My Epiphany

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a personal update on my blog, so here goes…

Where am I now?

I’m in Darwin, Australia. It’s my home base, my house is here and so are my kids, Wayne and Sasha (albeit they are adults. Well, most of the time!) and of course our dogs, Janie and Molly, who are two very spoilt pooches.

Janie - a faithful old friend
Janie – a faithful old friend

Since I got back, it’s been wonderful to sleep in my own bed, be with my family, see friends of 30+ years and to re-engage with the special places and people that make up ‘Territory’ life.

Things like gorgeous sunsets, noodles at Parap Markets on a Saturday morning, midnight swims in the pool to cool off on these terribly hot nights! Thank goodness for airconditioning is all I can say.

As much as I would love to return to Europe, at the moment that’s just not possible until probably later in 2016 – but that’s not far away! SO, I’ll definitely be in Darwin till February at least. If any of you are headed this way (to Australia), I’d love to see you!

There are very good reasons for staying put here in tropical Oz for the duration of the Northern Hemisphere winter – the obvious one is that I really do feel the cold – a lot! I hear from my friends in Spain and it’s pretty chilly at the moment. I think I prefer being hot to being cold.

Another reason, is that I have had a bit of an epiphany!!

My Epiphany
I’ve always been passionate about creating and maximising opportunities, which has stood me in good stead commercially for years and, I am very proud of the professional recognitions I’ve received.

Yet, I’ve always been more interested in helping people and that passion translated to making a real difference – more so since my breast cancer diagnosis some 18 years ago.  I give thanks everyday that I have been fortunate to survive thus far!

The diagnosis was the catalyst that led me to establish Dragons Abreast Australia, a national charity of 2000 members embracing the life-affirming, health promoting, benefits of dragon boat paddling for breast cancer survivors.

Maureen & Darryl Manzie, Marco Montenuovo, Lara Riva, Peter Hazelman & his lovely wife. Volunteer of th Year Awards 2014
Maureen & Darryl Manzie, Me, Marco Montenuovo, Lara Riva, Peter Hazelman & his lovely wife. Volunteer of the Year Awards 2011 where my Lifeline volunteers – Marco & Peter were recognised.

Since I stepped away from the day to day operations of Dragons Abreast, I’ve been involved with refugees and asylum seekers, teaching English as a Second Language, and, as CEO of Lifeline Top End, within the mental health arena.

I’ve always been able to juggle my not-for-profit work, travel and time zone variations, with that of my own business, Dragon Sisters. But I must confess that, like many who espouse an important cause, I’ve often left a great deal of Dragon Sisters work to my associates – frequently flitting off around the globe on some quest or cause.

Over the past 12 months, whilst I’ve been based in Europe, there’s been more and more people asking me for help. Help to enable them to create and maximise their own opportunities.

Working with so many different clients has also made me really aware of how simple it is for me to help people who want to help themselves.

The other week I received a lovely note from a client, it said, ‘thank you for being the angel sitting on my shoulder’. This really touched me and it meant a great deal to me, as you can imagine.

Regardless of whether I am engaged with charity work, working with clients half way across the globe or with one on one personal development coaching, mentoring and English teaching, I find that we are all in the same boat. We want to be empowered and effective at getting meaningful and positive outcomes. 

I also realised this is something I truly love doing! I love working with individuals towards achieving a better outcome either personally or in business. It really is my passion! But, in addition to being my passion, it’s something I am really good at. Yeah, I know, we’re all good at things we like. Simple really!

Over the last 8 years Dragon Sisters has developed strategies and resources to help people achieve what they want, or at the very least get them on the right pathway.  Everyone wants to realize their true and full potential, and that is my life and Dragon Sisters’ ethos.

The downside, for me personally, is that time is a massive constraint. There are only 24 hours in the day and, much as I’d love to, it’s simply not possible for me to help everyone. This frustrates me, because I know the strategies I teach  work. They are also not rocket science!

Soooo much of what Dragon Sisters has on hand has proven effective for so many (myself included), that I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great to parcel up those resources and make them more accessible and available to anyone who needs them?’  This was my epiphany moment!

Challenges of the Virtual World

Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I realised the way forward has to be via the virtual world.  It offers me the ability to share helpful techniques.

Given that I mostly work with clients scattered across 5 continents, one of the challenges has been coming up with a way of recreating face to face workshops and personal one on one sessions.

I’ve been forced to think outside the square, embrace new technology (big learning curve!) and to create new ways of presenting information.

Judging by the reaction to the first release – over 2,500 people engaged with this – means I’m definitely on track. I am extremely excited! If you want to take a peek it’s here.

As always, love your feedback here or via a personal email or note.

Michelle

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 HR Manager

A/N our interviewee this week has transitioned from a successful 22 year career in the Royal Airforce to private enterprise….read on to discover how.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I left school at 18 and joined the Royal Air Force a year later, having had a number of part-time jobs, bar work etc. I joined as an Admin Clerk and progressed through the ranks and HR roles for the next 22 years.

I left the RAF 10 years ago and remained in HR. I worked in Edinburgh for the NHS for 9 years then moved to Stafford 2 years ago and now have an HR Manager position in a computer company.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
I think you need to be compassionate and empathetic where necessary but also be firm and determined when required. Some of the jobs that HR Managers have to do are not always pleasant, such as dismissals and disciplinaries, but employment law is fascinating and the employee support side of HR can be very rewarding. You also have to have exceptional attention to detail!

