Greensilkmuse's Blog

Right Place, Right Time

Posted in Discovery by greensilkmuse on April 25, 2010

One of my most memorable trips was to New Mexico.  I visited Santa Fe and took the high road to Taos.   It is some of the most beautiful country there is.  One particularly memorable moment was not so beautiful, however.  It was the time we ran out of gas.

My ex and I were headed from Santa Fe down to Albuquerque in a rental car.  The car was very low on gas and we hadn’t realized how far we’d need to travel before coming to a gas station.  We were riding on “E”.  “It isn’t really empty when the gas gauge hits ‘E’”, he said.  That may be.  Problem is there is no way of telling just how much gas is left.

Finally, we came upon a gas station. It was located on the other side of the road from us.  As we headed down the highway towards it, the car’s power suddenly died.  The engine shut down.   I managed to steer the car towards the gas station and we were able to glide up to the pump.  Amazing, really.   That gas station was in the right place at the right time for us.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time, myself.  That’s the crux of business development.   In real estate, the key to success is “location, location, location.”  Timing is the variable function …entirely up to the customer.  For those of us without storefronts, location is about visibility.  Can someone see you enough to remember you when the time is right?  Are you in the right places to be seen? These days that includes web presence as well as physical presence.  

Say you have found good location — you are getting visibility and you’re available when others need you.  Just because you are there, doesn’t mean someone will reach out to you for help.  I’ve been reading books, articles, and research on how networks form social capital.  A key point made is that successful people position themselves well in networks – they see the gaps and perform the service of filling them. In so doing, they create value – and others in the network see the value. 

For someone new to the organization, trying to establish him- or herself, a sponsor can help to accelerate the development of the network.  The sponsor tells others that the newcomer is credible and “safe”.  For those of us looking for business, the “sponsor” is the referral.  It heightens not only the chance of being in the right place in the right time, but also the likelihood of being chosen.

With this in mind, I’ve started to design a workshop on leveraging social capital.  The workshop will explore everything from the structure of networks to their role in power and influence in organizations.  I used to think that “it’s who you know” is an elitist and political power play.  I thought it was wrong that people should get ahead on the basis of who they know rather than what they know.   I’ve since come to understand that these two things – who you know and what you know – are not mutually exclusive.  If people are going to want to work with you, you need to have some substance – some real capability.  They also need to know you exist.  So that, like the one gas station situated on that long stretch of road, you are in the right place at the right time.  


Empathic Connections

Posted in Discovery by greensilkmuse on March 26, 2010

People hire people.  They want to work with people they like and trust.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have forged really good working relationships with colleagues and clients.  They’ve been formed over time, as we’ve gotten to know each other on a personal level. 

So much of my work is conceptual and analytical that it is easy to focus on the business problem to solve, the results to achieve, the approach to take and miss out on connecting at a deeper level.  Whether running a meeting, delivering a workshop or facilitating a discussion, I want to be sure that commitments are kept… we accomplish what we set out to do and we keep within the allotted time constraints.   As important and valuable to those involved as this is, it is equally important to be mindful of and responsive to what people in each situation bring into the room with them.  The success of each interaction often depends on being attuned to the needs of others — beyond the matter at hand. 

The sooner someone feels they know you and are comfortable with you – the sooner you build trust and reduce the perceived risk of involving you in their lives – professional and personal.   It takes practice balancing the professional/business-focus with the personal/emotional awareness.  Improv and other theater techniques are one way of exercising these muscles.  Exploring the various roles we play and how we connect with others, depending on our mental models of those roles, helps bring awareness to how we show up.  We can practice really listening and being present.

I’ve been exploring a variety of ways to build connection – with individuals as well as with groups.  My latest foray into this side of my development involved a weekend conference in group psychotherapy. 

This experiential learning is not for everyone.  It was very intense and exhausting.  However, it produced some deep learning.   It takes a fair amount of courage to be the only non-therapist in a program of this nature.  If you can get past the unfamiliar terminology and the fact that your work, unlike that of other participants, is not to heal the emotionally wounded, you may come away with some impressive learning.  For me, it brought an appreciation for my own emotional attunement to others, the degree to which people operate more from the heart or through the head, and how to communicate in a way to put people at ease so that they let you in.

