A butterfly landing on your shoulder

October 24, 2021

As summer allows us to slip from her grasp, we turn up our collars and look to find our way through the cooler mists and softer lights of autumn. I know that I am also moving into the autumn of my career. A time therefore to make the most of the light in each day, to reflect, and hopefully to share well.

I have loved my work and still want to do more, but it is also a time for others to move into their rightful place, to shine their light and to shape our futures with love and care. I know, more than ever before, that the difference I will make now is not in any grand design, or polemic assertion, or even to say I know best. My difference is in the quiet space between decisions, where there is time for me to take your cares and offer them a safe place to rest.

To have arrived at this point has been over thirty years in the making. It was thirty-two years ago that I was promoted to my first leadership role, and recently I have been thinking more and more about what I know now compared with what I didn’t know then. I would like to share a few brief thoughts.

I promise I do not live in a Pollyanna paradigm, but in the same frustrating, inefficient and bureaucratic world we all know too well, however it is my strongest wish that we learn to unconditionally love our teams. It is because the world is like it is, that we must give our colleagues our very best. It is a privilege to care for their needs, to honour their differences and to challenge their potential to give of their best too.

Conversely we should care a little less for the corporations that employ us; it is the people who matter – our colleagues, our customers, and our communities. The thing to care about most is doing the right thing by them. It helps therefore not to over invest in the idea that organisations care; we are units of economic utility, with a spreadsheet value for now, that is all. Well meaning statements about vision and values can be important, but they have been designed as avatars for the good times. They are what a business hopes it is in a benign and airbrushed universe.

A great role in a great company is a butterfly landing on your shoulder. It should be cherished in the moment, but not expected to last forever. Our indelible mark therefore is not made on a CV of illustrious brands, but in the difference we make to the people we lead. This will stay a vivid memory long after a company, or deal or project is forgotten.

How should you be therefore, if all this is to be achieved?

Speak when you should, not just when you are invited. You do not have to speak often or loudly, but you must respect your own values and you must show you care to defend them and to promote them. Speaking up takes courage. It should be practiced on the small things, so that it is easier to do for the big things.

Remember that behaving to meet your needs is the start of meeting the needs of others. You must become your first and best advocate. Do not outsource hope.

Trust your judgement, but also practice using it. Saying after the event that you thought something wasn’t right, just means that you were wrong too. Leadership happens when we try to influence people and events in the moment. Hindsight is a threadbare comfort blanket for those who choose which side they are on after the event.

When you are wrong, the least you can do is apologise. The best you can do is change. Your journey will be full of mistakes and moments when others feel let down. Tread gently, but know you can always grow if you recognise when there is a need for you to change.

Life comes with some pressures that we can predict and many that we cannot. You will be tested; however, you are not defined by the place you work, but by the values that guide you. Let your values show you the way and never be pulled into dark corners by events or people who have allowed themselves to be caught out by expediency.

Help others shine their brightest. We are never in the shade just because the light is not our own. Step back when your work is done, step forward when you can help others be their best.

You will never feel entirely comfortable that you deserve to be in the right place at the right time. However, be careful not to play small. Never let your gratitude for your good fortune be a brake on your development, or stop you challenging what should be challenged. You are not an imposter, or about to be found out, but you have an independent mind, open to the possibility there is more to learn and to the unexplored potential of the difference you will make.

I am certain that you know enough to succeed. Knowing more is rarely the answer. For most of us it is how we use what we know that is more important. Your gifts therefore are ready to share right now. Never tire of being kind, you cannot waste kindness, or run out of moments when it makes a difference for others.

And a final thought for those days when you cannot be your best and you may even feel overwhelmed. Take time to pause and allow yourself to be loved, and know that this is the same world you have helped to make, a world where people love you and care about you too.

Take care. With love. Paul xx

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