Oct 28, 2008

Fighting Sickle Cell Disease

I don't often blog about my community outreach work - however I'm very passionate about the work that Seed of life organization is doing to raise awareness about the dreaded Sickle Cell Disease.

October is the month of giving - here in Seattle, and we're asking friends to donate their time and resources to help create awareness about this dreadful disease and help us fight it. There are several types of sickle cell disease, Sickle Cell Anemia (SS), Sickle-Hemoglobin C Disease (SC), Sickle Beta-Plus Thalassemia and Sickle Beta-Zero Thalassemia

Sickle Cell Anemia (SCA)Sickle Cell Anemia is the severest form of Sickle Cell Disease and the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States. An estimated 1 per 1,000 Hispanic Americans are affected by sickle cell disease in the US, however it appears to be prevalent amongst African Americans affecting 1 in 500 African Americans. (Source: Genes and Disease by the National Center for Biotechnology)

There is no known cure at this time – bone marrow transplants are an option however this has a low success rate among older patients. The Seed of life Philanthropic Organization also known as SOLPO, exists to raise awareness about this disease – especially within the black community. We also seek to educate those who may be at risk of giving birth to children with Sickle Cell Anemia.

In my next SOLPO post – I’ll outline some of the key initiatives which YOU can undertake to increase awareness about this disease and support our efforts to contain it.

Oct 18, 2008

4 Stage Process - The Sequel

So, why is it that most of us don't make it past Stage 2? According to a study by Paul Thompson and G.Walton - there are a number of interesting and perhaps contentious reasons - you be the judge.

1. Exclusion From Informal Networks
Some people never fulfill their real potential because they're simply not given the opportunity. They're excluded from informal meetings, social events or functions - where crucial decisions are often made. This challenge exists primarily because some people are simply not very comfortable mixing with others.

2. The Fear of Failure
Nobody wants to fail. Some of us are so consumed with the fear of failing at something - of falling flat on our faces, that we're afraid to try. We don't want the embarrassment or ridicule which often comes with failure. So, we don't take even moderate risks, preferring to stay in our comfort zones - or play it safe..

3. In-group or Peer Resentment
Sometimes we're so concerned about how others will perceive us that we don't even try to succeed. Have often heard the stories about young black students who intentionally flunk tests and exams so that they're friends won't see them as being too studious...

Often, we're so scared of resentment that we talk ourselves out of applying for bigger and better paying jobs, or taking on more responsibility.

4. Lack of Honest, Constructive Feedback
Strong, Honest Feedback is the key to personal and professional improvement. That's how we learn what we need to work on in order to get to that next level. If you're stuck at Stage 2 - it probably means that you're not receiving enough feedback on how to improve, or that you're simply not open or receptive to honest feedback.

Truth is we need to be "worthy" of honest feedback - in order to receive it in the first place. Also - we need to be mature enough to take the information for what it's worth and use it to improve ourselves. Not long ago, I had a boss who made a habit of stabbing me in the front. I'd say he is a Strong Stage 2 with some good Stage 3 characteristics. We had our differences - but I'll remain forever grateful to him for always giving me interesting & often constructive feedback. I didn't always agree with everything he said, but his insights were often thought provoking. I made sure he understood that I value feedback, so he was always glad to provide it.

I will give him credit for making me a stronger Individual Contributor and a confident thought leader - and I hope he develops the skills required to make it to Stage 4.

In my next blog post, I'll chop up a 5th factor - based on my own personal views...

5. Lack of Ambition & Drive - the Why Not? factor...

ELC: Organizational Agility - The 4 Stage Process

By far - the best session I attended was delivered by a truly talented speaker - Michael Hyter of the Novations Group. The title of Michaels presentation was on Organizational Agility - much of this information is based on a study by Paul Thompson and G.Walton.

Below are my key takeaways from the session..

Why is it that, when people of comparable talents and experience are hired by organizations - some rise quickly and continuously perform at a high level, while others peak at low to mid level mgt?

The Difference?

High performers are given the challenging, often complex jobs. 3 key characteristics of great jobs are high visibility, a high level of complexity and meaningful, measurable business impact.

Michael's position is that the key factors which prevent blacks from being consistently amongst the high performers - is our focus on mastering "technical" skills and not building relational or influential skills.

I'll try to chop this up - as best I can.

Building Technical Skills: Acquiring the knowledge and skills required to be effective on the job. (Basic or even fairly complex processes, administrative work and technical expertise).