One experience, in particular, could only have happened in such a setting.   During a small group discussion, two women were talking to each other about what they needed and wanted from each other while the rest of us looked on.  As our eyes moved back and forth between the two of them (like watching a tennis match), I made eye contact a couple of times with a woman sitting directly across from me.  Each time our eyes met, I felt something in my gut – a tightening of sorts.  There was nothing in her demeanor to indicate that anything was going on for her other than that she was listening attentively to the discussion.  When they finished, she told one of the women that she had become angered by what she’d heard.  Apparently, she was really furious.  There was nothing about her body language or facial expression that even hinted at this.  I realized, at that moment, that it was coming through each time we made eye contact.   Now THAT is empathy.

In this sort of rarified setting – quiet, unstructured, without distraction – you can be really present and connect empathically with others.  How do you transition from the lab to life?  Each day brings with it lots to think about and to do.  We jump from one thing to the next, ticking off items on our “to do” list and adding more on.  Really connecting takes being present.  Bringing that presence to our daily interactions with others means slowing down just a bit, taking a moment to set aside the agenda, listening, feeling, and responding authentically to what is happening now.

Transformation – Stage 1

Posted in Discovery,Problem solving by greensilkmuse on March 12, 2010

I walked into her office and, while she was smiling and welcoming, what was really going on for her was this:  


What am I going to do?

A new CEO had recently come on board.  His expectations of her function were very different from that of his predecessor. She needed to quickly understand his perspective and expectations and figure out how to provide new and different services.

She was fairly new at the company and to this industry and, while she was hired for her experience and expertise, that decision was based on a different set of needs.  She was just starting to hit her stride when this happened and it was destabilizing.  It wasn’t just a matter of figuring out what this new CEO needed and expected, it was also a matter of figuring out whether she had the resources needed to deliver. She knew the capabilities and limitations of her team and there where were definitely weaknesses in her group that needed to be addressed. 

For the most part, she inherited the staff working for her.  There were some members who she kept on, against her better judgement,  at the advice of other senior managers in the organization.  They presented a challenge to her leadership and could make things even more difficult for her with the new CEO.  She knew that her current management team might not be part of the team she needed, but she had to work with them to define a new direction for her group and then figure out how get there.  She was really anxious about it.  She knew she was going to have to bring in new leadership, but she had to first see whether the people she had could step up or not.   This was a chance to see whether team members could build a new and cutting edge function. At a minimum, she needed them to keep things running while she worked on redefining the function’s remit.

What she didn’t have, was time.  The new CEO was not going to be patient and she needed to demonstrate to him that she could deliver what he needed.  Step 1:  “Breathe”

Team deliberations

We set about the task of rethinking the function.  Through working sessions, the management team created a picture of the future organization and defined the capabilities that were needed. This included figuring out what they didn’t know and reaching out to key stakeholders to get the information they needed to ensure that they were on the right track.  They took a hard look at the group’s current capabilities to decide what to retain, what to eliminate, and to identify gaps to fill.   Step 2:  “Listen”

That was the easy part.  Stay tuned for part 2.

My Story

Posted in Discovery by greensilkmuse on March 5, 2010

Like so many people I know, I sort of fell into what I’m doing.  When I graduated from college, I had no idea this kind of work existed.  After jumping around to different jobs in small-to-medium sized companies, I took an administrative job at a consulting firm — a job that I could do 9 to 5 while I completed my Master’s Degree.   I figured that once I had my MA, I would look for work in my field.

As it happens, the consulting firm specialized in the areas I had studied in college.  I quickly moved from an administrative role to a consulting position.  I found that not only did I have the academic background for it, I actually really enjoyed the work!  I loved working on a variety of projects in different areas, with different companies and across a range of industries.  I liked giving business managers the tools and information that helped them get things done — ones that they could not obtain on their own. 

After a few years, it was clear that in order to advance I needed to sit in the shoes of the client, so I embarked on a journey within large, multinational organizations — first with a specialized agency of the UN and then with a storied investment bank.   I got to know, first hand, what it takes to get things done inside large, complex organizations.

In my experience, both inside these organizations and as an outside counsultant, I’ve witnessed people expending a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to get things done and getting completely frustrated.  For many it is like trying to get through molasses.  They become stuck either because they are too much “in” the situation to see their way out or because unseen factors are working against them. 

The value I bring is that I am a methodical problem solver.  I work with people to get at the root cause of issues, find solutions, gain acceptance and support for needed changes, and then put in place real and lasting improvements. 

That’s my brand, in a nutshell.  Thanks to Christopher Penn for his take on personal brands:

Next time..a story of change.