Good girl gone bad?

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People are good or they are bad. Is it really so simple? People throw judgments like these around every day, reaching a decision based upon the information they have to hand at that point.

You have a bad run at work, all of a sudden you’re a bad worker. You let down a loved one, all of a sudden you’re a bad person. Sometimes it surprises me how few people are willing to stop, think and perhaps ask more questions about a situation before reaching a judgment. I liken this to going to the gym – it can take you months (perhaps even years!) to build up your fitness levels and just days or weeks for it to disappear. Is it the same when it comes to our characters?

Before I go further, it’s worth saying that I know we as humans are programmed to make judgments, if we did not then decision making would be nigh on impossible. But something I’ve noticed recently is that the weighting given to a person’s ‘good’ behaviours and ‘bad’ behaviours seems off – it strikes me that to be ‘good’ you have to work bloody hard but to be considered ‘bad’ it can take just one or two actions. If this were illustrated in pictorial form it would look like a set of scales with one side having a huge pile and the other just a smattering…but the scales tip in favour of the lighter side.

I suppose all of this could just be put down to differences in perspective. For example, I know lots of people really value consistency and a meeting of expectations so when you do something(s) that goes against this, it results in feelings of disappointment and frustration. My own perspective is slightly different…I have always found the dark and light in people fascinating – it is part of what makes them beautiful. When someone is their imperfect self, the more real and raw they are being. It isn’t to say they can go around being awful, disrespectful or anything like that but rather I can forgive a relatively high degree of undesirable behaviour because I believe that it indicates something deeper is going on. Perhaps it’s my psychologist’s mind at play 😉 But… I am yet to find many people who will allow me the same understanding. How many people do you know who would still be standing there even in your darkest moments when you are not yourself? And not just standing there but holding your hand and telling you how okay it is to be imperfect.

Sometimes a few tough times come along and they really shake you one after the other, to the point where you can question who you are, what you stand for and why you bother trying so hard. When these things happen, of course you won’t be the same person for a while. But does that mean that you’ve somehow fallen from grace because you’re being selfish, moaning a bit or being sad? Are you no longer valuable for all the times you were at your best? Are you less strong because you can’t always find the strength to put on a brave face? And the big one that kept coming up…Are you destined to be alone because you can’t always project the people pleasing version of yourself?

These are all questions that run through the mind when those around you appear not to really ‘get’ it and / or don’t want to. I am thankful to say that for me personally, I’m coming through the other side of some dark times but I wanted to write this blog anyway to pose some questions that I think we can all reflect on a little more in a society where mental health issues are on the rise: am I being fair in my judgement of this person that I care about? Am I looking at the whole picture of who they are or just reacting to this snapshot of a time when they are acting in a hurtful way? How can I gather more information about what’s going on before I react? These questions I believe can help us to be better and more compassionate managers, friends, partners and people.

Before I finish up with the usual key reflections, I do want to emphasise that by trying to take a more forgiving stance on ‘bad’ behaviour I am not excusing sustained and repetitive hurtful interactions or cases where you have to sacrifice your own well-being long term to take account of the bad sides of someone you care about. Rather, this blog is about those people where if you were to take a step back and weigh up of the time you’ve known them, the main of it has been positive and good but there have been some times recently where this has taken a hit or something has happened that shocked or saddened you about them. We all have the right to be respected and treated well but sometimes it just isn’t possible for people to be the person we want them to be 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives.

So, in reflecting on all of this here’s three things I personally have learned:

  1. Behaviours are usually indicative of something deeper – ask more questions. More often than not, we judge behaviours because these are the tangible things that are obvious to us. Someone behaves in a certain way therefore it must mean XY or Z. But in many situations people behave in a particular way because they can’t or don’t want to verbalise whatever is going on in their head. Taking someone to one side and reflecting back in a kind way what you’ve seen and asking whether there’s anything they want to talk about could be all it takes to fully understand the situation.
  1. Be honest but be kind. Most people welcome some honesty from those they care about but the way in which it’s delivered is absolutely key. Generally people push back and / or defend against honesty delivered in a cruel or uncaring way but will react better to honesty they perceive to come from a place of caring and support.
  1. Take a step back, if you must judge someone then do it fairly. Have you got all the information you need in order to make the judgement you’ve made? We very often have a tendency to judge first and then seek out information to back it up – to affirm that we’re right. Try to fight against the natural inclination and approach it the other way around – gather more information through questioning and then make your judgement about what’s going on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t profess to get it right all of the time and I’m well aware of how difficult it is to press ‘pause’ and gather information when you’ve been hurt, let down or disappointed by someone. But the conclusion I’ve drawn is that if it leads to the end result of a salvaged professional or personal relationship, it is well worth trying.

