I was talking last week to someone about the advice that I wished I’d had as a younger professional, the things that I’ve learnt over the years that if I’d had a mentor or advisor would have been really helpful counsel. Would I have acted on it? Who knows, I would probably have been too head strong to listen. I guess when you look back with hindsight and experience, things seem so much simpler than they feel in the moment.
Should they prove any use to anyone else, here’s the advice I would have given myself:
- Confidence isn’t competence – You’ll come across people in the workplace who have (or display) a confidence that can be overwhelming. They tend to rise faster, but not necessarily further. Confident delivery will only get you so far, don’t confuse it with competence. Don’t be put off by those around you that shimmer with this veneer.
- Curiosity is king – Be inquisitive, seek to learn, ask questions and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. You’ll be surprised at how many meetings I sit in where people (including myself) nod and opine without really understanding the detail. Don’t be afraid to ask as you learn, you’ll be amazed how much people will share.
- Always have a plan – No matter how long you’re in a job or role, you always need to have a plan. What do you want to get out of the role? How long are you staying for? What is the next step and when are you going to take it? Nobody else will be managing your career, so make sure you are all over it every day.
- Learn to suck it up – As you progress your career, you’ll encounter situations and people who make you want to scream. Learning how to navigate these situations and managing these people will serve you well. See it as a challenge, see it as a project, whatever it takes to make sure you learn and will never repeat.
- Just say yes – Everyone is busy, everyone is up to the eyes. But saying yes to opportunity might just give you the inside track to something more exciting. Every bone in your body will want you to lower your head and avoid eye contact, but the reality is that as you move up, you need to stand out.
- Don’t steal the limelight – Similar to the confident ones, you’ll meet people who are brilliantly adept at being at the right place at the right time to claim success – often yours. Don’t be tempted to follow their example, they’ll get caught out soon enough. Delivery is key, so focus on making sure you’re doing the hard yards.
- Have fun – As well as this being your career, this is also your life. And you won’t get these years back. So make sure you’re enjoying yourself, having fun and sweating the right stuff. For most of us, nobody dies if we get things wrong. So taking life with a pinch of salt and learning to enjoy the ride is key.
I looked with disgust at a news story last week that showed photos of a very successful UK business man, effectively pawing a young female employee. I’ve written before about power and the interface with inappropriate behaviour and actions. We cannot turn a blind eye and continue to suggest that these actions are a strange aberration.
If we want “good work” then how about starting with facing up to harassment and discrimination? How about facing into the fact that too many people go into work every day with a sense of dread? How about being honest that we have people in business, in society that are taken advantage of others, and we know?
If HR wants to stand for something, how about standing for workplaces free of inappropriate behaviour, free of harassment and free of intimidation. How about standing for something better.
That doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. We cannot be all seeing, all knowing, omnipotent superheroes. But there is a long and significant continuum that reaches from deity, to turning a blind eye. And maybe we should be a little bit more focussed on shifting our performance along that line.
As I’ve said before, when these actions take place, somebody knows. And worse than that, often numerous people know. And even worse, often HR departments know. And if we know and we fail to act, we betray our organisations and our profession.
What if we came together and said. “no more”? That as a profession we would no longer work for, or in, organisations that failed to tackle underlying issues with harassment or constant inappropriate behaviour. That we would raise the issues internally and if they weren’t properly handled, externally. That we would stand for something bigger and better than just doing our jobs.
What if we were really about, trying to make work better for everyone?
Every day is full of a myriad of choices, the majority of these are small and seemingly meaningless. Whether you hold open the door for someone that’s coming toward you, or put your hand in your pocket for the person sat on the pavement on your way into work. But in cumulation, these actions, these micro choices are the things that define who you are and how you present.
Our choices and our actions define us.
And likewise in organisations, the myriad of small things also define who we are. We can make statements about what we want to be, or what we think we are. We can create vision and values models that provide us with a semblance of reassurance, but ultimately how we act is how we are, not what we believe.
As a simple case in point, I was looking at the Sunday Times, Best Companies the other day and to my surprise towards the top is a company that I know a little about. If I were to share with you some of the practices that have taken place, the way in which employees have been treated, you would – like me – question how they managed to remain operational never mind receiving accolades. But the badge must mean that they’re great…
Our responsibility as leaders of organisations, as leaders of people is to bring the highest ethical standards into our work. We have a responsibility that should weigh heavily on our shoulders beyond the desire for acclaim. We need to act with the highest levels of honesty and integrity, because it is the right thing to do, not because it will be recognised.
Ultimately we are all responsible for our own choices and actions, there is no mitigation, no explanation. We are, not how we think, but how we act.