Lesson 1 : People

40 years ago I was introduced to my first ever teacher, Mrs Turner. She was a more mature lady, robust, bespectacled and of generous bosom and despite the fact she passed away only a couple of years later I still remember her vividly. At 4 years old she introduced me to my first ever responsibility- milk monitor. Educationally I don’t remember a single thing she taught me but I do remember, as clear as day, the way she made me feel – excited, safe and that I could achieve anything.

As I’ve gone through my career I’ve never had a formal mentor. I borrowed a lot of books from the library back in the day to read up how things like doing appraisals should be done. I’ve had good line managers and bad and have had the pleasure of being inspired by some in both a positive and an “I’m never going to behave this way” way. I’ve had managers who were just that – gave orders and blatantly took the credit for all my hard work. In the last few years particularly I’ve had exposure to leaders who support, guide and know how to get the best from me which I think has resulted in me being able to be my authentic self and ‘flourish’.

There’s one ethos that I’ve maintained right from the very beginning of my working life and that is to never ask someone to do something I would never do myself. In order to succeed as part of a team it’s vital to muck in to get the job done when it’s needed, irrelevant of what that job is. That helps me stay grounded – none of us are better than anyone else, I believe that.

Investing time in people is critical. If I look up the dictionary definition of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary lists ‘investing’, among other things, as “to devote one’s time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result”. By smiling and saying good morning to the cleaning lady at work every day I’m investing a sliver of time to pay attention to another human being in the hope that I raise a smile and a greeting in return and maybe on some level make her day a little better. When I left Co-op very briefly at the end of last year (the sabbatical I as I refer to it now) the cleaning lady gave me a beautiful card with a lovely message and a bottle of wine which genuinely brought a tear to my eye. Things like that confirm my belief that it really is the little things in life that matter the most.

I’ve been involved in mentoring and coaching schemes over the last 6 years which have allowed me to invest more time in people and the result is a galvanised resolution that this is the single most important thing I can do both personally and professionally.

During ‘the sabbatical’ I worked for a Director who, after only a couple of weeks in my new role, made it very clear (and I quote) “You give too much of yourself to people, stop”. It became blindingly and upsettingly obvious that my trying to coach and get the best from my brand new team, during the biggest period of change they’d ever experienced, was frowned upon and against corporate culture.

I left that organisation a few weeks later, even more determined to follow my aspiration to support, develop, mentor, coach and invest in people. I want to do what I believe in my heart matters, provide a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, be a sounding board, a voice of reason, guidance and experience, whatever a person needs to grown into the very best version of themselves that they can be.

The talented and passionate people I’m privileged to invest my time in may not remember everything from our time together, but I do hope that they always remember the way I make them feel, just like Mrs Turner.

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