Plenty of people will say that they appreciate you for all of your sides – good, bad and ugly – because they know it’s the right thing to say. But how many remain by your side when you really go through something deep, dark and soul shattering? That is the true test of strength in a relationship and if you are lucky enough to find that kind of a friend, lover or colleague then hold onto them for dear life 🙂

“The imperfections of a person, their frailties, their faults, are just as important as their virtues. You can’t separate them. They’re wedded.” Henry Miller

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Flourish or fail?

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Working in the field that I do, an analogy has often been used comparing the success and development of people to the growth of a plant or tree  (yes, yes I know it sounds a bit ‘hippy’ but stay with me 🙂 ). That is to say, within certain conditions we will thrive and flourish and in others we shrivel up and shrink away. The idea of ‘greenhouse organisations’ in which staff are provided with the right conditions for growth, development and expansion is not a new one but I am reminded recently of how rarely our leaders and managers try to understand our individual level ‘greenhouse conditions’. The tragedy that subsequently results, is the shrinking and confinement of otherwise excellent staff.

As ever, I’ll start with a little context and perhaps a personal anecdote or two. Usually I choose to write about topics outside of a work environment but as I started thinking about this, it struck me that ‘greenhouse conditions’ and ‘nurturers’ are just as relevant to our personal lives as they are to work. We are talking about understanding our conditions for success and the people who support and encourage that.

I have been fortunate in my life (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it!) to experience a very wide range of people, personalities and styles – most of them incredibly positive and inspiring but a fair few I have to admit unfortunately fall into the ‘soul shrinking’ category. As my experiences grow and I talk more and more with people of similar-ish life circumstances, ambition and outlooks it is becoming less and less the case that I hear somebody say ‘I love my job. My team are great, the work is interesting and fulfilling and my manager is fantastic. I feel valued and recognised for my contributions and I can see myself staying here for a long time. Better still, I look up to and admire our leadership and I’d like to aspire to be like that some day”.

Some people may look at that statement and say “huh? that’s idealistic thinking right there – no job is like that” but I can tell you, I have been lucky enough to live that job and thrive in that environment – it does exist! Perhaps I am now ‘spoiled’ forever more as a result 😉 One of the main issues is, we’ve all become accustomed to just ‘putting up with’ the quite frankly mediocre (and in some cases toxic) environments we find ourselves in – in many cases even thinking ‘perhaps it’s my own fault, I expect too much’. So what (in my humble opinion) is at the heart of this outbreak of unfulfilled, down-trodden, unheard staff? Bad management and bad leadership. And linked to this, an idea I am calling the ‘enemy within’ for many organisations of today. That is, a glut of bad managers and leaders who are poisoning the organisations from the inside out and bringing down many bright, passionate staff with them.

One of many issues with the ‘enemy within’ is that people are unaware it’s there and / or are unwilling to accept it’s existence. Bad managers and leaders are allowed to crush and shrink their staff like the proverbial plant shoved into a dark corner. This can be for a number of reasons – it might be because those people are good at ‘politic-ing’ and maneuvering away from scrutiny or that the organisation doesn’t care enough to honestly reflect in on and challenge itself. The most common thing I’ve heard (and seen) a lot of is the genuine belief of some leaders and managers that they are great at what they do, but the reality is a far cry from their perception.

This situation I think raises so many questions for the modern day workplace (and could be extended out to our personal lives too) about how we understand our people, value them and ensure the very best performance that comes from the heart.

