Do you remember the first time you did something really vulnerable as an adult? I remember the first time I got in front of an audience to share my thoughts. It was Agile Vancouver’s, Much Ado about Agile 2009 conference. I was excited as I was being asked to share my thoughts. On the other hand, I was scared to death as I was being asked to share my thoughts.

I remember the experience well. I spent a lot of time pulling the material together. I remember focusing on what would make me look good. I still have the Powerpoint deck … it’s 52 slides long … for a one hour talk! They recorded the talk, and although I can no longer find the recording (how convenient), I remember thinking of myself as looking really nervous. I was pacing, I was saying “um” a lot, and I remember sweating my way through it.

Fast forward to this past week. I facilitated an evening talk for the AgileTO meetup, at the offices in downtown Toronto. I had almost an hour to work with, I provided participants with a one page handout, had no slides, and to be honest, when I started into the session I didn’t even know how I was going to teach the last part of the session.

The talk was on leadership stances covering teaching, mentoring and coaching. It’s an area I’m very passionate about as it’s also such a misunderstood domain in today’s corporate world. The concept behind the talk was simple; I wanted people to experience the difference between teaching, mentoring and coaching. They’re often misunderstood and some are even left aside in organizations, impeding the ability to change effectively.

What I really noticed for this talk is how I chose to show up. The preparation I had done was fairly minimal, I had very little material to lean on, and yet I was totally relaxed. It’s not to say I didn’t have a small nervous moment before starting, but I was totally excited about being there.

Being me was all I could do

These two experiences were vastly different for me. Sure there’s the visible things like the lack of Powerpoint, not saying “um” as much, and not sweating. What would not have been visible to others is the way I was choosing to show up on the inside.

In Vancouver, I was trying to prove my worth as a speaker. I was worried I would look stupid or seen as a fraud. I spent a lot of time preparing and included a lot of slides as I was attempting to close any loopholes (which I now know to be impossible). I was still relatively new in the Agile community, so I was sure there were going to be lots of people in the audience far more experienced than myself. I wanted to appear like I knew what I was talking about, even though I didn’t have a huge depth of Agile experience at the time.

Contrast this to my talk in Toronto last week where I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. I was simply getting up in front of the audience to explore and share a topic I’m passionate about. In other words, what people saw was the most authentic form of Mike at the front of the room. There’s nothing to be nervous about, as I simply cannot screw up being me (at least, I hope not 😉 ) It’s actually easy just being me, so why would I want to do anything more?

Leading for Change

I regularly come across corporate cultures where people are taught how to behave. When people are hired, they are quick assimilated, and quickly learn how to fit in. People quickly learn how emotions have no place at work, and how they should leave their personal life out of the workplace. Further, we stress the need for work-life balance.

In doing this, people learn how to be something they are not. I know as I did this for a very long time. In doing so, I put a lot of effort into trying to do & be something else so I could get ahead. It leaves me wondering how much energy is lost in the corporate world, to people dealing with the conflict of not being themselves.

A great place to start building a culture people want to spend time in is by making it safe and acceptable to be nothing more than yourself. The people who work all around you all day are emotional beings, and their personal lives are important to them. So rather than creating conflict, allow everything that is simply beautiful about them be present every single day. My hope for the world is we stop trying to force people to balance their work and life, and allow them to integrate these two things so they are whole.

My hope for the world is we stop trying to force people to balance their work and life, and allow them to integrate these two things so they are whole. I think the world will be better place for it!

Who are you choosing to be today? I’m choosing me!


Building Great Teams

Building Great Teams

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