How to lose without becoming lost…


I’ve come to the conclusion over the past few months that I have a lot to learn and that by writing about these important life lessons it may somehow help me to process / develop / accept. And so begins my first blog…You guys are the poor b*ggers who have to read this drivel 😉 I’ll be blogging about anything and everything…essentially whatever has been on my mind that day, week or month!

So I found out today that the leader of my current place of work is to leave. For many, this wouldn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary – organisations chop and change CEOs all of the time. But for me it has left me with a sense of loss and a slight feeling of panic. Our leader you see has been an inspiration to me – an example of someone who can work at a very high strategic level while keeping his feet firmly on the ground, someone who remembers the names of all those who work for him and always has a warm smile for them. The type of person who you know what his values are because they’re written all over his face, you know he’s genuine because his eyes and demeanour say so – there is a real feel of authenticity about him and you can’t help but warm instantly to that. This is a person who has managed to get the balance between leadership and staying ‘in tune’ with his followers right…something I am led to believe is a real rarity.

I think part of the reason I am feeling this particular change so significantly is because I came from a place of work before this where even the departmental leader didn’t know your name, let alone the Chief Exec. In fact the reason he didn’t know your name is because quite frankly, he didn’t really care what you did. You were just a tiny little cog in a big machine. Granted, my previous workplace was a much bigger organisation and it would be nigh on impossible for the CEO to know everyone but it was about much more than that. I never got a sense for who he was and what really drove him and hence never felt a particular affinity with him or the organisation he was leading. And that became the hallmark of the people who worked under him too – there was no real sense of curiosity or moral purpose in the corridors but rather a stale stench of cynicism and feeling unappreciated. A toxic atmosphere that if you stayed too long, would slowly eat away at your soul until you crumpled into a shell of your former self. Of course there were odd exceptions, most of whom I was lucky enough to work with in my immediate team… but one by one we left or moved elsewhere before the toxicity became too much and our careers became a lifetime of moaning and unfulfillment.

So when I joined my current place it was literally like a breath of fresh air. The building was brilliant and light, the people were friendly and there was a real buzz about the place. The sense of commitment and moral purpose was palpable and best of all, there were none (or realistically I should say ‘less’) of the hierarchies. Here was a place willing to give a relatively inexperienced person like me a real chance with my career and as a result I feel I’ve grown from strength to strength and confidence to soaring confidence. I wondered to myself what made this place so ‘different’ and I now attribute it to two main factors:

1. The setting of high expectations, the development of a ‘nurturing’ environment and the air of informality from the current CEO

2. The objective positioning of the organisation away from too much government control or politicising…

Both of of these things are about to change…And it fills me with a sense of trepidation… 

People within the organisation often talk of it as pre-xxxx and post-xxxx as if he came in and created some new era or new world. Certainly the resounding opinion is that he came in and made it a much better place and I know from being out in the field a lot that many external people attribute the success of our organisation to this person too. However, I now feel I’m going on as if he is some kind of god on earth and that’s not my intention nor is it true – no leader is ‘perfect’ or infallible and I’m sure there have been times when some have questioned decisions made at the top.

In fact the real test I believe of how well his vision and values have been instilled will be when he leaves… Only then can a true judgement be made on leadership skill. You see I’ve reached the conclusion that if someone truly is a great leader, then they will leave a legacy within their organisation that continues long after they are there at the forefront. Those around them will have been so affected and inspired by their drive, purpose and approach that they aim to emulate that and help to sustain the positive environment created by their leader…I know I certainly will be aiming to do just that but the real question is, will others want to do the same?!

However, the leaving of this great leader is also made worse by the change of the organisation to a more politicised, government driven environment. This worries me hugely as I felt that one of the reasons my previous workplace became so toxic was in part because politics and ‘agendas’ got in the way of the fundamentals…i.e. having an organisation that actually cares and nurtures its workforce. Everything became about point scoring and what the government wanted (or would give funding for) and not actually about what the person using the service wanted or needed. We became seen purely as servants of the government’s agenda, disinterested in what the person at the heart of it all wanted – the media gave us all a bad name and tarred us with the same brush and the leadership of the organisation wasn’t strong enough to fight back and stick up for us. So we (and the government) began to believe the hype – the workforce began to think ‘well if I get all this flack for actually doing my job, why bother doing anything at all?’ and then the media would give us (rightly so this time!) another going over… And so began a vicious and toxic circle of rhetoric and self-fulfilling prophecy.

So what does all of this tell me about leadership? What lessons can I take away from my current feelings of fear and anxiety? Well quite a lot actually…

1.   No matter how high you climb, always stay true to your values and keep them plain for people to see – stay true to who you are as a person even when others try to change you. Showing emotion and the ‘real’ you is never a weakness and should be something to be proud of.

2.   Remember the people you lead are ultimately the ones who help you to achieve all you achieve. If you don’t have time in the day for anything more, the least you can to do is to remember their name and throw a warm smile in the corridor.

3.   If you truly want an organisation to succeed and grow, ensure you instil your vision and values in those around you. And when eventually you do leave, be confident that when you are no longer there your legacy will continue.

4.   Try to find the balance when working within a government focussed environment between politics and keeping the people you serve at your heart – if one of the two has to slip, well then let it be the politics…perhaps you’re not cut out for that kind of environment anyway! You can continue to live life knowing at the very least you kept the ‘people’ interest firmly in your sight.

5.   Always strive to have a motivated and what I’d call ‘curious’ workforce and if you feel that slip, make it your number one priority to address. A toxic work environment is not good for anyone and it’s amazing how it can slowly creep up on you bit by bit…

6.   Finally, when you lose someone who inspires and motivates you – then you have a duty to find someone else to fill that gap. Sitting here feeling a little lost is not going to help me, I need to look for my inspiration elsewhere! And if I can’t find it…well, that ultimately will tell me something about the environment within which I work.

So as a closing remark at the end of my yabberings…Whichever way I look at it, the person to rely on is me. As much as I feel a little abandoned and lost right now, I do have faith that I’ll find a new path and a new person(s) to admire. The fact that I can still be incredibly inspired by someone and motivated to do well is a good thing in its own right – it shows I still have more to achieve, learn and strive for. So I’ll take a small comfort in that thought while I ride out the storm of an organisation in change…keeping my fingers crossed for better weather ahead and a remaining legacy of a vibrant and inspirational leader 🙂