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
I operate mostly in employee and business support.

What can be challenging about your profession?
Dealing with people always has its challenges, particularly when dealing with disciplinary matters or when dealing with conflict.

What do you most like about your profession?
I love the challenge of dealing with different people and to be able to see change taking place to benefit employees.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
It wasn’t embarrassing for me, but it did end up being embarrassing for the officer who took me on! I was 8 months pregnant and had been asked to run a Court-Martial on the base I was on. One officer had the temerity to ask me if I could “cope”…you can imagine my response and he ended up with egg on his face – plus the Court-Martial was very successful!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
Going for my first job after leaving the RAF…I hadn’t had a job interview for 22 years…I ended up getting the job and staying in it for a couple of years, despite my nerves at interview.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Make sure you know your employment law, if not, then check, check and check again. HR administration takes a lot of time, effort and checking, often people’s careers are at stake. Always remember that you are dealing with real people.

Andrea Fraser
      Andrea Fraser

Andrea Fraser is HR Manager dealing with all aspects of HR, including disciplinary, employment law, policy and process implementation.

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

Interview with a Head of International Development – Retail

A/N  This week my interview subject is a fellow Old Rishworthian alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her journey and the advice shared.

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

From setting up shop with my cash register as a little girl I knew I wanted to be in retail. Somehow over the years I now am still in retailing, and now have the privilege of travelling all over the world looking for new retail opportunities with a great brand. How cool is that?! I always think I have been lucky, but my friends remind me that it is me who has found and made the opportunities.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

Opportunity driven, understanding both your customer and client, loving your brand, long hours and sheer determination! Listen more than you speak. Consultation, persuasion and selling skills are critical.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

International Retail Development and Franchising.

What can be challenging about your profession?

Long hours and flexibility to be available 24/7, this is retailing. Jet lag and chronic tiredness. Demanding customers, clients and bosses. Life never stands still so you need to be flexible and on the ball.

What do you most like about your profession?

The buzz of making things happen. Easy measurements for success. Seeing results. Every day is different.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
Announcing the wrong speaker at a huge conference I had organised. I wanted the floor to open up. I don’t think it bothered anyone else but I hated making a mistake!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

Negotiating and landing a big contract.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?

Believe in yourself at all times.You can make anything happen if you have the will and determination.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Build up as many contacts and connections as you can. If you find someone interesting who makes you rethink things see if they will mentor you.
Read articles, chat, listen and learn.
Don’t forget your family and friends.. You can’t bring back time..

Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London
Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London

Helen Barnish is Head of International Development – Retail, Hamleys of London. Researching new markets to expand to, and contracting new Partners

Sisters are doing it for themselves or are they?

Although women are fantastically capable, we tend not to be self-promoters. We share our heartache, our grief and our moments of triumph with girlfriends. It’s in our nature to genuinely share the credit for a job well done with our team, colleagues and special friends. So, although we are so good at talking in groups, supporting each other through thick and thin, there are very few of us, certainly those in the 50 plus bracket, who feel entirely comfortable, stepping into the spotlight alone.

I do have to say that young women these days seem to be somewhat better equipped to do this. I am sure this is due, in no small part; to the way the school system does so much to encourage young people, both male and female alike, to make their voices heard. They get them out there at the front of the class for show and tell when they are tiny; this translates into being more confident standing in front of an audience and speaking about your topic. I applaud this method of introducing youngsters to public speaking. In my day, it was “sit down and shut up”. To be called out to speak in front of the class was a form of punishment!

When looking at things from a career perspective, one of the best exercises for women, if in Australia, is to undertake entering the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. I am sure there are equivalents in other countries too. Entering an award is not something that I would normally do. I feel uncomfortable with self-promotion and pushing myself forward.

However, I was nominated by someone I truly respected and purely for that reason; I accepted the nomination and went through the awards process. It was a wonderful learning experience. I was forced to take the time to evaluate my career to date. Time to reflect on my achievements, but more importantly the steps that I took to arrive at my present day position, and by doing so I learnt a lot more about myself. I was forced to stop and think. To think about me, not about others.

Everyone normally operates in automatic mode, travelling the same old road that they go down every day while their minds are thinking about other things – thinking about everything except the present.  As a youngster, we usually can’t wait to grow up – that desperate need to be 16, 18 and finally the magical 21! After that, the years seem to vanish, and we wonder where the years have gone! How often do people say, “If I knew then, what I know now?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but living in the past or constantly making plans for the future, only serves to cheat ourselves of the pleasure of the present moment. So, instead of living in the land of “I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” or “what if,” we must live in the present moment – making the most of it & enjoying life to the fullest!

I encourage WINNER1 cmpeveryone to consider who you may wish to nominate for an award and if, in Australia, the Telstra Business Women of the Year Awards are currently open. For me, the process was extremely rewarding, but it was not easy; in fact, I’d go so far as to say nerve-wracking! The icing on the cake was winning, but even if I hadn’t won, I would not have regretted the process I went through. It was the beginning of a much greater awareness of self. Best of all, I came into contact with a fabulous group of individual women who are all sisters, doing it for themselves!

Are you one of those women forging your own path? Perhaps you are just starting out, or maybe you are, as they say in Australia, well ‘down the track’; wherever you are in your journey, I’d love to hear any thoughts, observations or reflections you might like to share.
Happy travelling!

Michelle

PS – you can also self nominate – so don’t hide your light under a bushel!