I regularly meet people with a clear narrative on their unhappiness in their organisation. It isn’t that I attract it, at least I don’t think so, I just consider it a facet of the job; when you spend your life working with people you can expect to hear the good, the bad and the indifferent.
Whilst the situation, the participants and the timing of the narratives are different, the organisations, the villain, the circumstance all change, there is one common factor that links them all together. The victim is the narrator.
Life has a habit of throwing us curve balls, things don’t always proceed in the way that we would like, or indeed envisage. Sometimes circumstances run amok with the best laid plans that we have made. Our ability to move on from this determines both our success and our happiness.
I’m no life coach, so I’ll stick to the events that take place at work and offer you three options if you’re unhappy with something that has happened in the past that still holds you back;
- leave and go somewhere else,
- find a way to accept it,
- remain unhappy at your own cost.
It really is that simple.
Ultimately, you are singularly responsible for your happiness and whilst you can’t control the things that happen, the promotion missed, the pay rise promised or the reporting change, you can control your response to it and your actions thereafter. Life is full of ups and downs, dwelling on the low points has no material impact on anyone else, it just holds you back.
Which, by all accounts, is a pretty dumb thing to do.
Most of us will spend most of our lives in work. We will enter in our late teens or early twenties and leave when we are in our sixties or seventies (unless we are very lucky). For the sake of argument, lets call it 45 years, the probable majority of our lives.
During that time we will experience so many different things in our lives; love, bereavement, birth, separation, happiness and sadness. Who we are and how we see life will change. In each era of our lives we become someone slightly different, moulded by our experiences.
Yet at work so often I see people who remain broadly the same, wired into the system and unable to change their self image or behaviours, whilst the lens in which the world views them moves on with age. The cheeky chappy at 21 becomes the lecherous man at 52, the rebellious upstart becomes the unhelpful detractor, the interesting maverick into the permanently frustrated and angry stuck colleague.
Further proof comes from the way in which we describe ourselves, talking first about the job title and then the organisation and rarely if ever about the informal role and behaviours that we contribute. We talk about what we are not who we are and we spend little time thinking about who we should and could be.
If our organisations are social systems, then our role in those systems needs to change as we do, we need to bring different things and contribute in a different way for the ongoing success of the system. Where we were challenging, we leave that to others and learn to focus on support. Where we were rebellious, we can help others understand what we learnt.
We can all take a moment to think about the person that we were when we started work and who we have become. Celebrate the change and embrace our new roles in the new stage of our lives, seeking not to hang on to the vestiges of the past, but grabbing boldly with both hands the opportunity that awaits.
I’m going to make a case for doing nothing. It is one of the most underrated tools available to leaders and yet one of the most underused.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that in our organisations we are obsessed with doing stuff, in most cases regardless of data, evidence or meaningful evaluation. We prefer to be active regardless of whether there is genuine value to the activity, extending this to finding means of justifying our activity with reports, and spurious data points.
There’s a value to doing less that we underestimate. Sometimes things will settle and sort themselves without our interventions. In fact they’ll often thrive quicker if left alone than when targeted with multiple initiatives.
Doing nothing is a choice, it’s an activity in itself, but one that in our current management lexicon has been tainted as somehow being weak and ineffective. When in fact sometime it takes greater bravery and confidence to do nothing, than it does to burst into action.
Less is more. Slow can be the quickest route. And choosing to do nothing can be the most effective action you will ever take.
One thing that strikes me about the current election campaign is that Brexit has been kicked under the bed like a dirty pair of pants. Their existence won’t change because of the lack of visibility and at some point they’re going to have to get hoiked out and dealt with by some unfortunate soul.
The tough, the difficult to manage, the hard to explain and the unpalatable so often get moved out of sight. We push them away in our organisations, in our teams and in our lives because, quite frankly, they’re tough. Why would we address things that by their nature are divisive and difficult, when instead we can focus on the things that have higher levels of agreement and approval (in the case of the current campaigning, who can spend more on public services).
Good organisations, good teams find a way of addressing these topics. They find a way to bring people together to discuss the things that risk causing division and help to find a way forward. Good leaders never lose sight of the topics, but know that the timing and right approach are key. They are brave in addressing the hardest topics, but achieve it through creating an environment of safety.
Recalculating the data never really makes the problem go away, presenting shiny new opportunities cannot erase the underlying issues. They may provide brief respite, but they’re not a cure. The only way out is through and that means a slow and sometimes difficult exploration of the hardest and most sensitive topics. Nothing goes away when you close your eyes.
Whether it is a long standing performance issue in a team, a slow but unavoidable decline in revenue or membership numbers, a loss of market share or even an organisational culture or behaviour that is causing damage. None of these issues go away by ignoring or avoiding them, they linger in the darkness, their existence remaining entirely whole.
We all have a dirty pair of pants, the measure of our success is whether we’re willing to address that.