In her new book “Becoming” Michelle Obama shares some of her secrets for surviving eight of her toughest years. And it’s all about teamwork.
She writes: “I need some girlfriends around me; I need somebody talking to me … I relied on my girlfriends to get me through one of the hardest eight years of my life. Exercise and love and spiritual connection and complaining and cursing — all of that — and drinking wine and being able to do that [helped me] let go.”
When I think of what has best helped me to survive, thrive, grow and develop through the ups and downs of life and career I, too, would have to point to a team. My team would include family, friends, role-models, neighbours, annoying colleagues and even a few dead people!
Once adolescence and adulthood has put that critical distance between ourselves and our parents it’s worth tapping your P’s on the shoulder and putting their expertise to work from time to time. For instance my dad has never worked in any of the sectors in which I have operated but more than once his experience of corporate life and institutional politics has helped me to navigate the vicissitudes of my own corporate and institutional environments.
In tough seasons I have learned to pace and balance my weeks. If it’s a draining and challenging week then I will want my time peppered with some company that will give me some life and cheer me on.
Echoing Michelle Obama’s comment about wine-buddies, I have even pre-scheduled late night “tawny or whisky partners” to help me wind down from intense and demanding evening board meetings. Without willing teamsters like that I think I would have expired a long time ago.
When I have needed to lift my game I have been fortunate to be able to get alongside people who are doing well at what I would like to do better. On a couple of occasions I have asked these experts if I could get some time with them or shadow them for my own PD and a couple of times they’ve said “Yes!” Those experiences have given me years’ worth of lessons to unpack and apply.
Me in 2016 with two of my greatest mentors, Bishop David Pytches and Barry Kissell
The people you need on your team at any one moment aren’t necessarily your best mates. Even an annoying colleague can serve a good purpose in your life. For five years I worked with a guy who, though he had many great features, really clashed with me. I’ll call him Biff. But for all the annoyance that working with Biff regularly threw up I could see that my annoying colleague was, in reality, building my capacity. I could see that Biff actually had some useful “tricks” that I needed to learn and I was able to observe their use up close. I could see how his attitudes produced different responses in different people.
In time I learned to see in Biff the usefulness of attitudes and approaches I might have dismissed if I hadn’t been able to see closely the outcomes as I did. Dare I say he even taught me to really value the contributions of colleagues who think and operate very differently to myself. Biff sharpened my thinking and challenged me to occupy new emotional territory. In the end the hardest guy to work with turned out to be one of the best for my professional evolution. I was very different –and for the better – after my five years working with Biff!
A hero of mine, the late, and inspirational John Wesley – founder of Methodism
At times it’s dead people who have reached out to me – through their stories – and spurred me on with modelling and inspiration not available in the here and now. In the rogues’ gallery in my backyard shed/gym and adorning the shelves of my bookcases you will always find the faces of people from times past who have helped me along the way or who still challenge me to inhabit my place in the world more fully than I have so far.
Who is on your team? Do you have family, friends, role-models, neighbours annoying colleagues? Make a list; who’s on your team for 2019?
If you have a professional development budget or are struggling to put a list together for Santa, think about getting intentional about your personal team by adding a personal coach to your list. Your coach is the person you permit to play a particular role, to ask particular kinds of questions and share the journey with you for a season in a way that will add to your skills and perspectives.
When I have engaged coaches for myself the people I have chosen have not shared the same skills or navigated job assignments that I have had. More than one has worked in a different industry. More than one has been younger than me. Yet by permitting them to take that role in my life, we were able together to tap the wisdom of mind and spirit and found insights and strategies that transformed those parts of the journey for me and brought me successes I don’t think I could ever have achieved on my own.
Have a great Christmas Season and an Awesome 2019!