Monday, 11 January 2016

We all Need Heroes

I cannot remember a time when there has not been someone in my life that I have not looked up to. Whilst there are those people that you admire because of what they have achieved or because they take a stand for something that is highly publicised that makes them famous in reality we will probably never meet them especially if they have departed this world. So let’s explore those individuals that are a little closer to home and have a positive impact on our lives that help us achieve success by providing one of the key ingredients required that of “inspiration”.

Inspiration can be defined as “a person, object, or situation which stimulates an influence upon the intellect, emotions or creativity”. All of us at some point have looked up to people that have had a positive effect on us. But consider this rhetorical question “What stops you becoming a hero in your own life?

For the majority, our search for inspiration starts with Mum and Dad and then probably a teacher at school. From the beginning these characters play a major part in your story as they exert influence and start to shape you as people from a young age. You usually find inspiration when your not looking for it and it is usually arrives in the form of someone who has your best interests at heart, can see your potential and gets their reward from seeing you develop and achieve your goals. This is balanced by you looking up to them for the very things that they have achieved and for me this is when the cross over occurs from purely mentoring to becoming a hero. They become the same.

People constantly come and go in life especially in your professional career. Personal development is another critical ingredient required for achieving your goals. You will constantly learn as long as you open your mind, be prepared to listen, and constructively question and challenge.

We work the majority of our lives so the working environment from a social perspective takes up a significant part of our lives. The advent of modern technology and online social ecosystems means that there is a much higher propensity for people to continually cross over between our business and personal lives. Life’s mentors and personal relationships can have a profound impact on you as an individual and you often find you subconsciously develop strong emotional attachments.

My Own Story – A Baptism of Fire

As an 18 year old I went straight from school into Lloyds Bank as a Computer Operator (aka – I printed bank statements and made the tea badly). However wanting much more right from the start, I subconsciously “disrupted” the status quo of the work place just by bringing lots of energy, a can do attitude, and an ability to question absolutely everything as I was trying to learn. I was one of an intake of around twenty individuals the first major recruitment in years and no-one really knew how to manage us. What didn’t help is at 18 you don’t even know how to manage yourself. All the things we should teach in schools definitely didn’t exist then. Simple things such as knowing how to work effectively as part of a team which doesn’t come naturally to everyone but is fundamental when in the working environment was something I personally struggled with. Looking back I was totally focused on “me” and not the team or what we were trying to achieve. What I viewed as positive was quite the opposite – in-fact it became incredibly depressing and for a while completely ruined my life to the point I dreaded even going to work.

However I was extremely lucky. A few people could see I had loads of potential but it needed to be controlled, developed and channelled. I came across these individuals who were in hindsight “disruptors” themselves who engineered in getting me seconded onto a special delivery project (no easy political feat back then), that unknown to me at the time was specifically going to be a 9 month “crash course” in developing me both as a person as well as technically.

I look back at it now and still remember the horror, when suddenly and unexpectedly given this wonderful opportunity to work on a beta test programme with the then mighty IBM implementing at the time what was state of the art automation software for mainframe computer operations I was completely out of my depth. I had gone from the bottom run on the ladder to joining the very best and brightest brains Lloyds had at the time. Not only was I the youngest I questioned my intellectual capacity to even do the task being asked and really struggled. I was 20 years old and though I had thought I could do anything I found out very quickly the complete opposite and became completely consumed with self-doubt.

However speaking to those who mentored me then years later they indicated as well as them having “a good laugh at me in private to bring me down to the earth!” this was all part of their master plan to effectively turn the “boy into a man”. This was about controlling and channelling my energy and about how they could leverage my perspective as part of the wider team especially my speed of thought and somewhat unique ability to see how computer operations for a major UK and International Bank could be radically changed..

The project wasn’t about implementing new automated software this was regime change in the very department I had originally joined and had upset - they needed new thinking and fresh blood. What made it worse was the business outcome of the project was going to reduce the headcount by a third (with redundancies) and they were going to send me back for a year to be part of the implementation team to do it! – Popular or what? keep in view my already somewhat tarnished reputation.

