5 minutes reading time (943 words)

What I wish I had known at 25

crystal ballIn a conversation with a group of senior leaders we were reflecting on how unprepared we were when we were first promoted to management. For most of us that was over 25 years ago. We have learnt to lead and been lucky to have access to development opportunities. As we mused on, we swapped stories of our most important learning and things that we wished we had known as a young manager. Here are mine.



There is beauty in the beast

Most of us start our working lives full of dreams and ambitions; wanting “to make a difference”, to have a positive impact on the organisation with ideas and actions. You are a very lucky person if you never find yourself feeling powerless and disillusioned.

Our organisations are complicated and problematic and we have invested years preparing not to change. Making the organisation a better place is difficult, because it’s difficult – not because it’s inherently ugly, or because you are not good enough.

Organisations, like people, are and will ever be imperfect. Our leadership quest is not to “fix” or “cure” them, but to constantly shape, re-new, fuel their strengths and celebrate their beauties.

I am my own life’s work

What a great world it would be if “he” was less critical and “she” would be more co-operative, or if “they” were more open to change. We expend a lot of energy and time wanting others to be different, to change, be less “difficult”.

News flash! To some people, you are the “difficult” person.

Once we realise that the only person we can control or change is ourselves, we are liberated. Our question changes from “how do I make them….” To “what do I need to do….”.

We grow influence over others by first understanding ourselves; knowing the power of our strengths, understanding what drives our behaviours and emotions and becoming more purposeful and choiceful in our interactions with others.

(There is a free resource to support this work here – enjoy!)

The power of Purpose

When we have a sense of a clear and meaningful purpose, we tap into the full range of our personal power. We are capable and confident. We challenge boundaries and received wisdom. We are infinitely resourceful, resilient and creative. Our motivation to act and to change is integral to our being, and the source of our energy to keep going when otherwise we would be exhausted. What’s more, we excite and engage others with our passion; they find themselves making connections with our purpose and, if there is sufficient overlap between us, we join together.

The power of purpose is why humans achieve amazing things that may seem to most of us to be exceptional and even impossible.

(More on the power of individual and organisational Purpose here – get more purpose in your life!)

Your thoughts are not you

Our thoughts vary from simple repetitive mantras to what seems like the chatter of 100 inner selves. Our thoughts inspire and comfort us. Our thoughts inhibit and bring fear. Only we hear this inner dialogue that has so much power over us.

Someone once said to me: “Your thoughts are not you, they are just thoughts”. Simple, but something I spent a long time reflecting on, and I go back to those wise words many times a day.

Our thoughts are just that – thoughts.

For example, I have at times had thoughts such as “I will kill him” or “I am useless”. I have never killed anyone and actually have many uses. No good comes from automatically lending truth to my thoughts without discretion.

Choose your state

This is the antidote to the negative thoughts that lead to no good. Our thoughts are not us, but they do have a strong influence over our emotional state. So does our body.

Try this. Sit on a chair and slump the way you might if you were feeling discouraged, low, sad. Hold this for 30-60 seconds or so and notice your emotional state.

Now stand in the “success stance”; as if you have just won a race. Arms and legs akimbo and reaching to the sky – smiling and roaring (if you can!) with your triumph. Hold this for 30-60 seconds and notice your emotional state.

By taking control of both your thoughts and body, you can shift your state to a more helpful one.

Accepting feedback is optional

We need feedback for learning and development. When the feedback comes from others, particularly people with power over us, it is important to think about their motivation. People give feedback for their own reasons and not always to be helpful.

I only accept feedback that, on reflection, I believe comes a desire to help me to improve or learn. For the rest, I say “thank you” and move on.

New member? New team

Every time the team changes membership and/or leader, you have a new team. Even one new person changes the dynamic and bring new strengths and opportunities.

When a new boss joins, we tend to assume that the team needs to adjust to them. What if there are elements of the existing team’s system that support their high performance? The boss may inadvertently destroy that value.

Any change in the team (or indeed the team’s purpose) means the team has to re-new and build a new contract for how they will work together.

What do you wish you have known or understood sooner? Feel free to share your wisdom and pass it on.

© Copyright Fiona Gifford 2016

Fiona Gifford is Founder and Director The Performance Collective. For more information contact her at fiona@theperformancecollective.co.uk

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