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The Gift of Presence

Today I caught myself walking down the street and listening to the birds above sing. I heard the cars that were driving by, and the sounds the tires made as they splashed through the puddles from the rain that had fallen just a short time ago. I found myself feeling my feet hit the pavement, and the feeling I got from being present. I felt clear and composed, and I felt comfortable in what it was I was about to do.

This was while walking to my biggest meeting of the year.

Not too long ago I was on a similar walk. I had practiced and practiced my pitch, and I felt that I had the precise set of words that would do nothing less than ‘wow’ whoever it was that I was going to talk to. I thought I knew the company inside out, and could address all the concerns of the parts of the strategic plan that were relevant to my company. I worried and stressed about the outcome of the meeting, only to realize after a conversation with a great friend and mentor that living life in the future could prove to be hugely detrimental to the success of the meeting.

Now, when I go to any meeting, or any conversation, my main priorities are to do my homework, and show up to the room with a clear head and an open mind. The truth is that regardless of how prepared we are, and how scripted and perfected the ‘would-be’ pitch is, we’ll never know what the person on the other side is thinking, feeling, or how they’re going to react to what it is we have to say.

After all, we’re only human. Humans are hard to predict.

Six months ago when I went into these meeting, I would do all I could to bring it back to my agenda and script. I felt that if I were to lose my place and fall off of the metaphorical queue cards, that I wouldn’t be able to deliver my pitch.

This is far from true.

Living life in the future, and in strict anticipation of what might happen clouds us from what will happen. There are too many variables to possibly consider, and regardless of the pitch we prepare, we will never be ready for whatever the other person has to throw at us.

So today when I walked in the meeting, yes, I had done my homework, but I was there to listen just as much as I was there to learn.

What I’ve discovered recently (and this may seem blatantly trivial) is that we are all people. We all have loved ones, all get sick, all get flat tires or stuck in transit, all have good an bad days, all get hungry, and all want the best for ourselves and our family. Catching someone at their best is incredibly difficult, and coming into the conversation ready to understand them and adapt to the situation is really, all we can do.

I walked into the meeting and saw that the person on the other side of the table was clearly under a little stress, and didn’t really want to be a part of the meeting. This called for a quick audible and an adjustment for the conversation. My goal was to get to the root of the problem so that I could relate, sympathize, and then get on the same level.

As I started to explore and gently poke, I found that in fact, there was a layoff in the organization. This person lost a peer that was a good friend, and didn’t really know how to handle it. This turned into a conversation about the economy, the difficult times that others were facing, and how alternative methods of downsizing could have perhaps saved the job.

Sure, we drifted off track but that meeting lead to another, which eventually ended up in an engagement with the company. This was about business, it was about relationships. This wasn’t about a sale, it was about understanding.

To make a shift like this from a meeting that was fully intended to be a sale, to more of a sympathetic, understanding conversation was all because of the ability to asses the situation real-time and make an adjustment that ultimately ended up in an adjustment in tone, content, and ask. Presence was the key.

Living in the future and letting the endless variables, would-be, could-be situations weighs on us. Being you, your truest you, and caring about the person on the other side of the table is true business, because business is bigger than sales.

Presence was the gift. I’m not taking it for granted any more.

Self Image and Confidence

A few years ago I was asked to stand in the eyes of the public. This event was for a few hundred people, and the first time I felt validated and empowered to share my story. But that wasn't the only feeling I had. My presentation was well practiced and perfect, and people were there and listening. They were ready. But I wasn't.

The thought of standing on a stage or asking for a promotion sent me into a panicked state of ‘I’m not good enough’. I was riddled with damaging thoughts that kept me at arms length from what I truly wanted and desired in my career. What I didn't realize is that it was who I am that made me what I am. All of me got me to where I was, not a figure of what I though I could look like.

And so I continuously thought "When I lose 10 pounds I will…apply for that job, ask for that promotion, deliver that talk, speak up in a meeting". This was anything but healthy.

The success of my career was dependant on the number on the scale. The number on the scale told me how worthy I was that day, it told me if I was worthy of asking for more out of life. My life was dependant on a sliding scale, a constant moving target. This drove me into a phase of stress, social-anxiety and lack of confidence. I held myself back from going for more, simply because I didn’t think I deserved it, yet.

