Author: Ryland Leyton

“Know Thyself”, in good times. (Part 2)

Welcome back to my continued discussion with my friend Tracy!

In part 1 of this article “Know Thyself”, in good times. (Part 1), I had lunch with my friend Tracy, who was giving us a lot of examples about how one aspect of emotional intelligence is shown in difficult moments.  She demonstrated the ability to understand her own feelings, act differently than she felt, and avoid “acting out” in ways that wouldn’t help her in the big picture.

Now, here in Part 2, I’m happy to tell you what happened after that.  As last time, note my comments about how she demonstrated emotional intelligence are in italics.  

FOUR WEEKS LATER

I had the guardedly happy experience of seeing Tracy again about a month later.  Same place.  

This time, she was there first – and she had the sunniest, happiest expression on her face!

I passed our server on the way in: “Hi Ryland!  Tracy already ordered.  You want your usual?”

“Yep! Thank you, I’ve been looking forward to it all week!”  (They make the best BBQ  burger there.  Yum.)

I sat down, gestured to Tracy’s expression, and said “You seem happy!  Do I need to check for a missing persons report about James?”

“No, you big jerk!”  We laughed.

“No,” she continued, “I actually couldn’t care less about what James does.  He’s just doing his job, and it is what leadership wants.  It really isn’t personal or about me.  I figured something out, and really, I just don’t care about that any more.  Well, not the same way as I did, anyway.”  She had a wistful, vaguely awkward tone in her voice.

>>Tracy is acknowledging a change in her feeling regarding James, and the situation which involved him.  She acknowledges that the feelings are inside her, and that James is not the “creator of her feelings”.  She is not fixated on how things were, or her perceptions and feelings in the past.  She is instead focused on how they are now, in the present.  

Now, she had my full attention.  I was looking really closely at her.  Matching her sudden calmness, I quietly asked her, “What happened?” and set down to wait until she was ready.  I knew she’d need a moment or two.

“It took me another two weeks from when we talked last time,” she said, waving a hand gently at the restaurant.  “I finally got out of my funk from my feelings of anger and loss, and I was still just turning the crank of my job. You know, getting things done, but I really didn’t care about my job, it was just a job now, not something I was passionate about any more.”  

We nodded together in mutual understanding.  I’ve been there once or twice as well.  Sometimes you just have to wait for things to change again.

“Well,” she continued, “a while after that I noticed I had somehow gotten lively about my work again.  I was engaged, doing a lot of problem solving, calling my colleagues, ticking off tasks…you know, like you said when we worked together: kickin’ butt, takin’ names, getting’ stuff done, dammit! ”  

>>Tracy had observed how her feelings had changed for the better.  She was glad to see it, and found it surprising, as she did not immediately understand why she felt differently.  

I laughed, she smiled.  Tracy in “project mode” can be a well-intentioned force of nature.  It used to be more of a blunt instrument…she has learned with time and practice when to use this strength as a chainsaw, and when to use it more as a scalpel.

“I get it.  It sounds like a big change.  I’m happy for you!  So, enough with the buildup! What happened, already?”

“Okay, okay.  Also, here’s your burger,” alerting me to a plate arriving over my shoulder, just as hers landed as well.

Good, I was getting hungry.  A hungry Ryland is not a patient Ryland, either.

She continued, “I realized that I had mis-identified my passion about the COE, and some of the other stuff.  Yes, I’m angry, and I had a lot of feelings of loss, and like I said about being hurt, and I’d built all that and I definitely didn’t like having to stop that.  Not fun at all.“Ryland, I have to say this carefully.  It’s hard to explain.”

She paused to think, and chewed a few bites of her salad.  I knew enough to stay quiet.


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She continued: “I’ve discovered that I started loving my work again…because I am performing an act of service in the course of my work.”

>>By applying continued attention Tracy was able to identify the reason for her restored happy feelings about work.  She is able to identify that the COE was a means to an end, and not an end in itself.  It was the vehicle through which she worked on her passion, and there are other ways in which to do that.

I remained quiet.  She took another bite, chewed, and continued.

“This team needs me.  They’re tremendous technical professionals in their fields.  Rockstar performers, workhorses, all of them.  Developers, QA, BA, architects, net-ops, just great, every one of them.

“They are, however, drowning in additional, unplanned, not always-needed extra work and nobody is helping them keep focus and be successful at the actual work that the project needs accomplished.  That’s where I come in, and what I’ve been doing.”

