In 2014, I was presented with an opportunity to apply for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps. It was an amazing program that selected 100 people each quarter to spend 6 weeks (pulled from your job) in a third world country to leverage IBM’s technology to build infrastructure. One of the requirements was to answer three questions with a 300 word response. Below are the questions and my responses.
1.) Please explain on both a professional and personal level, why you are interested in participating in the Corporate Service Corps.
I have had the good fortune to be presented with many opportunities through what I call my “Life Trinity”. I define the three elements of this Trinity to be circumstances, fortitude, and luck. The circumstances are those aspects that came with where I was born, who brought me into this world and the surroundings that ultimately shaped and paved a solid foundation. It was this foundation that allowed me to employ the fortitude to make things happen and build an incredible portfolio of experiences and create a very comfortable life. Having the foundation and the experiences would not have been so powerful had it not been encapsulated with a great deal of luck. I have had my health, a lot of love, economic stability and a very rewarding career --- without many setbacks or tragic life events.
My appreciation for this good fortune has always instilled a desire to give back --- pay it forward as it were. I find myself paying it forward in the way I live my life and treat others, but there is a need within me to provide more formal and committed contributions back to the world. I feel that I now have both the life and work experiences that provide me with the perspective and tools to share and support others who may not have been provided with the fortunes of a strong Life Trinity. From my perspective, it seems very clear that one needs to bring both emotional and practical motivators and tools to the stage to give back in a powerful way. I am at that place where I have both to give, and feel that the Corporate Service Corps would be a great channel to apply my tools and desire to give back. While there can be many challenges working for a large organization like IBM, the Service Corps is a great example of the incredible opportunities that a company with our scale can offer.
2.) Tell us about a time when you effectively managed a difficult situation which included uncertainty or significant change.
Fifteen years into my career, I realized I needed to open myself up and explore new possibilities with my professional direction. I made the difficult decision to leave IBM, along with the comforts of a known career path and salary.
Not knowing my next steps, I started exploring through extensive adventure travel in Southeast Asia and by taking classes in macrobiotic cooking, agriculture, and sustainable living (all areas of interest to me). Through my travels and coursework, I realized I had a strong pull and appreciation for programs and environments that instill and support community. During that time, I became aware of a property on Cape Cod that consisted of 10 cottages from the 1920’s on 3 acres, that had unfortunately seen it’s better days. When I looked at the property, I knew immediately that it would be part of my life script. I put together a comprehensive business plan, convinced some very hesitant banks and skeptical friends to invest, and headed into what became a huge renovation project, hours of unpaid labor and many moments of feeling like I was way out of my comfort zone and beyond my capabilities. Despite those moments of question, I eventually created a retreat center that was all about generating community and human connection. In 4 years, I was able to increase revenue by 450% and ultimately create a thriving and unique business.
While I ended up selling the business and moving back into the corporate world, I returned a very different person. It taught me how important it is to listen to your instincts, but more importantly to trust those instincts. Something was telling me to open myself up to new possibilities, and had I not listened to that voice, I would have left behind incredibly rich experiences and countless life lessons.
3.) When working in a team, unofficial roles naturally develop. What unofficial role have you typically played on your team (i.e., mediator, implementor, leader, etc.)? How has the team benefited from your role?
I feel my greatest gift is the ability to relate and connect with many types of people. From a very young age, I have always felt that I never fit in a “category” and appreciated relationships with people from all walks of life. At this stage in life, I am very appreciative of my desire seek out and ability to establish relationships with a diverse range of people. With this skill, I tend to serve in a role of “aligner”. Through my many initiatives and projects, I have seen how important getting alignment and consensus can be to ensure success and impact. This seems to be more important as the organizational and geographic boundaries continue to blur in today’s business and social environment. Even if we can’t speak each other’s literal language, we need to be able to align around what we all share --- to be heard, to be respected, and to have our differences appreciated.
Along with my ability to align teams, I feel like my strongest skill is project management. It is a skill that tends to put me into more of an implementor role. This is a skill that has served me well in most of my endeavors over the past 30 years, and I continually find that it is very transferable to many different environments and challenges, both personally and professionally. As a strong project manager, it is important to be aware of all the line items, deadlines, and interdependencies, but the most critical component to success is having the team aligned and executing against the plan. Projects always become much bigger than any single person and is fulfilling to see a team come together and feel the success of a consolidated effort. As the project leader, it is fulfilling to know your guidance and direction contributed to bringing the team together and ultimately driving the group success.