Edit from my keynote speech at Eversheds Sutherland/Mercer event in Leeds, on Wednesday for International Women’s Day.
What I am going to share is based on my experience, my work, my academic study and by being a keen observer of human behaviour. If anything I say resonates with you and you are compelled to act upon it then a change has happened and big change happens through lots of people making lots of small changes over time.
I am bold for change. Although I’m not always as bold as I would like to be and I am constantly challenging myself about this. Although a coach myself I employ my own coach to help challenge me to deliver the changes I say I want to make happen. The reality is that we can intend boldness but sometimes unless we write it down and share our commitment to be bold with others we can easily let ourselves off the hook when the going gets tough, when we face rejection and when we make mistakes. I find writing down my purpose, values, goals in My Purpose to Impact plan and sharing this with my coach supports my commitment to deliver on it. I also find that keeping a reflection journal also helps me track my progress as I congratulate myself on my achievements and find learning opportunities in my failures.
Throughout my life I have wanted to make a difference. From being the one to stand up to the school bully and risk being beaten and taunted for the rest of my school days to challenging my board colleagues about their bullying behaviour. As a previous HR Director I have experienced several occasions where this was necessary. When my own power of influence failed and I felt It absolutely necessary I took bullying behaviour and inappropriate conduct to my superiors and risked losing my job and did lose it.
I will not stand by and see what is totally unacceptable accepted. I will and have taken the risk that this backfires on me and as I said it sometimes has but I am compelled to stand up for what I think is right. I haven’t always done this well. I haven’t always had the skills to match the courage of my conviction. I haven’t always had the emotional resilience to choose the best approach and play the long game, but I have never stood back and left change to others.
As a single mum raising my daughter without family support close by there were times when being bold, making change happen at work and maintaining my own health and well-being were difficult and the thing that slipped was often my health and well-being. The life lesson here is that we must look after ourselves first before looking after others and trying to be bold and make change happen. Why? Because if we don’t our capacity and capability to do be bold is compromised and indeed we are compromised and the change we feel passionate about does not happen.
I don’t know about you but I want to make an impact, create a legacy, make my life meaningful as well as enjoyable. I work hard to be a good role model to my daughter demonstrating that work is not to be a thing to do for money or status or validation but to be something you do because you are compelled to add value to something you care about and to do so through your unique contribution. My daughter is 25 and amazing. Working with service users with a variety of disabilities and mental health issues. It not the best paid sector, in fact it is very poorly paid and there are many changes needed there and she is doing her bit to make a difference regardless of the fact that her Master’s degree could earn her so much more money elsewhere. She is constantly standing up for her team and her service users, speaking her mind, offering solutions and not just problems and reminding people about the organisational purpose and values.
Making a Difference or going MAD as I like to call it has to start with you. In my case having allowed myself to burn out earlier in my career I look after my capacity and capability as a priority now. I also seek out opportunities to make a difference with clients wherever and however possible based on applying my particular values, passions and strengths. I am continually learning from my experiences of succeeding and failing and keep developing myself to have the knowledge, skills and confidence to try new approaches where necessary. I stay focussed on my purpose and impact and not on earning a living. I believe with this approach financial success follows and it has. However, I am not driven by financial success. I measure my success much more through feedback. Feedback from the likes of a CEO coaching client who I saw earlier this week, saying who said…”You are amazing – I feel I could conquer the world now whereas when I met you 2 hours ago I could have cried I was so tired and overwhelmed”.
I ask my clients, as individuals and teams, to consider their purpose and vision for success. And I will ask you. Why are you here? What do you want to be your impact? Your legacy? I ask without judgement. It doesn’t matter what I think of what you say. It matters what you think of it. Does it compel you to act? Does it encourage you to apply your uniqueness? Does it make you feel fulfilled? Most people find it difficult initially to answer these questions. Most people are on a treadmill and are working on work life balance at best and at worst, they are surviving from one week to the next constantly responding to the question of “how’s things?” with – manic, mental, hideous, …. or perhaps an occasional fine from some.
How do you respond? How many of you are in the “I’m absolutely fantastic thanks…I really feel like I’m making a difference and I am loving trying new things and making the odd mistake but learning from it. I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to be doing all along”. When I start to hear clients talk like this I know I am making a difference not just for them but one which will have a positive ripple effect throughout their organisation. How will you respond tomorrow?
Today’s event is titled “Be bold for change”. This suggests that not only do you need to be bold, it is also about knowing the change you are being bold for.
What is the change you want to see in the world? Your organisation? People around you? Yourself? Can you visualise this? Can you articulate this? Are you passionate about this?
You know when you are being bold for change because you feel bold and you know you are changing things.
Anyone seen the film in cinemas at the moment “Hidden Figures?” it is based on the incredible true story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, in segregated America in the 60’s. They served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. These bold women crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to make a difference. I cannot think about these women without feeling inspired. If we think we have it tough now we need to think back to this story. Would you run half a mile and back in your heels from one side of the campus to another to use the toilet and then run back without complaining just so that you can be part of something you feel is important. These women played the long game. They put up with the most dreadful treatment because they knew what they were capable of and the opportunity to make a difference was their driver. I wonder would they have been able to campaign and complain their way to their positions of value and become the game changers they were?
Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in others”. Don’t focus on what others need to do differently, inspire others through your own actions.
I was bold a few years ago when I left my 6 figure salary job and studied for an MBA. My final dissertation was on the subject of gender diversity in the board room. As part of this I interviewed many successful women. One thing they had in common was that just got on with it. They offered solutions to improving diversity yes but in the meantime they dealt with the unfairness of the current system they were in and just got on with it. They said that in time things got easier and now they are valued for the change they achieve and their gender is a non-issue. They pursue what they believe is important and prove their worth through their actions and behavior. They do not moan. They do not try to be like their male counterparts. They are authentic. They are true to themselves and this is what adds value. This is real diversity in action. It is not your sex or race; it is bringing something different to the table. There is no point in having a board room representing different sexes and races and ages and all behaving like stereotype middle aged white men. Not that there is anything wrong in being a stereotype white middle aged man. We just don’t want everyone to be!
Ask yourself …. when are you the most authentic you, free from trying to be someone else? This is the you that can create the most value in this world. This is the unique you. There is no one else exactly like you. When you are being the unique you, you are happier and more confident too and this leads to better performance.
A change we need to be bold for is an increase in trust in the workplace. Change comes from people trusting each other. True collaboration leading to increased innovation and progress in all walks of business and life comes from people working effectively together. Trust is at the heart of this. And at the heart of trust is knowing the real person behind the role and the gender and the race etc.… when we know this person we are more likely to believe in them and want to listen to them and be open to be influenced by them and at the same time feel confident in getting them to listen to us. This is yet another reason why I encourage you to be authentic and bring your true you to your roles.
Another change we need to be bold for is a reduction in stress in the workplace. The complex, uncertain and volatile world we live and work in creates enough for us to get stressed about. Let’s not add to our stress the extra pressure of trying to be something we are not. Let’s value ourselves by being true to ourselves and letting people see the true value in us. Don’t fake it till you make it. Be proud of who you are and bring this uniqueness into your relationships and your work.
So in summary:
· Decide what change you are passionate about. What difference do you want to make?
· Identify your uniqueness: your strengths, your values, your personality and your experience
· Apply your uniqueness to make the change possible.
· Be prepared to take risks and when things don’t go well be prepared to learn from it.
· In this way we create value added diversity.
· We build trust and generate more progress through better relationships.
Be Bold for Change, inspire others through your actions and together we can make a huge difference.