I asked her, “Tracy, am I missing something?  Isn’t that just what a PM does?  Isn’t that just the crank-turning you were talking about last time?”

“Yes and no.  Yes, it’s a core skill of mine, right?”  I nodded yes, of course it is, she’s great at keeping teams focused and on track.  Old hat for her, no big deal, does it all the time, barely an inconvenience.

“Sure, it’s a simple thing for me, right?  I actually just got drawn into it because it’s like breathing,” she shrugged, “it was obvious, so I did it.  Without thinking, really.  No big deal, it’s just PM stuff, it’s what we PM’s do.”   

Another moment for salad and chewing, then she continued, still looking at the greens on her plate.

“They acted like it was manna from heaven. Nobody had been running interference for them before.  Nobody on the team knew how to do it.”

She looked back up and across to me, putting her fork down and raising her gently closed hand.

“I’m finding I’m happy because,” one finger went up, “I am making a contribution that I know is valuable to the team”.

Next finger, “I am getting to build the skills of others, which you know is something I like and find very rewarding.” 

“Lastly,” her third finger went up, “…and I think this is the most important thing…I genuinely feel that I am performing an act of genuine service to the people on the team.”

>>Tracy always knew that helping people is important to her, but through this experience has learned new depth about her own motivations. Helping, teaching, coaching…these are all aspects of a bigger and more powerful thing for her: performing a valuable and meaningful act of service to others.

As I had a mouthful of BBQ, I invited her to continue with a raised eyebrow.

“Sure the work is getting done…but the team is happier, the work is smoother, and we are really making progress on the work.  And, I’m making sure that I’m not just doing this stuff, I’m showing them how to do it!  I’m helping them grow as professionals, on a frequent basis.  I’m challenging them to improve and grow.

“It’s the kind of thing I did with the COE…but I didn’t realize that the COE was a vehicle for the thing I really love, which is performing what I see as acts of service to assist people with professional growth.”  She stopped, sheepishly smiling.  “I’m glad about it, and it has let me let go of the COE stuff completely.  That’s not my problem.  Oh, I don’t want to see my work wasted there – that was a lot of work!  But, you know, leadership does what it does…  Right now, I have something really important that I didn’t know was so critical to my ability to function: I know what act of service I am performing, who I’m helping, right now, and I can be OK with that.  It’s why I’m loving my work again!”

“Tracy, I am so happy for you!  Not only about work – I’m glad you don’t hate it and aren’t feeling bored any more – but discovering something new about what is important to you!  That’s such a big deal!”

“Yes.  After I’ve got stuff ironed out with the team and working really well, I’m going to start thinking about what this means for future positions.”

>>Tracy is taking this new insight and new understanding about what makes her happy and revisiting her career goals and options.  How might this insight about the importance of “acts of service” change the jobs she applies for, roles she wants to have, or how she approaches her work?

What did we learn from Tracy about using emotional intelligence for happiness?

After a period of adjustment, Tracy had found herself surprised at becoming so reengaged at work.  She spent some time figuring that out.  It led her to a new level of understanding about her own motivations and interests, and opened other doors for her about professional happiness and interests.  

Now that she has identified “service” as something personally meaningful to her, how might this change her views of different positions?  Here are some potentials in that area:

  • It is possible she might look for jobs where she understands the difference she makes to people.  
  • She might turn down positions that have no significant “service” aspect to them, as she herself defines “service”.
  • She may look for positions that emphasize the service aspect of leadership or mentoring.  
  • She might ask potential employers about their views of growth and development of teams and abilities.  This could let her assess the alignment of her values with values of a prospective employer.
  • She may cast a broader net – far outside I.T. and project management! – where she can have new and interesting experiences with regards to serving others.  Nonprofit and government sectors might be more interesting to her now.

Applying this aspect to your own life

As in part 1 of this article, permit me to ask you to consider these questions for yourself, and suggest that you discuss your answers with a trusted mentor or friend.

  • What motivates you?  What is the highest, best, and most valuable thing you can do when you act from that motivation?
  • When do you feel most strong, happy, and engaged in your professional life? 
  • What possible “bigger motivations” or “evolution” of your earlier answers might be possible for you?   
  • What experiences could foster growth and development for you around your most important interests?
  • How could you gain more knowledge about what you find engaging and important to you?  

