How do you engage?

As I leave Chicago on the tail end of a three day conference, I find myself reflecting on the speakers’ key takeaways and actionable items to embrace in my own practice. Similarly to conferences before, my mind is full of new ideas, different strategies, and the challenges that accompany the struggle of applying these concepts for myself.

This particular conference, a summit of financial professionals, was filled with thought provoking break out sessions, renowned speakers, amazing new technology, collaborative idea exchanges, and memorable entertainment. Downtown Chicago served as a beautiful backdrop for the event, the tulips blooming in the park and awakening trees set the stage for the event after a harsh Midwestern winter.

The theme of the conference, “Engage,” can mean many different things. The traditional definition taken from Webster’s Dictionary says that the verb “engage” is “to get and keep (someone’s attention, interest, etc.).” The contextual definition for a community of financial service professionals can be interpreted as how you interact with your clients, particularly in the lightening pace of information flow and technology that can be overwhelming to their clients.

The following are a few highlights from the conference:

The Power of Experience:

Mavis Staples, the rhythm and blues/gospel singing legend provided a memorable highlight for me through her incredible performance. At 75 years old, she shares her passion, talent, and love of blues with every note she delivered at Buddy Guy’s Legends, a premier blues club just steps away from our hotel. As a civil rights advocate in the 60’s, her performance served as an education for each member of the audience. The wisdom that she shared could only have been gained throughout her lifetime of experience and the roads that she has traveled. Thank you Mavis.

The Power of the Network:

Robert Metcalfe, the co-inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com, and formulator of Metcalfe’s Law, also observed the characteristics of network effects. To paraphrase Metcalfe’s Law: the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants. The powerful analogy discussed at the conference centered upon how J.J. Hill, a self made railroad baron operating in the 1800’s, used the power of his network participants; the mills, distilleries, meat packers, lumberyards, iron smelters, and others to expand his railroad footprint beyond the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This feat was considered impossible until accomplished by Hill, to which he said, “The most fortunate of individuals have in their life one great adventure—this railroad has been mine.”

The Power of Working as a Team:

Legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach “K”) of the Duke University Men’s Basketball Team and Team USA Men’s Basketball, expounded on the five core standards (Communication, Trust, Respect, Care, and Pride) that he instills in every team that he works with. As he held up his hand, he stated that together, each of these standards which represent one finger, are more powerful as one fist. Coach K shared that “you don’t always win, but you always prepare to win,” as well as, “don’t worry about losing, be worthy of winning.”

As I walked to the train on my way to the airport, I began to think about what “Engage” meant to me and how the comments and experiences of this three day conference had impacted me. Walking down the sidewalk toward the train station, I happened to pass a homeless man taking his shirt off to enjoy the beautiful Chicago sunshine. He was neatly folding the shirt next to him along with a few other pieces of clothing. The man was not begging for money or trying to attract attention, he was simply minding his own business. I thought for a moment that I should stop and offer this man the new tee shirt I had been given at the conference with the word “Engage” boldly printed across it.

Selfishly, I didn’t stop, but hesitated as I passed by him. Would it have been an inconvenience to unzip my rolling luggage on the sidewalk to dig out the conference tee shirt? No. Would the extra few minutes have forced me to take the next train therefore jeopardizing my arrival time for my flight? Probably not. I continued past him anyhow.

As I looked back from the elevated train platform, I could see the man in the distance simply enjoying the warmth of the sun just the same as when I passed by him earlier. I was feeling guilty that I didn’t “engage” with him. As I took my seat on the train, I thought about that man and my failure to take a moment to engage with him. What I didn’t realize was that he had actually engaged with me. No, I didn’t need another conference tee shirt for my vast collection, but this man, and others like him, could. He engaged me because of his situation and made an impact on me.

The next day after returning home, I took the conference shirt, and several dozen like it with various industry sponsored logos embroidered or printed on them along with bags of other clothing to a donation center.

Maybe, in a small way, the hard times that Mavis sang about, the caring and emphasis on the power of a team that Coach K taught, and the understanding of the power of our network from Metcalfe’s Law can enable us to engage in ways that we never dreamed possible. What does engage mean to you?