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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Professional Influences

Only part of my job actually involves the act of "teaching"; in fact, if you were to break down a typically average period of time it would look something like this:

20% Actually teaching people how to do (or about) things
50% Leading my staff (coaching, solving problems, etc.)
25% Working on my own projects
05% Personal development stuff (reading, researching, etc.)

Now this isn't intended to be anything approaching a time-study, but is more just top-o-my head best guess.  

Anyway, of the stuff listed above, the part that takes the most energy for me, as a flaming introvert, is the teaching part.  While that part of the job only takes up about 20% of time time, it probably takes about 80% of my mental energy.  And for the record, I think I do it well.  If you know me, being my own worst critic, you'd know that the phrase "I think I do it well" is tantamount to high praise to give myself.  I also get generally good feedback from my audience members.

Speaking of feedback, I received an interesting bit of feedback after concluding a class on our firm's "Business Structure, Products & Services" this past week.  The feedback?  Well it was, and I quote:

List one Strength of the class:  "Steve's Personality"

I thought that was a gas.  I told a friend of mine something along the lines of "and all the while I didn't think I had one".  That was tongue-in-cheek, as I know I have a personality.  Somewhere.  In fact, I may have several laying around.

So how did I learn to do this part of my job?  Well I probably started to learn some of these skills back in high school, when I would act in school plays.  It was a way for someone who was painfully shy to be someone else for a period of time.  Seriously, I kid you not...acting was this outlet that gave me permission to do all the things I was mostly afraid to do in the real world...including talking to people (audience members) I didn't know.  The "real" Steve would never do that sort of thing.

Flash forward to my present employer, and early on in my career I would conduct enrollment meetings for employees who wanted to (or were being required to) participate in their employer-sponsored retirement plan.  That was just an extension of high school acting.  I would be quite and unassuming up until the point where the meeting would begin and then it was "zap", super extrovert.  After the session I would thank everyone for attending (or being forced to attend), answer a few questions and then take the next hour or so (if I had the time between sessions) to decompress.

It was that experience that helped me get my current job.  Well that and the fact that I had the opportunity meet the leader of the learning team in previous assignments.  That person, Jean M. (I'll save her the embarrassment) was one of those one in a thousand people who you work for that actually gets what you are about.  Jean saw talents in me that I didn't believe I had, which made getting my present job a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I learned quite a bit from Jean over the years.  What did Jean teach me?  Well the total list is too long to actually detail here, but I can point to two big things:

  1. Introverted Trainers...Jean, like me, is a flaming introvert.  She is also one of the best classroom facilitators I have ever seen in action.  If Jean could be such an extrovert in the classroom, then so could I.
  2. Be In Command...Jean was always in command of the audience.  When you were in class with Jean, your eyes were glued to her.  She was funny but serious at the same time.  She owned the classroom space.
I've tried to share these lessons with my own staff over the years, particularly #2.  If you do this kind of thing for a living, you have to own the classroom space when you are in front of the room.  Oh, and it doesn't matter who is in the audience.  I've conducted sessions for everyone from new hires to senior leaders.  My tact is always the same:  it's my classroom and during my class I own the space.

Another influence?  Well this one is kind of difficult to believe but it's true:  Jimmy Swaggart.  I would watch Jimmy Swaggart's show every Sunday, religiously (pun intended).  Being a good Catholic I didn't "buy" his message necessarily, but I was always enthralled by his style.  Watch him preach if you don't believe me.  Listen to his inflection.  See what he does with his hands (holding a Bible, for example) when he preaches.  Feel the emotion he puts into his sermons.  Watch how he prances about.  It's really incredible.  I know others probably have that act down just as well, but Swaggart is the man.  When I am really into a class I can feel myself channeling a little Jimmy Swaggart in that I'll start using my hands more, I'll go from practically yelling down to the softest of voices (just to really make a point) and I'll generally just start prancing among the people in attendance.

You simply can't make this stuff up.

Coda...Jean M. retired a few years ago, but I still stay in touch with her.  Why?  See above:  it's not very often you get to work with someone who really "gets" you.  She is still teaching me things.  As for Jimmy Swaggart, well I'd love to attend one of his revivals, although I don't see that happening in 80% Catholic NEPA any time soon.  That's a shame, as the man is a master of his craft. Watching him speak is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball...he's that good.


Anonymous said...

So you are an introvert are you?

Welcome to the club! We are few!

I am an extreme ISTJ on the Myers Briggs, and though I have never taken the DISC assessment, my fellow cohorts peg me as an extreme D.

Father Dave Bechtel

Stephen Albert said...

Father Bechtel...I am an extreme introvert. I've scored a perfect 30 on MBTI every time I've taken it. Sometimes I think my ideal job would be "hermit".

By the way there is a great article on introversion in the October edition of Psychology Today. Well worth reading.

- Steve

J Curtis said...

Swaggart is cousins with both Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis so he has a bit of showmanship in him. I used to like him as a youngster when he was on top of his game. His fall was ugly though.

Stephen Albert said... are absolutely right. The Swaggart that impressed me was before the whole "whore in the motel room" stuff. Back in the day the guy was untouchable. Now it's kind of hard to take him seriously...although you still see some of the old Jimmy every once in a while. His son, Donnie, inherited none of the family talent.