I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) tell others what to do, as I am far from perfect and have much still to learn. But as usual I will share my thoughts on what works – as a manager and leader and as someone who has been managed and led. These are the killer questions I ask of myself:

  1. Have you sat down in a relaxed environment and asked your people about themselves, their interests and ambitions? This sounds basic and common sense but I believe this is where many managers and leaders are going wrong – they haven’t really invested time in getting to know their people so how can they genuinely care for and understand them.
  2. How clear are your expectations? Do your people know what you expect of them in terms of delivering specific things and the kinds of behaviours you would hope to see? This is another important thing for me, as a manager or leader there is no getting away from the fact that you will have expectations of your people – for me I think it’s about clearly articulating these but then allowing people the space to decide for themselves about the approach they take to meeting them. Goal and objective setting together is a great way to understand each others’ expectations and aims.
  3. Have you developed trust and openess with your people? This doesn’t just happen because you say it does. Actions speak louder than words so how do you really show people that you are to be trusted and that you truly welcome honesty.
  4. Do you regularly ask for feedback with a genuinely open approach? Are you prepared to hear the ‘bad’ things as well as the good? Nobody is perfect and hardly anyone gets things right first time. When someone is new to your team (or wider life) how do you find out how you’re doing and whether you’re hitting the right note? It’s by asking regularly and being prepared to listen to ways in which you can do better.
  5. Have you spent time reflecting on what things might feel like / be like for that person? Empathy is a hugely important part of connecting with someone, so being able to think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes goes a long way to helping them to feel understood and supported.

I know much of the above sounds simple and common place but having recently seen too many fantastic, intelligent and ambitious people be adversely affected by bad managers and leaders it struck me that perhaps more sharing of experiences and ideas wouldn’t go amiss. More challenge aimed at organisations to really assess whether they are good at leadership and managing their people.

So in finishing, here is my question to everyone out there…What will be your choice for 2016 and beyond? Do you choose to support people to flourish and grow or will you knowingly or unknowingly fail them, leaving them to shrivel in a world of disengagement and frustration? Will you choose to help your people to thrive and innovate or are you going to thwart ambition and change in favour of comfort and control?

An organisation is only ever as good and successful as the people working there and in investing time, effort and care in your people (much as that may require a cost to you in the short term) you will be successful beyond your greatest dreams.

“Success is a team sport. It requires dedication, inspiration, and passion; and one can never get that without cultivating the culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment.” Forbes 

 

I have a dream…

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What do you want to be when you grow up? The million dollar question we continue to ask ourselves even when we have by definition ‘grown up’ a very long time ago. But just recently I think I may have found my answer…(and no, sorry to disappoint it’s not to become a blog-writing, tap dancing, burlesque queen 😉 ).

Quite simply, my purpose and passion is this: (If and when I grow up :)) I would like to be happy and I would like to make the people around me happy too. There, that’s it. I realise it’s not exactly a trailblazing ephiphany but bare with me and please keep reading as I explain more…if for no other reason than the fact that I also need you, my lovely reader, to step up to the mantle and help me out with a little something 🙂

Okay as is usually the way with my entries, I want to explain where I’m coming from on this. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (no change there then!!) in an effort to understand myself better and get properly focussed upon what it is I’m doing here (that’s ‘here’ as in planet Earth, not ‘here’ as in Arnold which is a different question entirely 😉 ) and also giving thought to how I want to leave my stamp on the world. In spending some time thinking about it, I realised that from a young age we are all striving to find our purpose / our focus /  our talents / our calling / etc in life. A lucky few happen to find it easily and early, some seem to have a whole path already laid out for them, while others (the majority I would say) keep struggling through, continually trying to clear the fog and reach the refuge of clarity. All of us have to know we have something to ‘be’ in life because without knowing that, it’s hard not to wonder what the hell we are doing to make full use of the short time we have on Earth.

But in trying to ask myself all these ‘big’ life affirming questions, I just found that I was getting more and more confused and annoyed. So then I decided to strip things completely back to basics and simply ask myself this – what is the most common thing I am seeking in all that I do? In work, play and all the things inbetween what do I want? Is it money? Is it respect? Fun? Fulfilment?

A few mugs of coffee and multiple doodles later and the answer jumped out to me plain as day…I just want to feel happy. In work, love, friendships and all the other important things in life I’m looking for that feeling of happiness and satisfaction. The one simple (and often forgotten) answer to the ‘what do you want to be’ question is really just to be happy. It’s something we all have in common and it’s something we all deserve to feel. But sussing out the feeling is the easy part…the tough question after that becomes….yes, but how do I do it??

I won’t go on to bore you with all the details of what I decided to do next but essentially, I reached a point where I made a great long list of all of the things that make me happy and make me unhappy. I then started drawing up a plan as to how I can bring more of those happiness inducing things into my life and minimise the things that sap it. It won’t be an easy (or short) process but at least there’s a starting point now.

