most like about your profession?
What I like most is that what I train people on actually works! I can honestly say that every method or theory I share with others, I will have tried out for myself. (It helps to have management experience you can pull on yourself). I am passionate about supporting others and go the extra mile to be there for anyone after a workshop to discuss how they might have applied something. I do get the occasional thank you which always makes me feel valued and appreciated. Because I often get into people’s psyche, I have made amazing friendships. There’s a mutual respect and trust which builds with people opening up to you.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
As I meet so many different people, I sometimes get their names wrong which I absolutely hate.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
I am often nervous. Every workshop or presentation I do I get nervous before. What I have realised is that the moment that nervousness goes, it’s time to look for another job. Nerves work for me and heighten my energy and attention.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
You have to genuinely want to help others and also be quite assertive. It’s an unusual mix really. I’d get some management experience as that gives you credibility, and study with a professional body like CIPD as this keeps you up to date with the latest thinking within our profession.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you want to build your management and leadership skills, we offer open workshops at our premises in Halifax. You can also study for a qualification at the same time.

Jill Cannon
Jill Cannon of Aspire Development

Jill Cannon is a Leadership and Management Development Consultant working with business partners to design, deliver and evaluate management and leadership development solutions.

Jill can be contacted at Aspire Development, Suite 2.15 Holmfield Mills Holdsworth Road Halifax HX3 6SN Aspiredevelopment.co.uk

Phone 07702 189436

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.

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