Its October – cold and blowy and definitely autumn, but an autumn like none we have ever known. Children at school one minute and then having to isolate at home because someone in their bubble has Covid symptoms. Students locked into halls of residence with others who were total strangers a few days earlier, not knowing how to shop for food or where to find a washing machine. Of course it is the same for us. One minute things are one way and the next we are staying at home again. Uncertainty reigns.
Meanwhile, what am I thinking about?
In general my clients are picking themselves up, keeping calm and carrying on.
At the moment, as well as working I am waiting for a client to have her first baby. This is a first for me too, as I have never come across someone so determined to work up to her confinement and then intending to get back to work as soon as she can. This little one is very much wanted and already loved, but his Mum and Dad intend to work around him and with him (yes we know it’s a boy) so that all three of them will make the most of their lives.
I told the mum that I was going to say something about her story and asked what she would say about working with me. This came back:
Since then, I have met with Liz once a month without fail. I can honestly say my business and I would be lost without her. She has supported me through challenging decisions, structures, ideas, crisis of confidence and huge life changes.
My business has grown beyond what I thought possible in the time and I too alongside it. Liz is more than a mentor; she is a board member of my business and helps me to drive it forward for the reasons and motivations that I want for myself. She listens, understands, uses her own skills, draws on her experience and encourages me to be the best version of myself.”
Of course, this was wonderful to receive and I am thrilled our relationship works so well for both of us. It got me thinking about two things: how important it is to give people support in the right way and the concept of being a non-executive director and how it can work.
Support is a funny thing. It has to be given as one equal to another. No one is an island. We operate in our own worlds and if we want to grow in our business lives and as human beings we have to step outside our comfort zones. This is scary for everyone and to have someone there on the side lines shouting you on is what we all need. We don’t want someone to do it for us, but we need someone to watch us, be ready to pick us up if we stumble and fall, but mostly to celebrate with us when we make it. That success builds confidence which becomes the foundation for the next step, but it must be noticed and turned into fuel for the future. There is a skill to this and to doing it in such a way that the person does not feel patronised. Admiration from one adult to another is different to praising a child for learning to walk and that is the only model with which most people are familiar.
And what about the question of being a non-executive director? I have been in a good number of board rooms running different enterprises. When it first happened for me there was only one book about being a director and that was John Harvey Jones’ Making it Happen (1988); still a good read. It ran alongside a TV programme and Sir John was a fantastic performer. I found difficulty identifying with his larger than life persona. I had been trained always to collect the facts of a situation, but he taught me that there is no stupid question and if you are not confident of the answer ask it again in another way. When I sat in that first board room I had to learn for myself that being a director means determining where the business is to go, how to make it successful and the responsibilities of being an employer and affecting employees and their families by the decisions we made. As a manager I might be an expert in my area, I might be good at collecting facts and putting together a case for action, but the bottom line was that someone else took that decision and had responsibility for the consequences. In those days, I learnt the value of good non-executive directors who came with no skin in the game and so could be completely objective. They could and did ask very probing questions. Because they did not work in the business they could ask deceptively simple things about how and whether a course of action would work. In other words, they were hugely valuable in the thorough interrogation of any new idea. The decisions made were better because of their input.
Whether a company is limited or not, to have someone who can fulfil this role and then operate as the supporter makes all the difference to rapid and robust growth. That word “robust” is important. Anyone can promise five figure growth (and some do); anyone can bring in quick revenue and profits; but the important thing is to build on solid foundations so that results are good and growing, but also consistent.
I am hugely flattered that this amazing young woman, who is a good business woman and will be a fantastic mother, thinks of me in these terms. Once we have the baby (!) she will be in the next phase of life and I am thrilled to think I will be there to work with her.
So who do you have in your life to give you this level of objective scrutiny and grown up support? Please tell me about it. If you don’t have this how do you cope? It must be very lonely out there. Life is hard enough without making it any more difficult.
My fundamental belief is that no one can succeed by themselves: we need a team of folk to help us make it. I believe we all need a mentor. Someone to work with us on an individual basis, to understand us, to believe in us and help us push our boundaries.
So if you like my ethics and want to grow why don’t we talk? I love speaking with people, off the meter, to help explore possibilities and whether/how to take them forward. Please give me a call.
Life will be good again; let’s be more appreciative of how lucky we are and live the lessons we have learnt.