“Know Thyself”, in rough times. (Part 1)

“Emotional Intelligence” (EI) is one of those things we hear about a lot at the workplace. 

If you keep up on articles and business sites you’ll see things pop-up perennially about how it is the single most important ability you’ll have, or how every effective leader has tremendous EI, or an article titled “ten things to do to improve your emotional intelligence”.

I think it can be hard to see how this matters in the real world because we wrap all of this up in a sterile, academic term, “emotional intelligence”, which covers a lot of ground.

If we were just talking casually we might include a lot of things under this umbrella, such as empathy, self-awareness, self-management, compassion for self and others, the ability to encourage, to exert self-control in difficult times, and possibly even demonstrate gratitude.  

Some people also call this “adulting”.

I learned an EI-related lesson which I’ve had a hard time putting into words, but here it is:

“The only thing you ever really control in a room is your own behavior.”

What I mean by that is that you can control what you say, and what you do.  You can’t control anything else, about anyone else.  You can influence others through your behavior, but that isn’t control.

To bring the best of yourself to the table, you need to understand why you say what you say, and why you do what you do.  That understanding of self is a form of EI.

I had an episode with a colleague of mine lately that I realized is a good example of several moments of EI in the workplace.  I’m going to relate it to you here.  As you read this, note that my “EI comments” are in italics, and presented for your consideration.

My good friend Tracy, and her no-good, very-bad day at work.

Tracy is a friend I used to work with “back in the day”.  Currently, she was a senior project manager at a software company, and had been there for about 5 years.  When last I’d heard, she loved her job and found it very satisfying. 

We meet for a bite now and then and catch up on work, life, and you know, everything.  It had been a while since we last met!  

Last Tuesday was one of those times, and I had been looking forward to it since we had set it up a couple of weeks before.   I arrived at our favorite eatery a few minutes early and sat down facing the door so I wouldn’t miss her.  

Tracy swept in like a stormcloud and landed hard into the chair opposite me.

“You will not believe what has been going on the last couple of months.” she started right in.  

“We had a reorg about 8 weeks ago.  Nothing I’m doing is the same.  Oh, I’m still a senior project manager – I’m not losing my job or anything.  However, I have a new boss, new team, different responsibilities…and even more, everything I have done up to now is somehow wrong.”

“Wrong?  How?!?!”

“You know how I used to be the senior PM?  I worked with the COE [center of excellence] to onboard new folks, orient them to our processes, get them started & then help keep things running smoothly?  No more.  That responsibility is now with a new manager.”

“That seems strange.”

“Yeah, to me too.  But, that’s how leadership wants it.  I think the words ‘shake things up’ were used.  Nothing specific, no criticism was implied.  I’m not demoted or my pay cut or anything like that.  In fact our VP made a small mention of ‘we appreciate how far you’ve taken this already’…and then the work was given to someone else.”

>>Tracy clearly knows she is angry and hurt.  She feels let down.  She is acknowledging her feelings and also that she has not been actually financially or physically harmed.  She is showing understanding that, so far, this change should not be interpreted as personal criticism of her performance.  The situation genuinely may be “not about her”.

“So what are you doing?”

“Well, I’m assigned to project work now.  I’m the project manager for the Merlot project.  It’s important, and it has a lot of chaos from a few directions.  It can benefit from my help, you know how I’ve handled that kind of situation before.  But…frankly…working on the COE is what I loved doing.”

“Yes!  You’ve always loved bringing new folks in, onboarding newbies, and that COE has been your baby for a long time.  Most of the PMO loved the work you did there, you told me all about it.”

“Right!  Everyone in management felt the changes we had implemented made the work smoother, more effective, even faster.  I hate losing it.  But it gets worse.”

“…Worse?  But…?”

“I’ve been told to stop supporting the new folks, the junior ones.  I am to direct them to the new COE owner, and stay out of it unless that manager asks for my help.”

I was really, really floored.  Tracy had been commended for her work with junior professionals.  She loved that kind of work.

“Tracy, I’m so sorry.  This sounds really unfair.”

“It feels that way.  I don’t get it, but I also don’t want to be ‘that resisting person’, like my way is the only way.  The person they’ve given the work to – James – has new ideas, and just like mine were, they could be new and helpful to others as well.  I don’t want to be resistive – or be perceived as sabotaging or fighting the organization!  So, I’m just trying to roll with it.  I have to tell you, it’s been about 8 weeks, and it’s hard.  I have had to turn away people I used to support, direct them to James, and not give them advice.  My boss has told me that this is James’ work, and I have to keep out of it unless he asks for my involvement.”