However for my mentors the project wasn’t about just teaching me as an individual technical skills and the fledging art of “Project Management” which back in 1991 was extremely new and ground breaking, but a strong focus on personal development - how to work as part of a team; how to lead a team; how to deal with difficult situations and most importantly how to follow and be a team player. Also they taught me how to make the most of my abilities and they laid the very foundation stones that in later years would become my personal competitive advantage.

My mentors spent significant amounts of time with me developing and teaching me how to question not just others but most importantly myself, this enabled me with true insight as to how my actions impacted others around me. I learned to shut up, watch and listen. Rule of thumb, if your not the smartest person in the room then keep quiet, listen and learn!

As for Lloyds when I returned to the front line Computer Operations I was better prepared, supported, and I was passed over to another mentor who looked after me and then took me to another level.

Be Inspired – “Fuel In The Tank”

My mentors became my heroes. I looked up to them and in some ways I wanted what they had. They had a profound effect on my life. Roll on 25 years and some of these people are still very much in my life, they have been my customers, and have even have worked for me (my turn to smile), and some are my closest personal friends. They are my first point of call when I want to think something through and understand the “cause and effect” of a particular course of action before I take it.

These individuals continue to be prepared to invest their time in me and push me to excel. Everytime I achieved a goal they just push me further, indicating that even when I do achieve excellence do I have what it takes to stay there? To do this you need constant “fuel in the tank” by the way of inspiration. However as they constantly point out I am now of an age where I need to inspire myself as well as look to others, especially as I have to lead Certus, a company of 50+ across two continents and growing. How can I inspire others, if I can’t inspire myself?

So how do I inspire myself? I just look at things totally unrelated to Certus as a business directly completely differently and then apply it. For example this weekend I watched a film with my two boys called “Streetdance” – absolutely brilliant, but the story was the clash of cultures and dance styles – Ballet v Streetdance – polarised or what? So quickly apply this to business – Project Management in development – Waterfall Approach v Agile. What’s right? They both are – where do you maximise benefit? by fusing the best bits of both together. (Watch the film – you’ll understand what I am saying, it’s a great film by the way – he laughs and I can’t dance!)

The Overlap between Business and Personal Lives

Something I have touched upon previously before and will continue to do so. Time has taught me to value even more those individuals that have played a significant part in my personal life over the years and their impact on my professional life. This may sound really odd but trust me that when your running a business it totally consumes you and you easily lose touch with those closest around you. It’s a big warning to all who embark on this journey.

But I have my heroes in my personal life, and they are even more important as those in my professional working life. Talking to them gives me total perspective. When I don’t talk to them I miss them, feel empty inside and something feels very wrong. Some people and events stay with you for ever even to the point they can define your life to such an extent that you can never let go.

They love you regardless for what and who you are, flaws and all. They celebrate your successes and become a part of your story as you reciprocate and become part of theirs. When you stumble and fall they are there to pick you up again. This is the very fabric of your life.

Remember - We are all Flawed, even Our Hero’s

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that the true heroes are the ones that can have a massively positive impact on your life, and not just your career. You find these people have such monumental belief in you that you can not only reach but exceed your potential, and become a better person for it, as others around you also benefit. Trust me it’s a lot more personally rewarding when your team is successful and not just you as an individual.

But remember as human beings it’s our flaws in our character that really makes us who we are. The majority of people don’t want to be on a pedal-stall so we shouldn’t put people there. People fail, and you will only get disappointed if your hero does something you don’t perceive as right.

Contribution - Giving Something Back

I am not setting out to be a hero myself but the importance of sharing and developing others is critical. I guess these things go full circle, and I will have already had a profound positive impact on others careers. Selfishly I would say my business would not be successful if I didn’t do this, but this isn’t about Certus it’s about wanting to see people reach their true potential and beyond. As Kevin Stacey says “If you are lucky enough to do well it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down”.

Whilst I don’t have all the answers I do know this that we all need heroes in our lives. As for Lloyds Bank, this may be the only time in my life I actually say thank you to a bank, and the people there that turned a “boy into a man” and contributing to making me  who I am today.

So to answer that rhetorical question “What stops you becoming a hero in your own life?” – the answer is simple “Only you” as David Bowie said “We can be Heroes, for ever and ever, What do you say?”

Epilogue: This blog was written the day before David Bowie passed away. RIP David Bowie, you were truly a hero to many.

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