Relational Skills: The ability to build a strong support network of relationships - based on trust and mutual respect.

Influential Skills: The ability to impact and influence individuals and situations. This skill is especially important when dealing with individuals or teams over which one has no direct authority

Many of us seem to forget that our ambitions and our relationships go hand in hand, perhaps even more so than our skills, talents or smarts. It's your organizations perception of your performance that matters, and not your own interpretation of how well you're doing.

According to Michael Hyter - there are 4 Stages of Contribution - Into which our career performance falls;

Stage 1: Dependent Contributors
When your career starts - it's very supervisory dependent. In Stage 1, we are fully dependent on others.

Stage 2: Independent Contribution
Contributing Independently with minimal supervision. By this point - we have strong technical skills and possibly some good relational skills as well. We're contributing to our organizations with very little supervision

Stage 3: Contributing Through Other People
People who are able to contribute through others - have strong internal & external networks. Such people are mentors , coaches and ideal leaders in their corporations. They share, teach and mentor others.

Interestingly: According to the study, over 80% of these people are not managers. Instead, they act as resources on projects, often they are thought leaders informal leaders in their organizations.

The key to being a great "Stage 3" person - is to be a continuous learner - someone who can (and is willing) impact knowledge, insights and learning’s to others. It's a mindset - not a title.

The transition from a Stage 2 to Stage 3 is the toughest/hardest one that anyone can make. It requires a significant psychological shift in how one thinks about work.

Managers should be in Stage 3, but most are in Stage 2. Many managers simply do not have the skills to play at the Stage 3 level.

STAGE 4 - The Pinnacle
Individuals in Stage 4 - contribute strategically to their organizations Strategic Direction. This requires very strong relational and influential skills. "Stage 4" folks make their organizations better - they value contribution through others - as a key mindset.

So, ultimately - this is all about Professional Development.

We need to think about how to develop the skills required to make significant contributions and show meaningful value, in our organizations.

If you focus primarily on building and improving technical skills, you may plateau at Stage 2. The vast majority of great leaders - live in Stage 4.

In my next post, I'll outline the key reasons why most of us don't make it to Stage 4 or even Stage 3......

ELC Session: Building Global Acumen

The first session I attended was one on building Global Business Acumen. Having worked in Europe, Africa and now in North America - I was keen to attend this session and learn more about how I can strengthen my global acumen.

We started out with a few polling questions - I learnt that about half of the audience worked with International colleagues, but over 50% hadn't actually travelled outside the US, on business. There was some interest amongst attendees about International Assignments - and the panel sought to provide some insight on how to build Global Business Acumen - below are my key takeaways....

Our colleagues around the world seem more keenly aware of what's happening in International Markets. Many of them speak more than one language and have a keen understanding of how Global Financial Markets, work.

We all know it's important to find ways to differentiate ourselves - to stand out, for the right reasons. Gaining International Experience is one great way to do so - especially if one works for an organization that has a presence in key International Markets.

I reaffirmed the importance of being informed, of understanding how International Financial Markets really work - of knowing how the Global Economy affects me and my employer. A stint in an International Market present great opportunities - however one needs to be prepared.

Why would someone consider you for an International Assignment?
1. Do you understand the strategic (global) plans of your corporation?
2. Do you understand your company's strategy - as it applies to key European, Asian or S/American Markets?
3. Do you read Analyst Reports about your company?
4. How familiar are you with your company's main International Competitors?
5. How many languages do you speak?
6. Have you thought about getting a mentor who lives & works in a key International Market?

We also explored the challenges and nuances involved in living and working abroad – such as language barriers, cultural factors, loosing contact with friends & relatives back home. Strong International Business Leaders are adaptable, flexible and have a willingness to learn new ways to accomplish things

Ultimately though – the decision to seek International Experience must fit into one’s career growth model. There will be many sacrifices and whilst the opportunities may bring richer experiences, they may not result in very rapid climb up the corporate ladder.
It’s important to outline a “what if” analysis and create a series of back-up plans.

That said, it’s almost certain that any Global Corporation would value individuals who have some Global Business Experience.

ELC Managers Symposium: Building A Personal Brand

The mid-level Managers Symposium featured an opening address and 3 key sessions - all geared towards highlighting multi-dimensional approaches to career enhancement. The morning session revolved around one consistent theme - in order to be successful one must develop a strong Personal Brand. We all have our own ideas about what Personal Branding here's what I got out of the session.