>>Tracy has identified that her feelings about work are really negative, right now. She acknowledges that her actions will be evaluated by others and she has to separate her feelings from her actions.  Not doing so could come back to her and impact her job, and/or career. 


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“So…how are you?”

Tracy paused, looking for words.  

“I’ve been trying to figure that out!” she took a deep breath, held it a moment, and exhaled.  “Hurt?  Almost wounded a little.  I have to admit I’m a little lost…I go to work, I have a bunch of strictly project-related stuff to do.  I do it, get the work done, involve the right people but….”

“But what?”

“I’m just kind-of turning the crank, you know?” she said, gesturing grasping a handle and turning a gear.  “It’s project work.  I’ve done it before, I’m good at it. It gets done.  It has value, there’s nothing wrong with it.  I just…don’t care about it.  I’ve climbed this hill before, you know?  Run complex projects, difficult work, groundbreaking stuff, like when we worked together.  The COE work is something I loved doing.  I’d built up to it for a long time.  I felt I’d earned it and I’d been validated that I was doing it well.  Now, with it taken away…well, this is a job I’ve done before.  Literally been there, done that, got the ‘project-launch-tee-shirt’.”  

I actually knew the one she was talking about: they did give out tee-shirts at the end.  It was a hard project, people kept them.  They were a nice cotton, too. 

“You sound really down.”

“I am!  I used to love my work – you know, like you talk about people doing – and now…to go from that, to a ‘demotion in place’, just doing things I’ve done a ton of times before.  I’m disengaged, I get my work done in about half my day, and all the things I could take on from there I don’t because I’ve been told to let James do them.  I’m not going to go around and just “create work” for the sake of it!”

>>Tracy acknowledges feelings of loss and disengagement.  She doesn’t want this to cause her to unconsciously act out badly.  She wants to avoid appearing like she’s (1) not following instructions or (2) making up things to look busy.  She is managing her behaviors in the light of her difficult feelings.  She is avoiding creating negative perceptions of herself by others.

“Are they trying to make you quit?”

“I’m a little bored…but no, I just think right now I’m in that rough spot where I have enough spare time to be bored…but not enough to take on another project in any meaningful way.  If I did, my main one would suffer. Normally I’d think about what I could do with the COE, or help our newest PM’s…but like I said…”

>>Tracy has some worries about being bored, and knows this is a hot-button issue for her personally.  She is avoiding letting those feelings drive her to actions which will not help her.

“Yeah, if you do that, you could be perceived as trying to undermine James.”

“Yes.  I offered to help, but he has let me know, politely, that he’ll call me if he needs me.  Whatever!” She threw her hands up, and exhaled again.  “I’m just remembering things change.  I have to let this run its course, float down the river with it, and see where it goes.  Again, it’s not like the paycheck stopped clearing, and I’m not throwing out five years with this company over a @#$%# re-org!”

>>Demonstrating very active self-management, understanding that this situation could change in the future, and not sacrificing her long-term investment over short-term frustration.

We shared a smile, and I said “Yeah, sometimes adulting is really annoying.”

“I know! Right?!?!”

What did Tracy demonstrate about using emotional intelligence to self-manage?

Tracy just had a project where she had invested years, very personally and importantly, taken away from her.  It put her in a difficult position – one where if she handled it badly, she might limit her career options with this company!  

Tracy demonstrated a very strong level of emotional intelligence:

  • Able to name her feelings. (Sad, angry, hurt, mistreated.)
  • Able to accurately assert why she feels the way she feels. (No longer working in “passion”, loss of COE and mentoring responsibilities.)
  • Able to appropriately separate her actions from her feelings, when needed.  (Did not act out at others due to her own feelings; did not sacrifice her 5-year investment over this change.)
  • Able to self-soothe and keep perspective.  (Sought help from others, understands this may not actually be personally about her or her performance, exerting her own patience to see what changes next.)

Much of our conversation today has been about how Tracy managed herself through trouble.   Next time, we’ll pick up with Tracy a few weeks later and have a conversation about how another aspect of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to guide and manage your own growth and development.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions as a learning experience.  I encourage you to write some notes about your answers, and then review them with a trusted friend or professional mentor.

