As we age we must change

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.

 

We all have a dirty pair of pants

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.

 

You’re not here to make friends

The role of leader is not to seek to be popular, it is to serve in the best interest of stakeholders.  At different stages of your career, those stakeholders will change and evolve, but broadly that means your employees, customers, employers and society. It goes without saying that at times the interests of these different groups will present a tension. But frankly, that’s your job.

When I say this, the immediate reaction is to infer that I believe that the job of leaders is to be unpopular, that in some way I’m suggesting a nasty, brutal model of leadership. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply in order to lead well, you need to be prepared for people to not like you or your decisions. If you’re not, you will always shy away from a percentage of choices that could be helpful.

Backing yourself to make unpopular decisions and to lead through them to the other side is the very essence of leadership. In the most simple form, that’s why soldiers climbed out of the trenches, it is why explorers travelled the world, it is why star players are dropped before finals. The ability to make clear, decisive and difficult decisions.

The success of a leader isn’t how many people like them, it is how well they’re respected. I was reminiscing the other evening about a leader that I’d sadly had to remove from an organisation in the past. He was deeply liked and hugely popular, but from an impartial perspective massively ineffective. When he left the organisation there was a lot of emotion. A couple of years later team members voluntarily told me how angry they had been and how wrong they thought the decision was, but how much better things were now that he had gone.

Being a leader means sometimes we have to be unpopular, it means speaking out when it is inconvenient and acting when inaction would be easier. We must never conflate personal popularity with effectiveness or respect, we must be prepared to cause upset, not for the sake of it, but for the greater good.

We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to do the right thing.

How aware are you?

Let me ask you a simple question. How aware are you of what’s going on?

I mean, how really aware? What can you feel right now? What can you smell? Is it hot or cold? Can you recount everything that happened in the last five minutes? The people that went past you, the noises or changes in atmosphere? If I asked you where you were, how quickly would you be able to describe it?

Many of us will recognise the experience, whilst driving, of suddenly becoming aware of where we are and conscious that we cannot remember how we got there. Our hands are on the wheel, the road is in front of us, we are operating in the necessary way to perform the task at hand. But we aren’t present, we’re just following the flow.

Our workplaces are full of people doing the same, perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself? Performing task but without being truly in the moment, getting the job done but without really understanding how or why. Getting from a to b, or 9 to 5. And when someone asks you what you’ve been up to, you have to pause and think.

When we talk about performance, it starts with consciousness.  Consciousness raises us beyond the completion of activity into contribution and delivery. It expands us beyond the immediate circumstances and unearths previously unseen opportunities. It unlocks in us the ability to connect on multiple levels and in multiple ways, even with the most seemingly mundane of task.

In turn, when we open ourselves to the possibilities that exist in people, in our organisations and in life, when we can experience our situation with simple curiosity and avoid the obfuscation of life’s unnecessary complexity. When we can find clarity and focus when we can process the multiple conflicting views and points of view. When we can see, hear, feel and allow our heart and head to inform us.

If we can do this then we can truly lead, ourselves, our teams and our organisations, not just follow the tracks. ¬†And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the “right here, right now”, taking pleasure in the journey and not just the goal.