Give a man a fish

It was many years ago, probably around 2002, that I was introduce to Fish! and if I’m absolutely honest, I was hugely sceptical. I think it was the giant cuddly toy fish and other paraphernalia that accompanied the book that put me off. In those days, we didn’t have video on demand, or indeed a widespread functioning internet so everything was accompanied by a physical prop or tool. But 20 years later, the main lessons still stick with me and form a central part of my personal philosophy towards work.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, there are four main tenets – Be There, Play, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude. You can read a bit more about them via the link at the top of the post, or by a simple Google search, but the one I want to talk about is the last of the four, choosing your attitude.

As a leader you will, time and time again, come across someone who is stuck, a victim of their circumstances and who will take every opportunity to share their role as malcontent with anyone who will give them the time to do so. They’re the one in the team meeting who waits until everyone is excited about something, before bringing them all down. They are the one who has seen everything fail before, so knows it will this time too.

I’m the first to highlight that there are workplaces practices that are terrible and just for absolute clarity, I’m not talking about situations where people are bullied, harassed, discriminated against or victimised. We can all agree that these situations are unacceptable and never the fault of the individual.

I’m talking about those colleagues where, at the back of your head, you’ll be thinking, “if this is so terrible, why don’t you just leave?” We will all have encountered someone like this, we may even have been in that space ourselves, waiting for a meeting to end and then complaining to our colleagues in quiet corridor conversations, or via private WhatsApp groups.

Perhaps now, given everything we’ve been through, recognising we can choose our attitude is one of the most caring gifts we can give to ourselves and to others. With so much adversity all around us, coming into work and choosing to complain, be negative, to hate what we do just adds to the external pressures on our mental wellbeing and those around us.

We cannot choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, no matter what our role or seniority, there will always be external factors that we can’t control. Be we absolutely can choose the attitude with which we turn up everyday and how we are with ourselves and with those around us. We will all have experienced the benefit of working with someone who is positive and can-do, even in the toughest times, and we will also have experienced working with someone who we know will find problems and fault, but without helping to find improvements or solutions. Whilst we know the effect this has on us, I wonder whether we always stop to reflect which role we are playing for others?