There's no doubt that a strong Personal Brand is built on a number of principles, key competencies and reflected in specific behavioral tendencies.

In order to make any headway in Corporate America - it's important to be very strategic about how you shape your career. A strong personal brand is integral to one's success....

The process of strategic thinking begins with a series of key questions.
1. What impressions do you want others to have of you?
2. How are you preparing yourself for future challenges & opportunities?
3. What type of people do we surround ourselves with?
4. Are you being your own best advocate?
5. Do you understand what it means to add value or to provide a demonstrable business impact at your place of work?
6. What do you stand for and how do you differentiate yourself?

The term personal brand is believed to have first appeared in the August 1997 issue of Fast Company Magazine, in an article by management guru and author Tom Peters, who wrote, "We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You." If you haven't already done so, it's time to launch your own Personal Branding Campaign - here are some things to think about.

-> Learn the art of listening and asking questions for the purpose of assessing and navigating your corporate landscape.
-> When the opportunity comes to lead - do so with a human touch. If you treat people like human beings you'll get much better productivity & a higher quality of service
-> Look for mentors and for opportunities to mentor others. (My Observation about Strong Mentorship is that I look for people who excel in specific skills which I long to develop).
-> Make time for self-reflection - it's the key to personal and professional development
-> Be ambitious, but strive for self contentment. This one may be at odds with the "American Dream" and the notion of instant gratification, but it works for me. The idea is that one should not worship a job, a car, a house or any other material thing.
-> Be hopeful. Say what you will about Barack Obama - no one can deny that the man is an inspirational figure and he's nothing if not hopeful. Judging from the amount of success he's had, I'd say there's nothing wrong with being hopeful.


Blogging @ The ELC Recognition Dinner

I arrived at the ELC Dinner event - not sure what to expect. I attended this event last year - but that was in DC and the nation wasn't yet on the verge of electing it's first Black President. The atmosphere at the event was great - of course, it helped that Barack was in New-York at the time attending the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Council Chair - CT Tomlin has been my mentor for just over a year & I remain grateful for all that I've learnt from him, thus far. The event was a memorable one for several reasons. I was fortunate to meet one man I've long admired - Ken Chenault of American Express.

This year, the ELC honored one of the original members of the "Little Rock 9" - a man by the name of Ernest Green. I sat at C.T's table, next to Ernest Green and managed to speak with him for a few minutes, after he received the Alvaro Martin's Heritage Award, (I even got his autograph). I'll always remember is the man's humility, his smile - and his easy going demeanor.

I'm generally not big on award ceremonies - I believe our greatest reward comes in the form of blessings from God. That said, I'm always very keen to hear what important/accomplished people say - when they receive awards. During his acceptance speech, Ernest Green spoke about the experience - back in '57, about attending Little Rock Central High School and going on to graduate. He mentioned some of the people who had influenced his life - like Dr. Bernard Harris, Jesse Tyson and Andrew Young and then proceeded to accept the award on behalf of the other members of the "Little Rock 9". His delivery was contemplative, relaxed and filled with humility - it was truly a great speech.

As the event ended, I was struck by how far the ELC has come - with over 400 members, most of whom are officers in the largest corporations in America.

The comment which most resonated with me - was made by one notable corporate executive, in speaking about Barack Obama's candidacy and the fact that we may soon elect our first black President.

"This is the era of No More Excuses" - I couldn't agree more...


Oct 15, 2008

Heading To The ELC - Mid Level Managers Symposium

A year has passed since I attended my first Mid Level Managers Symposium - in DC. I'm grateful for the opportunity to attend this year's event - in New York City.

I head to this conference with great expectations. I'm optimistic that we'll receive great insight from some of America's great leaders.

Should be a great event...

Oct 8, 2008

You Better Be Running

Here's an interesting African Adage - which encapsulates one of my key learning's about Corporate America, 10 years into my career.

"Every morning in Africa, a gazette awakens knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. The lion also wakes up knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazette, or it will starve to death. It makes no difference, whether you are a lion or gazette, when the sun comes up, you better be running"

So Run Hard if you can, - Run Smart if you mush, - whatever you do,

You Better Be Running.

World Changer

You Better Be Running

Here's an interesting analogy - which typifies my principles about work ethic

Every morning in Africa, a gazette awakens knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. The lion also wakes up knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazette, or it will starve to death. It makes no difference, whether you are a lion or gazette, when the sun comes up, you better be running" – African Adage which encapsulates my biggest learning about MS