Holding yourself back

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.

 

 

 

Actions and consequences

Are we always responsible for the consequences of our actions? It seems that’s the accepted wisdom, but I’m really not so sure. On one hand, it makes for a remarkably neat way of judging others, but it also feels like a convenient “get out of jail card” for absolving others of acting in an appropriate way.

Our social and political landscape is full of judgments on decisions that were made and the unintended consequences;

He should have known…

She should have seen that coming…

And similarly, our organisational rhetoric often places so much onus on individual actions and the subsequent consequences. Particularly the more senior that an individual gets.

I have no doubt that our actions define us, how we choose to be, how we present and behave, how we interact with others. Unless you believe in a higher force, we are all responsible for our actions. But in accepting this, do we throw ourselves open to however the universe responds as entirely fair?

If you choose to go out at night, are you responsible for being mugged?

Or wearing the wrong clothes, accepting of being harassed?

I don’t think anyone would suggest that the individual has to accept these consequences. Yet in the political, social and commercial aspects of life we hold a different burden of proof.

Being able to differentiate responsibility for the choices which we control and the consequences we do not allows us to analyse and interrogate responsibility in a much more balanced way, but it also helps us place responsibility where it really lies.

None of us want to be held to account for events truly out of our control. But whether we set the same bar for others…well that’s a different question.

 

 

 

Lawyers have moral responsibilities too

In the middle of last week, a story broke about a businessman who had made financial settlements using Settlement Agreements including NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) on a number of occasions following claims of sexual harassment and racial abuse.

Despite the undeniably serious nature of the original actions, in a world of global news reporting it may not have warranted front page news, except the businessman in question took an injunction out against the newspaper that had investigated the claims preventing it from publishing the details. And then in return, a Lord used parliamentary privilege to name the businessman.

I’ve followed the story, beginning to end and you know what? The whole thing stinks.

It stinks because instead of having the right debate, we’ve wrapped the story up in one of legal rights and wrongs. We’re discussing the integrity of the courts versus parliament, we’re discussing the integrity of NDAs, we’re discussing the integrity of legal precedent.

When we should be discussing the integrity of the people involved. The individual(s) that carried out the act in the first place. The leaders and HR professionals that sustained the culture in the organisation(s). And of course, the victims.

But also the lawyers that drafted the agreements, that defended the agreements and who have now lost sight of the individuals at the heart of the matter and are making intellectual arguments about legal supremacy, when if they and their peers done the right thing in the first place, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Now I know that I’ll be faced with arguments that these agreements are entirely legal and proper, that it isn’t for lawyers to determine right or wrong but simply to enact what is legal and what is not. That the sanctity of the independence of the courts is paramount etc. I know, I’ve heard the arguments before. But I call b******t.

I’m sat here wracking my brains trying to think of a time in my 25 years of practice where I’ve been involved in a case where we’ve used a settlement agreement to settle a case of sexual harassment or racial abuse, and simply I can’t think of one. So to have multiple ones in the same organisation?

You can talk about the sanctity of the agreement and the “independent legal advice” that the individual has to take before they sign, but I want to talk about the moral responsibility of people propping up a rotten culture. I hold my profession to account, I hold leaders to account, but I also hold the legal profession to account. You can’t make clever arguments to claim immunity, you own this problem too.

So instead of continuing to engage in intellectual masturbation on the rights and wrongs of a member of the House of Lords naming the individual in question, let’s ask ourselves why they had to. Instead of debating the use of NDAs versus public interest, let’s ask ourselves why they’d ever be used in a case of this kind. And instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s start by asking ourselves a few searching questions.

Your happiness is your responsibility; it’s time to quit your job

Over my career I’ve been able to identify the single biggest cause of employee dissatisfaction. That’s been working across multiple sectors, in different roles and in different conditions.

It isn’t compensation
It isn’t development
It isn’t promotion

It’s something that is completely out of our control.

It’s regret. The regret of failing to act.

Life is full of events over which we have no control, life is full of changes which we cannot influence. We can sit idly by and bemoan the fact that things aren’t what they were, that life has dealt us the hand that we didn’t want or that people are doing things or behaving in a way in which we disapprove.

We can’t change any of these things. But we can always act.

Unsurprisingly, these two things are often confused. The response is, “but I can’t do anything to change [insert cause of issue]” and the answer is always, “so what can you do?”

Ultimately we are all responsible for our happiness, we are responsible for finding our own peace and for ensuring that we make the most of our life both in and outside of work.

And that means accepting responsibility that we can act and our failure to act, not the change, leads to our regret.

In a work context, that often means leaving a company where you’re unhappy. I’ve seen too many people become under performers, become organisational hostages, become “that guy” in the canteen that everyone tries to avoid, become the source of dissatisfaction of others, simply because they failed to act.

Or it means accepting that sometimes change happens, the past is exactly that and we need to move on. In either case, this is a choice, a conscious decision that each and everyone is able to exercise.

Life is too short to sit, being unhappy and blaming others.

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.”

The only reality is in action.