One of the biggest features on my list (if not the biggest) was the area I am now starting to think of as as my purpose / mission / focus: I am going to begin directing my life more towards helping people to be happy and satisfied. I want to spend time with people to find out what makes them tick and ultimately what makes them happy… I then want to give them the tools to ruddy well go out there and make it happen. There’s no qualification I’m going to study for / no professional name / no titles for what I’m suggesting, I am keeping it as simple as calling it my ‘happiness project’. All I know is that for me to be happy, I have to know that I’m helping others to achieve their own happiness and ambitions in life. Cheesy, cliched, idealistic and perhaps even somewhat self-satisfying it may sound but quite frankly, I don’t really care – I believe in it, so I’m going to do it. Me, you, a comfy chair, some coffee and a conversation – it’s as simple a starting point as that.

So now is the point at which you, lovely reader, can help me to realise my dream! My first stage is to bring together lots of pieces of brilliant advice / inspirational sayings / motivational stories / learnings etc. etc. and start to build up a sort of ‘brilliance bible’. I have an ambition to work with young adults in the near future (particularly young women) on uncovering their happiness drivers and sources of self-worth and looking at how this can help people to become confident, well-rounded, satisfied people capable of achieving great things in the world… It’s a developing idea but all ideas have to begin somewhere 🙂 So, if you are still reading this I would love to hear your thoughts and pieces of advice – I’m looking for the things that you’ve heard in your lifetime that have truly made a difference to you. Ask a bunch of your friends too and keep adding! Here are a few of mine to get the thinking juices flowing if it helps:

  • Know yourself and you’ll know happiness. When you love and accept yourself, so too will others.
  • Always try to find time in the day to remember your achievements, however small they might be
  • Be the change you want to see in the world
  • Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition
  • Inaction is the enemy of thought
  • Be a friend and you will always find me yours
  • Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated (respect, dignity & honesty should be a given)

Not only will your thoughts and ideas be incredibly interesting to read in their own right but if my plans take off and one day go in the direction I hope they will, you can feel good that you’ve contributed something towards helping others to be happy. I can’t make any promises as to how this ‘project’ might progress – it could be the start of something simple but successful or it could just be another silly idea from an idealistic over-thinker 😉 Either way, all I know is that half battle in achieving your dreams is getting started on them so *deep breath* – here goes!!

A big thank you in advance… I’ll keep you ‘posted’ (no pun intended) 😉

Mission impossible?

I was recently asked to define my mission in life i.e. why am I here and what do I want to achieve. Should be an easy concept right? Surely we would all naturally know our purpose and why our being around adds value to the world. But as I sat down to put my purpose to Powerpoint, I suddenly found it extremely hard to a) define my mission and b) articulate it. Now I’m sure those of you reading this who are parents (for example) may find at least a part of your mission fairly easy to define (or else scoff at me for even having the time to think about such things 🙂 But for us lot who are not yet in a place where family and cohabiting are on the agenda, how do we get to a point where we know that the things we do in life are making a difference to the world? Or indeed, even if we do have families and partners how do we make a mission that includes our role as a mum /dad/husband/wife etc but doesn’t define us only by it? I refuse to believe that my mission and reason for existing is to become a wife or a mother – valuable as these things may be!

So before continuing, perhaps it would help to give a little background to this topic. I’m currently studying for a diploma in leadership and management – a core part of it is based around the concept that to lead effectively, you first need to know who you are, what your values are and what you want to achieve in work and within life more generally. This is often known as your ‘brand’ – defining what it is that you’re offering or selling to people (an employer, a friend, a partner etc). Personally I really buy into this idea – how can you expect others to want you, support you and go with you if you can’t give them any clue as to where you’re heading and why they should be around you? I’m also a firm believer that the better you know yourself and what’s important to you, the happier you’ll be.

So as I sat down to pull together my own brand I foolishly thought it would be a straightforward, quick job since I always believed I was fairly self-aware and clear on where life is headed. An hour and a half later and I was perplexed as to why this wasn’t coming naturally to me. Why could I not pinpoint my mission, values and ‘what makes me different’ in an instant?! On reflection, there are a number of factors as to why this was hard (such as never really allowing quality time to think about purpose or thinking it a little self indulgent) but the main reason for the block was that I was trying to make it too complicated. I wanted it to be some earth shattering, amazing revelation and of course, was finding it hard to find such a thing in my relatively modest way of life. So I finally found success when I decided to keep it simple – think about what are the things I really want out of life and how can I make them happen. I came to this:

My mission is to live, learn, love and laugh…and to help others to do the same.

