This year at SAP TechEd Las Vegas, I had the honor of being a panelist for an ASUG Leadership 2.0 lunch panel. If you’re not familiar with the ASUG L2dot0 initiative, it is meant to go beyond the technical aspects of SAP, and help members develop leadership skills as well.
The topic for this event was “The Power of mentors” (note the lowercase ‘m’ since we were talking about mentors in general, and not specifically about SAP Mentors). Our discussion was centered around how involving yourself in a community is good for everyone.
I was also honored to be on the panel with my friend, mentor, and fellow SAP Mentor Jon Reed. The two of us made up the entire panel, so we both had a lot of time to discuss our perspectives. Jon always impresses me with his ability to think strategically, and get to the meaningful point of the ‘big picture’.
So if you missed the panel, from my perspective, here were the highlights of the discussion:
- Involvement in a community, such as ASUG or SCN, does not need to dominate your schedule. If you have an hour to spend each week, someone will benefit from your contribution.
- When you participate in a community like ASUG or SCN, you get connected with other people who are just like you. It’s like Match.com for techies, only better. When you connect with other people who are like you, and do what you do, magic starts to happen. You learn from one another, and everyone is better for the relationship.
- Volunteering time to a community has value. Many people don’t factor in the value that their time has, and therefore have a hard time justifying participation. Volunteering has value to the community. Someone, somewhere needs that bit of information you have to share. Volunteering has benefit to you. You’re helping to build the collective, community knowledge with your insights and your time. Your content is saving someone time and money somewhere in the world.
- Many people feel they aren’t ‘qualified’ to participate. My challenge was to start with the forums. Spend an hour a week in the forums, and answer any question you know the answer to. Chances are, you’ll find a couple you know, and you’ll surprise yourself.
- My friend, mentor, and fellow SAP Mentor Graham Robinson was in the audience, and Jon had him get up and talk about the “Multiplier Effect“, which was just magic. By participating in a community, you gain a voice, and that voice gets repeated, echoed, and multiplied across the community. It becomes a strong voice, and difficult to ignore. Thanks, Graham for sharing your insight with the group.
- Mark Finnern, SAP Mentor Herder, and the inventor of the SAP Mentor Program also stood up and shared some ideas with the group about “Culture Jamming“. Mark is always inspiring to listen to with his visionary perspective. You can change things around you by your ideas, and by surrounding yourself with enthusiastic, positive people. While SAP Mentors are very different in terms of profession, location, and expertise, but are alike in one thing that binds us together, and that is passion for community. We share, therefore we are.
- Along the lines of what Graham was saying with the Multiplier Effect, volunteering and sharing with a community can be good for your career. As you build a following, it tends to be more meaningful that a list of followers on Twitter or a bunch of ‘Likes’ on Facebook. These are people that follow your content because they can learn from it, and continue to learn from it. As you build your content (forum posts, blogs, wiki pages) over time, you will get noticed, often times in very positive ways.
- Jon Reed had a brilliant insight. In all professional positions today, especially in technology, it is no longer okay to just ‘coast’. Either you are continuing to learn on a daily basis, or you are falling behind. With companies continuing to tighten their belts, employees who are falling behind really aren’t an option.
- On the topic of having time to volunteer or contribute, I quoted a former manager of mine. “You never HAVE time for anything. You MAKE time for things that are important to you”.
- I mentioned at one point that I was up there on stage as a member of the panel because I was a volunteer. Nearly everything I have learned about my SAP specialty, I learned from the community. Participating in ASUG and SCN is a way for me to ‘pay it forward’ to those who are now where I was a few years ago. And the beauty of it is, I haven’t stopped learning myself.
- I was asked for closing comments to wrap up the discussion, and only one thing sat in my mind. I said that I am a better person because I am associated with these people, as I pointed around the room. This community has made me a better person, and hardly have words to describe the personal and professional satisfaction I feel at being a part of it, and by being here with all of you.
Let me echo my challenge to this audience as I said it to the panel audience. Take just 1 hour a week, and find a topic area that interests you and engage in it. Whether that is commenting on an interesting blog to start a discussion, or answering a question in a forum. Just one hour. Not only will someone else out there in the community benefit from your insight, but you will benefit from having made a difference.