I’ve had a paperweight on my desk for about the last 30 years. It contains a quote, I believe, from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through”. The idea of having a paperweight in this day and age may seem somewhat superfluous, but the wisdom is something that endures beyond its physical home.
When things change, when we are under pressure, anxious, when we struggle to understand which way is up and which is down, we can understandably lose momentum. Many of us in organisations undergoing physical or economic turmoil will be tempted to think, “what’s the point?”. At the same time there are students all over the country who have had their lives thrown up in the air and been served a mixed diet of uncertainty and confusion.
In these circumstances, in these moments. It is tempting to stop. Inaction, unless a conscious and considered choice, is rarely the answer. It seldom makes us feel better nor does it help others around us. Our psyche, our health and wellbeing requires us to feel that we are progressing, even when it feels almost impossible to do so.
The best way out, is alway through. It starts with small steps, slow, steady steps. Placing one foot in front of the other and starting to move. We cannot predict the future, we cannot control the uncontrollables, that was the case six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. It is the same today.
Whatever challenge you’re facing into, whatever uncertainty has been thrown in your way. There is only one direction that you can travel. Forward. And I promise that when you do, it will see you out and through.
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.
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.