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

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

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

My European interlude is coming to a close

Whilst I have enjoyed every moment of being in Europe and have loved teaching, mentoring and coaching, it is time to return to Australia – at least for a while.

I have cherished being in my little apartment and not having to worry about anything except myself and meeting a few deadlines. Well, OK, more than a few! I’ll admit that I haven’t entirely squirreled myself away in beautiful Ecija; I have kept up with clients and projects and taken on new ventures further afield thanks to modern communications, but I have made the most of my idyll here and been very present to the charms of a different culture and life experience, including the cold winter! I extend my heartfelt thanks to all those here who have been part of this wonderful sojourn for me. As usual, it is the people who make the experience special.

San Juan, EcijaI’ve needed these months alone to renew. To focus on what is important to me. The past 3 years have passed in a blur where I hardly had a moment to myself so it has been a real luxury to just be able to run my own timetable. I thoroughly enjoyed coming home to a quiet apartment, to spending weekends exploring local sites, or sometimes venturing further afield to Seville, Granada, Cordoba or Malaga. I had no one to worry about except myself. It might sound selfish, but actually it’s been more of a lifesaver than anything else and once again, it has given me an additional opportunity to develop and grow as an individual which provides additional experiential tools that I am able to bring to my work.

Sasha's graduation day - Batchelor of Journalism
Sasha’s graduation day – Batchelor of Journalism from Bond University

During this time in Europe I have been able to consider what it is that I really need in life to feel content. When my husband of 30 years decided to leave, and I bought him out of the house, it was a massive struggle to stay afloat financially, but I’ve managed. I only bought the house so my kids had a home base. I had a 5 year plan, of which the largest part was to see Sasha (who was then 16) successfully finish school and then university. Once Sasha graduated, I was in a position to pursue the next stage of my plan, which was to base myself in Europe for a year.

Whilst here, living a simple Spanish lifestyle, without the trappings that go with having a family home, I’ve come to the conclusion that, on a personal level, I actually need very little to live on. I can be happy in the moment as long as I know that my family is cared for and safe. It’ll be five years this August since Steve and I split up. It’s been tough for me, but at the same time liberating and life affirming as I know we (Wayne, Sasha and I) can manage on our own. Together we look after the house, each other and our dogs. We’ve become a closer family unit even if it meant a bit of a struggle at times. I feel that the kids and I have bonded more closely, and it’s also been a defining moment for both of them as they have stepped up to take more responsibilities. We have jointly made decisions about our future directions and I am extremely proud of the two beautiful people that they are.

It is now time to sit down and decide what the next step will be. What do I really want to do?
Michelle

Changing our lives

Have you secretly (or maybe not so secretly) thought you would like to change your life in some way, shape or form? I know lots of people have but feel they can’t do anything for one reason or another. Family, kids, parents, finances, pets and a myriad of other thing are usually cited as the reasons for being unable to change. People depend on you, you can’t afford it and so on the reasons go. Many of the reasons are very valid but there is always something that can done to effect some type of change towards goals and ambitions.

I want you to think for a moment about how we all began life. As a baby we came into the world and faced enormous challenges. We needed to grow up – and if you think about it, growing up is a series of changes that take place with the biggest changes being in our early years. We start with small steps, milk and then onto solid food with the consistency getting firmer as we move through the learning to eat phase.

At the same time we learn to become more in control of our bodies. In the beginning we need our heads to be supported, to be picked up and carried everywhere. Then one day we learn we can roll over. Amazing! We can turn over all by ourselves. We might not be able to turn back, so we get frustrated and cry for help at which point some adult comes along and helps us.

Think about how a child learns to walk, first they crawl, pull themselves up on furniture for support, wobble about fall on their bums occasionally and finally, one day, they just let go and wobble off on shaky legs.

Well it’s the same concept if you want to make changes within your life, one step at a time and gradually the confidence builds and off ynewstartou go!

It may be that your 2015 ambitions are firmly embedded in your mind but you aren’t sure of how to go about making those changes or you might still be thinking about what direction you want to head in. This is where the support of a mentor, life coach, advisor or whatever name you want to give such people can be very helpful. The key is to make sure that whoever you choose is a good fit for what you want to achieve as it is definitely not a case of one size fits all.

How do you know if they’re the right person? Check out their track record and find out whether they just talk the talk or whether they have life experience? Ask questions and if you’re not happy with the answers keep looking.

I am selective about who I choose to work with and my clients always appreciate a 100% confidential environment, although I know some people prefer to work as part of bigger groups where there is less cofidentiality control and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It comes down to personal choices and what works best for each individual. For me a decision is always based on whether I feel I can help someone to achieve their goals and if they feel comfortable to be open with me and most importantly if I will be happy working with them. If not, then I recommend others (often within my network) as after all this is very much all about personalities and ensuring the approropriate fit in order to create the right environment to achieve best outcomes.

If you’d like to explore options on how the team at Dragon Sisters, or myself personally,  may be able to help maximise your potential and achieve your ambitions, be they personal or professional, contact us now and plan to make 2015 the start of effecting positive changes for yourself.

Michelle

PS I’d also love to hear you share any ways you have chosen to effect changes in your life.

Opportunities

My teaching load is lighter for December which gives me space to be taking on a couple more individual business clients. I’m open to clients from anywhere in the world as long as their work interests me and I feel that I can be helpful tEveryone is my teachero their business or cause. Anyone interested in discussing opportunities is welcome to contact me on michellehanton@gmail.com

Why is the load lighter? Well, two of my classes finished up on Friday as they head to their English exams tomorrow. These are external exams with examiners coming from Trinity College in the UK. It’ll be strange not to see them every day after having spent the last 2 months together. We enjoyed a great last day together including celebrating a birthday at morning tea and then lunch after the final class.

I find it so rewarding working with motivated students and clients alike. The pleasure I experience as a result of their success is really hard to describe and I guess the most recent public success was Katrina Fong Lim’s election night victory but all successes bring me the same pleasure which is why I so love being able to choose clients that align with my values and best of all I also learn from all these wonderful experiences. Life is indeed wonderful.

Michelle