Why Are You Here?

cheek to cheek mentoring session

Besides being leader and matchmaker for SpeakEasy initiative (we are looking for mentors, talk to me if you are interested), I also have two mentees. Both happens to live in India, both are already experienced testing professionals and both explore their way to public speaking. My mentees are very different personalities and their speaking journeys are very different, but this week with both of them I talked about how to engaged with audience and how to adapt/reshape talk for particular group.

 

My work, giving trainings, and my hobby, giving talks and workshops, complement each other in a nice way. At conferences I can experiment new ideas or fulfill my personal goals and talk about topics I care, at work I have to deliver. As a trainer I have my routine. Every training I start with two questions: 

1)    Who you are?

2)    Why you are here? 

 

About the first question – I am curious and really want to know with whom I will spend next few days. Second question is my way to find out background story. Why you have chosen to be here, what is your exit criteria for this training? I like to put it on flipchart and keep visible during whole training. Why? It helps to stay focused. That includes that you are responsible to achieve your goals and you will give me continuous feedback how we are doing, what you are still missing. Another thing I am aware of, that sometimes people are sent to trainings, they don’t want to be there, they don’t want to learn and I need to deal with that. I always say that I do not force people to attend trainings, but my take is: we are here and, hey, let’s make the best out of it!

 

This is my trainer routine, I ask questions and explain ground rules around responsibility of outcome. I have tried few other things, but always come back to this as most effective way how to start a training.

 

Back to speaking. If I give a workshop during conference, I start in similar way as a training. If group is bigger than 10 people, then I skip the first question. For a track talk you need to play another game. To get information you need about your audience you can ask questions where people need to raise their hand. Something like this: “Raise your hand if you work as tester! OK… one third of the group. Now raise your hand if you are developer!” then continue with something like “raise your hand if you want to learn about explorative testing!”. Time to time situations happen when somebody gets up and rushes out to the door. Conferences are overwhelming and people oft mix rooms, if this happened than now is the time to fix it. 

 

Now back to mentoring to make the full circle. One of my mentees is at the beginning of talking. She has a topic and currently explores how to create an abstract and a talk. The second is going fast forward the finish line. She has topic, good abstract, slides are done, now submitting and practicing the talk. To both of them I asked my two questions. You can create a talk to one specific target group and to address their issues/problems/challenges. Or you can create one more general talk and reshape it during the presentation. To achieve that I put more pictures & less text on my slides, this gives me freedom to change it, if audience does not respond as I imagined they will. 

 

For me speaking means to be authentic me and to listen to my audience and their needs. Yes, I am standing on a stage, but this is not about me. This is about you, listening my story, taking parts, which fits to you, and making your (working) life better/easier.

So… why are you here?

Creating Magic

This week I am having an operation. I had a terrible fear, but turn out that my body is very good on healing and recovering. I have a lot of time and gladly I took some books with me. Finally, I am having time to read “Creating magic – 10 common sense leadership strategies from a life at Disney” by Lee Cockerell.

The book is very clearly written. Lee describes his way from a farm to a magic kingdom through failures and lessons learned. He is the author of Disney leader strategies, which he based on common sense. For me, as a tester, the reference to common sense made a special joy!

Lee starts the book with following words: “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic”. For ten years Lee was responsible for Walt Disney World with 59 000 employees. Rational, muscular, no-nonsense business strategy of Disney is utmost care and respect. For everyone! Guests AND employees. Treat your employees how you want your guests be treated.

The whole book is about leadership as an act of care and respect; as a responsibility not as a title or role. For Lee being a leader means making the right things happen by bringing out the best in others. How oft did you experience that at your work?

“The study found that business units with the highest scores in guest satisfaction where the same ones whose leaders received high ratings from their direct reports in qualities such as listening, coaching, recognizing people’s efforts, and giving people decision-making authority.” Ration 80:20 reflects the vital importance of inspiring, motivating, teaching, and other so-called soft skills. Lee opinion is that the soft stuff is actually the hard stuff, but if you get it right, everything else tends to fall into place. When everyone matters and everyone knows he or she matters, employees are happy to work, and they’re eager to give you their energy, creativity, and loyalty.

My favourite chapter is about strategy #7: Burn The Free Fuel. The main idea is about leaders emotional impact on employees. Lee summaries it in an acronym ARE: appreciation, recognition and encouragement. He calls it cost-free, fully sustainable fuel, which builds self-confidence, self-esteem, and keeps an organisation running clean and smoothly. “ARE is more powerful than the fuels that make engines roar and space shuttles soar, because it propels human energy and motivation.”

Another chapter which talks to me is strategy #6: Learn The Truth. It is about the hard way to build trust relationships with everyone with aim to know what you need to know to make a decision. “I had no idea that was going on” is not an excuse for a leader. ”Knowing what’s going on is your responsibility”. “I’ve seen it happen to a great many otherwise competent leaders. Some rely too much on vague data and dubious information; some isolate themselves, acting as though employees below a certain level had nothing to offer; some get defensive in the face of constructive criticism; and some develop reputations for lashing out at those who deliver unpleasant facts, so people stop coming to them.” One of his suggestions is to get out regularly. In one of his previous hotels he daily checked the whole hotel, each elevator and stairwell and corridor of all fourteen floors. On the way meeting and greeting guests and employees. Lee writes: “Getting out and about regularly was a great investment of time. Not only did it allow me to see the operations up close, but it helped me get to know everyone on the staff better, and all of them in turn became more comfortable telling me what I needed to know.” In software industry – how many CEOs do you know who walks through offices more then once a week?

 

I am reading this book in very special time in my life – taking care of my health, moving to the new house and switching careers. Some of my work experiences I made in toxic environments, I am happy that I had the strength to leave it in the past. I wish more people, not only with fancy titles, would read Lees book and that each of us can work and evolve in an environment, which empowers us and make us the best versions we can be.