It is as inevitable as night follows day, spring follows winter and England bore you at rugby that at some point in your career you’ll screw up. Most of us will push ourselves, try different things, take on new and different challenges and the result of that is that at some point something important will go wrong. And that, is absolutely ok.
Of course, it doesn’t feel it at the time and most of us will have experienced the physiological reaction as well as the emotional rollercoaster that comes with realising that you’ve done something wrong – or not done something at all! The large part of my career is littered with “oh sh*t” moments and I know from talking to others that I’m not alone. As, I say it is just the way that it is.
Whilst we might not have a choice about whether things go wrong or not, how we react when they do is the thing that can set us apart. And that starts with owning it and taking responsibility. It is amazing how reassuring and even disarming it is when someone says, “yep, I know that’s not right and that’s down to me”. We can probably all think about a situation when the opposite has occurred and someone has started to explain exactly why it isn’t their fault, “the thing is…”. And of course the more senior you get, the less opportunity there is to deflect responsibility.
Next comes a willingness to make things better or take steps to rectify the issue. Sometimes you won’t know how to sort it out and that’s ok too. A simple, “what can I do to help make this better?”. And whilst it might be seen as being neanderthal by some, that might mean pulling an extra shift, staying late, putting other stuff on hold. Showing you’re willing to take the pain and consequences goes a long way to showing your colleagues and your boss that you really mean what you say.
And finally there’s the value of showing that you want to learn and reflect on why things went wrong and how you could handle the situation differently in the future. To be honest, the right time for that isn’t in the heat of the moment, but a few days afterwards when the dust has settled. Taking a moment for self reflection and seeking feedback from others, “What would I do differently next time?”
1) Learn in times of adversity – when things are tough you’re forced to look at life with a level of granularity and forensic inspection that can be absent in normal or easier times. Understanding the insight you gain, but not dwelling on it, is key
2) Walk forward with kindness – in the current climate it feels easier to polarise, to hate and to divide. Walking forward with kindness is a simple way we can all shed a little light n the world and bring small actions together to drive change.
3) Action is everything – in the grand scheme of things, we have so little time. Action is everything and defines who and what we are. We can talk and mull and ponder, we can write and reflect and rework. But only the doing actually matters.
4) Live in the gaps – busy lives are full of stuff, of competing demands. They’re noisy and pressured and complicated and oppressive. Live in the silence and gaps that emerge between. Indulge in the moments of nothingness.
5) Do over (and over) – there is no start, no middle, no end. Just a series of iterations and circles. Don’t be afraid to do again, to try, to repeat, to renew and revise. There is no path to take a wrong turn from, just a simple horizon to head for.
Have a good Christmas break and see you in the New Year.
Your external network is everything – Being at the top of any structure can be a pretty lonely place – ask any CEO. You can’t go bitching and moaning to your boss, that’s not good karma, you can’t confide certain things to your team. So where do you go? That’s where having a good external network – people who are doing similar roles, facing similar challenges is critical.
You set the mood – From the moment you walk in the building, to the moment you leave you’re setting the tone. In your language, your behaviour, your pace and energy. You will receive back pretty much what you give out. If you’re having a bad day, keep it behind closed doors and do your best not to let it show. If it’s a bad week, it is probably time to take a holiday.
You have to trust your instincts – Every leader brings something of themselves into their team. Their personality, their experience, their style and their judgment. Most decisions, most questions don’t have a binary right or wrong answer – there are multiple right answers. Bringing your instinct as well as your intelligence defines your agenda and outcomes in a unique and personal way.
You can’t know everything – Or perhaps even half of things. One of the most important things to know is that the more you progress, the less (in percentage terms) of your range of responsibilities you will really know. Which means you need to have people around you who do. That’s their job and yours is something else. Second guessing them is never going to end successfully for either party.
You always have time to chat – Rushing around looking busy is not cool because everyone is busy. Life is not a busyness contest, it will win you no prizes. Be generous with your time, value the power of simple conversation, a quick hello or checking in on how someone is. If you’ve been through a day without genuinely inquiring after someone or stopping to pass the time, then you’re not doing a leadership role.
I was asked last week, what advice I would have given myself at the beginning of my career. After a little bit of reflection, I think it would go a little like this.
- Reward yourself
There are a number of specialisms that you can often move in to. It is very easy early on to be lured into resourcing or learning or employment relations. But if you want to make it to the top of your profession, the one you really need to get your head around is compensation and reward. That’s the area that really requires your attention, thought and understanding.
- Brands don’t matter
The best jobs aren’t always with the best known companies. It is very easy to be attracted by the thought of working for the bigger brand names, the ones that will be familiar to your friends and family, but the best opportunities will often lie elsewhere. Rather than looking at the logo on the add, look at the reviews of the company, think about the experience that you want to develop.
- Titles mean nothing
When I started my career, job titles were pretty standard across companies and between teams. There were always a few areas of overlap, but it was pretty linear. Very quickly things started to change and it all got a whole lot messier. Job titles mean almost nothing. You can be the CEO of a business of one, or a Manager of hundreds of people. Think content, think scope, don’t think business card.
- Move around
You will learn more by changing industries than you will ever anticipate. Explore the opportunities to go elsewhere, learn from different cultures, different models, different sectors. Show you can be successful in any environment and adapt your practice. There are assumptions made that industry experience is a necessity, it isn’t, that’s just a lazy lie.
- Go global
Our workplaces, our organisations and our workforces are increasingly international. And whilst people have broadly the same constitution whether you might be in the world, the way in which they interact, the way in which they consider issues and they way in which they work together will be different. Getting experience of this doesn’t mean jumping on a plane every week, instead think about how you gain good international exposure.
- Have fun
Nobody is going to die from the work you do. Well, not normally. So don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing, have fun, be playful, be light-hearted and remember that the more positivity you exude the more you will get back. People spend more time than they should at work and helping them to enjoy that experience is part of your job too. Don’t think discretionary effort, think discretionary enjoyment.
- Don’t dig in
Don’t go in to the trenches when you think you’re under attack, but instead seek to understand how you can change, learn and grow. A lot of the work that you do won’t be welcomed by a standing ovation and streamers and balloons. But you need to differentiate the normal reaction from the times when you get it wrong. Understand that you can learn from other people in the business about how to do great work, not just from conferences and journals.