  • What do I do when I’m hurt?  
  • What are my reactions – good and bad – when I’m under stress?
  • What causes me to experience stress?  Are there any consistent patterns I can identify?
  • How good am I at deferring action so I am not overly reactive?  So that I avoid acting against my own interests?
  • Do I have an accurate picture of how other people perceive me?  
  • Do I know what motivates me at work, and what I am passionate about?

Great Places to Work. Part Two: What can you do to help create a great place to work.

In part one of this article, we reviewed a survey I held that established the following five things as attributes of making somewhere a Great Place To Work (GPTW).

The top two were highly consistent and close in order:

Flexibility (1.3)
Daily work I like doing (1.7)

The next three were also highly consistent, with two being almost tied for position:

Excellent company culture (3.3)
Professional growth (4.0)
Excellent supervisor (4.3)

We talked about what these mean. In this article we’re going to talk about what you can do to help make your job a Great Place To Work.

Flexibility

While a lot of this is controlled by the specific needs and environment of your workplace, if you’re a manager can help you can help make this happen by setting expectations about service levels. How rapidly communications are to be returned, what core business hours should be kept, how to handle deadlines and responsibilities. How work-from-home is to be scheduled or communicated. As a manager, holding people accountable for outcomes instead of process will make you highly appreciated! (It might just reduce your management headaches, too!)

If you’re an employee and you need more flexibility than you have, you can start a dialogue with your supervisor about what kinds of flexibility you need. You should back up your request with a proposal about how you intend to be visibly, transparently, and easily accountable for this. Ensure that giving you more flexibility doesn’t entail more work for the supervisor!

Daily work I like doing

At the simplest level, work is you employing your time and skills in exchange for money from your employer: you should enjoy it as much as it is possible. Working somewhere that aligns with your interests and goals will move you from having just a jay-oh-bee, to somewhere that you are happier and more invested in because it helps drive your own success, however you’ve defined it.

Beyond that, you have to know what you like doing and be honest about it at interviews. It is hard to get what you want, if you don’t know what you want!

For supervisors, you have a lot of control about this by being honest about what the job entails, what the day looks like, and by working hard to get the right candidate, not just any candidate, into open positions. Obviously, this is something you control more from the hiring process than the actual job itself. The job itself simply is what it is.


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Excellent company culture

As we talked about in part one, this is a hard item to pin down, and in my opinion it definitely is about the common values and behaviors of the people in the company.

Senior level and leadership employees definitely influence culture more strongly than less senior ones…but we are always strong influences in the space immediately around us. A commitment to having strong values, showing them through your actions, and keeping a positive, supportive, empowering and enabling environment is something that anyone can make, no matter what kind of position they hold!

Whether you are an individual contributor or a manager you always influence those around you. Make your influence something positive, creative, supportive, and growth-oriented, and you will find it makes a difference to others.

Professional growth

The good thing here is that you have huge control and influence on this one, no matter who you are! As an analyst, project manager, team lead or stakeholder you can try new techniques as they apply to your situation, you can encourage others to participate. You can hold lunch-and-learn sessions around topics of interest. You can organize book clubs, or keep plugged-in to the professional events in your city and let your team know about them. The list goes on and on!

Of our five things, this is the easiest one. You can immediately make a contribution of your choosing here!

Excellent supervisor

If you are a supervisor, you know that this is important to your team, and this is the one that only you can control. There are tons of books regarding management and leadership, and I won’t try to recap those here. I think employees want to know that their supervisor is looking out for them, has their best interests in mind, and is conscious of connecting them with the kinds of opportunities the employees want to have.Let me prompt you with a few questions to consider.

Can you answer these questions about each member of your team?

  • What are their professional interests and passions?
  • What is important to them outside the office?
  • Given their career stage and goals, what expectations do they have of you?

When you think about yourself:

  • Are you giving appropriate levels of supervision, helping where needed, avoiding micromanagement?
  • Are you a servant leader?

Obviously, that’s just a start. Maybe a final question is: are you being the kind of supervisor you would have valued before you got into management?

What does this mean for you?

Making a great place to work is a little like the old story of Stone Soup – everyone benefits when everyone contributes something to the pot!

Your contribution can be anything. If it aligns with something valuable to your workplace you’ll stand out more, make a difference to your co-workers, and be seen as a more valuable team member by people above you in the organization!

Best wishes in your career & life,
Ryland

Great Places to Work. Part one: What makes somewhere “A Great Place To Work”?

