Silence and hope

I’ve been writing on at least a weekly basis for over ten years, only taking time off for holidays, yet last week I didn’t write. And this morning as I sat down again, the overwhelming desire was to stay silent again. Whilst I’m hardly the Boston Globe, it just feels like the world doesn’t need another opinion.

I can’t believe you’re writing about x whilst y is happening.

I can’t believe you’re not writing about x whilst y is happening.

In the UK especially, our rhetoric, or dialogue and debate has, over the last 5 years become increasingly one of polarised anger. That anger has rolled across multiple topics, all just, all deserving of focus, but increasingly expressed in outrage. Fuelled by our social media habits, surrounding ourselves with like minded views, blocking those that disagree.

There are of course many balanced views, those that seek to understand, those that seek to find the data and information, to explore concepts, to research the history, to think, reflect, ask questions, seek to explore the contrary opinion. But there are also those that seek to shout, to point fingers, to accuse, to remain indignant regardless.

And there is so little change. So very little change. Just more anger, more division, more separation, more sadness, less hope. I cannot help, for example, to think of all the energy, all the action and outpouring of emotion that went into the anti-Brexit campaign but to absolutely no avail. What if that had been used more constructively, more directly, more positively to change the lives of young people in our society? What could that have achieved? This isn’t a political point, I’m a fervent Remainer.

As I sit here, it feels we need less opinions and more positive action. Less debate, less anger, more intervention and ultimately more hope.

In the shoes of others

I have my two children at home with me at the moment. One is a 20 year old second year university student, the other turns 18 tomorrow and is/was in the final year of her A-levels. It is fair to say that both of their lives have been severely disrupted by the current situation. But they can’t agree on who has it worst.

Social comparison theory explains how we determine self worth by comparison to others. Those that we perceive to be better off than us and those that we perceive to be worse off. Whilst under most conditions we have the learnt ability to keep these things to our internal voice, under stress and pressure, the veil of social acceptability can sometimes slip.

That’s why my son thinks his lot is worse than his sister’s as he is dragged away from his home, his life and his friends. And she feels done to beyond compare, as her A levels have been snatched away from her.

In a similar way we can see this play out in the world of work. People who are at home bemoan the fact and long to be out and about and working. Those out at work long for the safety of the home. We point the fingers at football players and CEOs, whilst they talk about their tax and charitable contributions being greater than those of most.

Reactions like this are entirely normal, they’re part of our psychology. It doesn’t mean that the judgments we make are entirely right, or indeed entirely wrong. They are how we make sense of the world and allow us to find our sense of self.

“I am justified in my actions, because of xxx, whereas they are not because of xxx.”¬†

“They are a good human being because they do xxx, they are a bad human being because of xxx.”

But at the same time that these reactions are entirely human, they provide little benefit in a time that requires more social cohesion than at any point in my life. We can’t stop ourselves having these thoughts, but we can ask whether expressing them is truly helpful to the situation we are facing into, or is more about making us feel better about ourselves.

There will be time aplenty to assess the rights, the wrongs, the successes and the failures. We will all look back and ask ourselves what more we personally could have done. Until that time, we might be better stopping to think what it is like to walk in the shoes of others, rather than bemoan them for not walking in ours.

The best way out

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.

 

 

Start somewhere

Here’s a bet…

I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.

And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.

Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;

  • we don’t have permission
  • it’s complicated
  • we don’t have the time
  • they wouldn’t like it

All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.

As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.

Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.