That is it. Simple I know and who would believe it took such a long while to reach that conclusion (perhaps it was just my slow brain on a Sunday night or the fact that Homeland was proving a tempting distraction! 🙂 But the conclusion I came to, simply put, was that life is for enjoying and living to it’s absolute fullest. I always want to keep an open mind so I can continually learn and see more, I want to love the people in my life with all my heart and I want to laugh as much as I can (that last one is particularly important by the way 🙂 And the way I can make sure this happens? By playing my part in helping other people to live, learn, love and laugh too – to do what I can to help others to be happy.

Okay, I am well aware of how cheesy my mission sounds – really I am. Usually I’m the first to cringe at overly soppy or lovey sentiments…but there is no other way of putting it, so indulge me for just a second! The reason I’m sharing this is because just by doing this relatively small exercise, I’ve found it has helped to clear the fog in several areas of my life. For example, at work I’ve recently been feeling somewhat flat and I’ve felt myself slightly losing the passion and enthusiasm I used to pride myself on. The more I became flat, the more miserable I started to feel because I couldn’t work out what was wrong. When I did this exercise it helped me to see the reason for why I was beginning to feel flat. It was because I couldn’t see through my role at work, how I was helping people – something I now know is really, really important to me. In fact, the nature of the work I do and sometimes the attitudes of the people around me are such that I often feel like a nuisance rather than a help. My biggest ‘highs’ have been when I’ve been out talking with those who need support and advice because I can see clearly how my role helps them to be happy. So now I’ve realised what was causing my ‘flatness’ I can spend valuable time sorting out a solution to it. But had I not realised the link between mission and my funk, I would have been in a downward spiral to the murky depths of miserable… As a positive aside, I also feel that should the time come to apply for jobs in the future I now know what I am looking for and how I will communicate all of this to prospective employers at interview – everyone’s a winner 🙂

The second aspect to this exercise was also about defining what makes you different – your unique selling point. Again, this was a tough job! But I came to find that the mission and defining your difference are very closely linked since I believe that what makes a person different is how their mission manifests in practice. Let me give an example to illustrate the point:

Many people’s mission in life is to be healthy. For one person this will manifest in structured lifestyle choices – a gym session twice a day, healthy food regimes and early nights since they are looking at health mainly in the physical sense. For another, this will manifest as complete lack of control – health is more psychologically based and therefore takes the form of lots of nights out, treats, spending sprees etc. And for another, perhaps a balance of both. The thing that makes each person different is the little routines, mantras, activities they undertake…essentially their behaviours. All have a common mission to be healthy in this example but each will have a very different approach to achieving it.

The reason the link is important is because if we’re honest, many missions will sound similar-ish. More often than not once you’ve written your mission you then start to think ‘well this doesn’t make me very unique at all!’ – beating yourself up for being just one more face in a very large crowd. But then if you have a think about the things you do to help make your mission a reality, you’ll soon find hundreds of things that are unique to little old you (some of them perhaps a little too weird and wacky so keep those bad boys to yourself please! 😉 For example, I’m well aware that the slogan ‘live well, love a lot and laugh often’ is a well-used phrase and my interpretation doesn’t set the world of USPs alight by any stretch. But what does make me different is the way I will choose to make my mission happen – the extent to which I passionately believe in it and the way in which I will always openly share it with others.

So at the end of this blog rather than offer my key learning points as is usually the way, I’m going to be different (see what I did there?!) and set a small challenge instead – how about you have a go at establishing a bit of a brand for yourself by writing down the following things:

– Your mission
– Your values and beliefs
– What makes you different

If I was selling this exercise as a product, this would be the point at which I would say 100% satisfaction or your money back…but seeing as no money is exchanged I can’t really offer that, sorry! But what I will say is that if you trust me (and hopefully because you’re reading my blog you do!) give it a go – it’ll help you in some way whether that be securing a new job through your newfound vision and focus, re-evaluating your current one or just getting a bit of insight into what really makes you tick 🙂 I’m sharing this because I genuinely think it’s helpful…and chuffing hell, if you didn’t know how much I love helping people before this it should be unequivocal by now! So, as Jerry Maguire so passionately puts it ‘Help me to help you!’ 😉