The biggest difference we ever make…

June 22, 2019

I was once told with cold detachment, by a senior colleague with a generation of experience more than mine, that I was the biggest recruitment mistake the firm had ever made.

I left her office a few seconds later unable to speak, pale with anxiety. I walked down some stairs, through the office front entrance, then onto the pavement, walking faster and faster and faster. Then, when I felt I was far enough away and would not be seen or heard by other colleagues, I balled my eyes out. I was a trainee lawyer, barely a year into his professional career, labelled a spectacular failure.

I have never been someone who found things easy and so my confidence has always been capable of wandering off and leaving me behind. I cannot now recall very much about what happened next, but I know I felt that I had let my family down and that I had been a fool ever to think I could be a lawyer.

I am sometimes told that I was brave to leave my General Counsel career behind to start a business when there was no established market, with no finance behind me and no clients lined up to get started. In all honesty, the bravest decision of my career was going back into work that day in 1986 and facing my overwhelming insecurity and the partner who didn’t want me to be there.

I am now 57 years old, but as I type these words I can feel a sadness descend thinking about that time 33 years ago when a very vulnerable and lonely lad just needed someone to believe in him.

Today however is a lifetime away and I am able to reflect on nearly 19 years of running a business that has the enormous privilege of working with some of the most extraordinarily talented people in our most extraordinary profession. My golden rule is “only work with nice people” and in large part, I realise, this is an echo of something that happened to me a long, long time ago. We must never, ever, underestimate the impact we have on people around us.

We are all given to some level of vanity and perhaps at some point we will all think about our legacy. What have we achieved? What are the deals, projects, products, acquisitions or sales that have our name on them? I would never want to diminish these things, they can be precious, but for all that these things matter in the moment, in 33 years time you will not be remembered for any of it. Not a bloody thing.

It is entirely possible however, that you will be remembered for the difference you made to the people who worked with you.

You can be a person who will never be forgotten. You can change people’s lives. You can influence whole families. You can be someone who has the most profound and extraordinary influence. I will be frank with you, I do not give a flying fuck for the deals you do, but I do care with all my heart that you are a force for good.

Never be the person who has the privilege of influence who is then either indifferent to your opportunity or who uses it to undermine others.

Your true legacy will rest in the memories of your colleagues. Place yourself there with care.


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