Until one day, it dawned on me. I was letting career pass me by for fear of not being enough. I realized I had to move into where I wanted to be before feeling ready. By doing so I would develop the confidence. I was the only one standing in the way of achieving my own personal greatness.

I got to that stage not because of worry and concern, I got there because my knowledge, confidence, and who I was. I was accepted, valued, and trusted to take the next step; it was my job to take it.

We often talk about capacity, but not the capacity of our minds. For every second I was worrying about my figure, or how people took me at face-value, I could focus less on what was important: my message. My message is a story of not only what I know, but how I interpret and deliver it. I'm there because I'm supposed to be. I'm the most qualified person because of the hours dedicated and the passion expressed. 10 pounds, 5 pounds, or 2 pounds here or there didn't matter.

Moving forward, understand that we are where we are because of who we are, and we've taken each day and made the best of it. We deliver our message because we believe in it. If we believe in it, our audience will believe in us.

Careers to Consider

As long-time Alberta residents, we’ve become well acquainted with the energy industry through the endless barrage of stories focusing on our boom-and-bust cycles and our need to diversify. Indeed, the sector is a testament to ingenuity, and it is a Canadian strength just as it is an Albertan one. Not surprisingly, both the University of Alberta and University of Calgary each produce more oil executives than any other universities in North America, according to a recent study conducted by Dallas-based Pearson Partners International.

However, in focusing too narrowly on a single industry, Canadians – and young professionals in particular – run the risk of overlooking sectors with equally impressive long-career prospects. At our consultancy, we have become accustomed to seeing Canada’s great young talents enter traditional sectors: oil and gas, consulting, finance, law, government and accounting. Although these each come with unique advantages for young professionals, several other industries – forestry, manufacturing and agriculture – are also worth exploring. These sectors hold tremendous promise.

  • According to the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC, a past client of ours), Canada will require 60,000 new workers in the forest and pulp industry by 2020.
  • In Alberta, just 7.3 per cent of the agriculture work force is under the age of 35, based on a recent report published by the provincial Agriculture Minister’s Next Generation Advisory Council.
  • Canadian manufacturing is also suffering from a talent crisis: Although it has enjoyed a comeback of sorts in recent years, too few young Canadians are entering the sector, a challenge raised in the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters 2014 Management Issues Survey.

Each of these sectors is replete with opportunity, and waiting for hard-working, opportunistic and well-rounded Canadians to take them by storm. Young Canadians entering these industries will be offered many opportunities for early and consistent professional development.

In agriculture, for instance, GPS precision technologies and drones are revolutionizing how work is done. Urban agriculture is becoming a thriving industry, with young farmers able to manage their farms through mobile devices. With the value of the loonie down in recent months, forestry is thriving, with companies such as Vancouver-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. benefiting as a result. The Greenest Workforce Campaign, designed and implemented by FPAC, is working to engage young Canadians in the sector and demonstrate the long-term business prospects in Canada.

But managers in these sectors traditionally address work force issues and talent attraction only when problems become evident and can no longer be pushed to the side. Although operational efficiency is important in increasingly complex businesses involving global supply chains, the work force is transforming rapidly: In 2020, more than half of the Canadian work force will be made up of millennials (those currently between the ages of 20 and 35). This is the cohort that believes in business with purpose, where the most innovative companies are, in the words of Unilever chief executive officer Paul Polman, “moving from share value to shared values, where business sees itself as part of society, not separate from it.”

These three sectors are positioned to better engage talented young Canadians. Yet if these industries are to succeed and help drive Canada’s reputation as a global business power, then management must think more proactively about its next generation of leaders and managers.

In order for these sectors to be seen as destinations, company managers must position careers as professions – focused on knowledge, long-term prospects and thrilling opportunities, rather than simply on practical, hands-on work.

Without this, the most talented millennials will continue to pursue traditional careers – default options such as law, consulting and finance. The opportunity for change is clearly there, and Canada is primed to be a global leader in these sectors. It’s on management to fundamentally rethink its views on work, careers and recruitment in their respective sectors.

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