A few weeks ago and related to a talk I was planning, I put a survey out regarding what is most important in making somewhere “a great place to work” (GPTW, for brevity).

I had about 100 responses and the results were really interesting to me, and it is time to share them!

I wanted the survey to be brief and still produce some useful information. In addition to a few demographics, I offered 11 items and asked people to sort them in forced-rank order of what, in their opinion, makes somewhere a GPTW.

Who answered the survey?

Responders were mostly people who self-identify as:

  • Mid career (53%) or late career (32%)
  • Located in North America (95%).
  • Indicate that the top priority in their life is (61%) “work and family”, or (31%) “career & professional work”.

Based on the audiences who were told about the survey, I’m guessing that most people are professional class, working in offices for companies of various sizes.

What makes a great place to work?

Regarding the rank-ordering, I can say that 5 things stood out from the 11 items I offered the responders. The number in parentheses is the average ranked score of the item.

The top two were highly consistent and close in order:

Flexibility (1.3)
Daily work I like doing (1.7)

The next three were also highly consistent, with two being almost tied for position:

Excellent company culture (3.3)
Professional growth (4.0)
Excellent supervisor (4.3)

So what? What should this mean to me?

There are 5 things people say that create a GPTW.
If you are an individual contributor, you can control or influence 3 or 4 of them.
If you are a manager that number goes up by one.

We’ll talk about what you can do to influence each of these in part 2 of this article; but for now, let’s consider what they mean.

Flexibility

Flexibility to manage one’s own schedule, handle routine and emergency family events, and self-direct their own activity is simply critical to employees today. And, I don’t think the generation of the employee makes a difference! Given that our responders put family first, and are people in mid-to-late professional careers, this is an expectation of the workplace.

If your workplace isn’t acknowledging this fact of modern professional life I’m willing to bet you have a staff turnover problem at your office.


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Daily work I like doing

A lot of people say they don’t like their job, but once you make the distinction between a “great place to work” and “a great place to take a vacation”, they admit they do like their job, in the context of potential employers.

Excellent company culture

This means different things to different people. There are obviously a lot of ways to think about this, as it is a bit of a “squishy” term. I think that even if we can’t define it perfectly, we all know a good one from a bad one – at least for ourselves! Let’s try this one.

Culture: the way that people in an organization hold to a particular set of values, driving forces, and goals, as well as the behaviors they exhibit in doing so.

What jokes do they tell? How seriously do people take the mission of the organization? How much do leaders acknowledge/commend/reward those who act in alignment with the mission and values? This is part of what goes into “culture”.

I can definitely say that it is created by people. That means that we contribute to it wherever we work.

Professional growth

The ability to grow, learn, and advance in one’s profession as a routine job experience is a priority. It may not be on every project, or every day, but it does mean that people want some innate development in the course of their work.

Excellent supervisor

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors”, is a common truism. In a troubled workplace, a great supervisor can be like a lifeboat captain, ensuring the safety of the team, earning their trust, and guiding them through the storm. That team is solid and may hate their workplace, but love their job. In a great workplace, a bad supervisor is like having a reservation at a 5-star hotel…but you have to sleep in the laundry room.

A supervisor is the company to their employees, and good or bad makes a big difference.

Having a supervisor who you trust, who has your back, who demonstrates caring about you as person and a professional, is never to be taken lightly.

What’s in it for me?

Before reading part two, think about these questions:

  • What do you look for in a great place to work?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the survey results and my interpretation?

Last, if there’s anyone that helps make your place somewhere great to work, let them know! They’ll appreciate it!

Who Ordered This…?!?

I really don’t know how this happened.

I’m going to tell you a few things about it. I may sound self congratulatory, but that’s not the point. I promise, there’s a good point for you in here. Honest.

So, back to the story: I genuinely don’t know how it happened. I think somewhere along the way I said “yes” a few times, but really, really, really, I didn’t mean for this to happen.

WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS….

I can tell you where it started. A coworker said “Ryland, there’s this conference in Philadelphia. Why don’t you submit a talk about the work we’re doing on process analysis? I bet they’d be interested!” I had never submitted something to a conference before, let alone had an interest in public speaking.

But sure, why not. Long story very short, I submitted a proposal, I wrote the presentation, and I was scared of being on stage giving it, and I got over it, and it went well.

I would go on to present that same session about 3 more times – two other conferences and one local IIBA chapter event. I discovered that I handled the pop-up-questions from the audience fairly well, and I had feedback that people left my sessions feeling they’d learned something.

Go me! I’m giving something valuable back to the community!

Locally and for conferences, I was asked what other sessions I could do. Some subjects were tossed around with different people. I selected a few I found interesting and exciting, and put some talks together about those subjects. They were well received; presenting 40-minute sessions at conferences became a fun way of broadening my professional exposure & learning. Presenters get to attend the conferences at no charge, and my job was willing to pay for the trip when I was representing us to the industry and promoting us as a great place to work! When I wasn’t presenting I attended other people’s sessions and actively talked with attendees. I gave lunch-and-learn kind of summaries to my coworkers when I got back, and people told me they appreciated it and looked forward to them.

Back in Atlanta, I was more involved with presenting locally. I’d started to get involved with agile, and was offered the opportunity to give a training session on my experiences as a BA in agile environments.

Talking with our organizer, I was trying to gauge what I’d need to do. I asked: “How long a session do you want me to give? It can be a big topic to cover.”

I was expecting an answer of 60-90 minutes.

“We’d like the whole day, if you’re up for it.”

I think I started hearing a dial tone in my head.

A whole day? What the heck am I going to do for a whole day? I can’t do that. What!? What!?


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My mouth, which was now somehow disconnected from the rest of my body, had gone to whatever failover system it had and continued making noises and commitments as though I were actually personally involved in the thought process.

“I think I can do a half day. Say 3-4 hours of content? I can firm things up in a few weeks after I’ve done an outline. The topic is The BA in Agile, I’ll figure the details.”

“That’s great, Ryland! I’ll put you down for it!”

Now I was hooked. Apart from my personal values of honoring commitments I make, I was actually looking forward to this session, in a very this-is-exciting-and-I-don’t-want-to-fail-horribly kind of way. That, and our professional development coordinator (and later our IIBA Chapter President) was someone you do not disappoint. She’s kind of a mix between a church picnic, a hurricane, and Vito Corleone, but in a very supportive and caring way!

I’ll try to make the rest of this short so I can get to my point.

The session went well; I actually had so many questions from the mixed BA and PM group that I got through about 50% of my content – and people were enjoying the time so much that they gave me an extra hour on the fly during the session. All of that was also unexpected.

Through a related series of events, this led to me writing a book and doing more presenting on more topics. Along the way I met many people in the top of their professions, both in business analysis and related fields, and I had many moments where I asked “how the heck am I in a room with these people?”

I have had the opportunity to do some powerful, creative, challenging, interesting projects both at work and elsewhere. It has advanced my career in both professional and personal value in ways I could not have imagined or asked for.

WHAT’S THE POINT, RYLAND?

“That’s nice. You said you had a non-self-congratulatory point in here somewhere?”

Yes, I do. Thank you for being this patient, I know that was a lot about me, and the truth is I want this to be about you.

I want you to have this same opportunity, and the amazing thing is that you already have it. You only need choose to take advantage of it!

I’m asking you to find something that you’re willing to create, and to share it with other professionals. It will do you good. It will do the profession good. It will lead you to experiences that are unique and unpredictable and exciting and engaging and unforeseeable and wonderful.

Find something – even something very small! – that you are passionate about, and offer to give a talk on it at a professional gathering. It can be a conference, a local group, even just a lunch-and-learn at your office. Even being turned down will provide you with a valuable learning experience!

You cannot know where it will take you. However, by standing up and sharing your passion and interests with others, people with similar interests and passions will find you…and you may start collaborating with them about events, or writing, or just make a new colleague.

MAKE A HABIT OF SAYING YES TO THINGS CONNECTED TO YOUR PASSION

My career and my happiness have advanced hugely because I said “yes” to something about 6 years ago. I now get to spend most of my professional time working in areas very close to my professional passions (BA, agile subjects, and career development).

I simply would not have that situation today if I had not said “yes” to applying to a conference back then, and put energy into making it a good experience. That’s where it started. That was the pebble that grew to an avalanche in my career in the next several years.

I learned my lesson on this by chance, and I’m now passing it on to you with intention:

Try something! Try anything! Say yes to things!

The returns will definitely be valuable, probably interesting, and certainly unique!

Get out there and open some doors!

Best wishes to you in all parts of your life,
Ryland Leyton