Graham White

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As we wave goodbye to January and its host of short lived resolutions, I find myself taking a moment to reflect, “will this be another year of fulfilled expectations, or missed opportunities?” There is never a bad time to consider if it is all worthwhile. However, one month into a new year seems to be the best time to take stock of your job, and maybe even possibly realign your career direction. By looking at your career to date and considering what you have achieved in your life, here are some heart stopping questions to help evaluate your direction of travel.

  1. Am I doing what I really want to do with my life?
  2. Is this the type of job I dreamed about when planning my career?
  3. Do I have a good work life balance?
  4. Is my life filling up with regrets or filling out with memories?
  5. Is my list of personal aspirations full of checks or blanks?
  6. Is my greatest desire in life linked to my job or my family?

At the beginning of any new measurable period of our lives it’s important that we test the validity of our purpose. And as the greatest part of “Our Purpose” is spent in our job, it’s logical that when we ask the question ‘what am I doing with my life?’, sooner rather than later we turn our focus onto our job and consider the relevance or futility of our daily grind. This is often followed up by the asking of some more questions that sound a little like:-

  1. Do I really need to do this job – when I don’t sleep, when I survive on junk food, when I no longer exercise, and I’m living off adrenaline for too long?
  2. Do I really want to stick with this manager – when I get no recognition for my contribution?
  3. When I watch others advance because of their relationships rather than their results?
  4. Do I really feel obliged to stay with this employer – when loyalty is no longer seen or appreciated as commitment and is instead is seen as a lack of drive and ambition?Trumpet 3

I recently had the opportunity to semi-retire and whilst I am still undertaking some speaking engagements and some very exciting interim challenges, I have the luxury to pick and choose which commissions I take on. In this time of relative calm when my garden gets the same level of attention as my office desk and literally blowing my own trumpet is now a reality (see picture) I have come to realise that throughout my long and exciting HR career it was how I was treated that really matters, not the nature of the work, nor any sense of achievement. It was simply how others and in particular how my direct managers treated me, that determined my mental state and consequently my level of positive contribution to the success of my organisation.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once reflected “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

If I had set this out as a management competency at the height of my HRD career I believe I would have probably been laughed out of every boardroom I sat in. Yet I am now without a shadow of a doubt convinced that kindness was and is an essential tool for effective leadership. More than anything else, kindness is a core pillar of life, a way of living and working. It is a means of dealing with every challenge our jobs and our lives throw at us. I have learned the value of listening from the talkative managers, I have learned patience from the intolerant Chief Executive and I have learned kindness from every unkind deed done to me or said about me.

I have led HR teams throughout the recessions of the last three decades and they were tough times. However, at no stage was I ever accused of “being soft”, in fact quite often the opposite. Firmness in HR is an essential core element of establishing and maintaining corporate structure and organisational resilience, especially when dealing with the brunt of recession. However, it is at these most taxing times, when we are under stress, that I have found showing true kindness has been the most necessary competence to show. Hanging pride of place in my office currently is a framed “Unison Heroes” T-shirt presented to me following a very difficult period in an organisation that was downsizing. I wasn’t awarded this for my opinions, decisions or my defence of the workforce, I was given this because at all times during the most difficult periods we considered the needs of each individual affected. We treated each other at all times with dignity, respect and kindness.

Within any HR function the evidential reasoning for being kind is more compelling than ever. Kindness is not without its critics, aggressive leaders will often put it down as a weakness and seldom recognise it as the secret to their organisations success. However as things begin to look up and the long awaited green shoots are starting to appear, it’s now when the pressure eases and the fears of job insecurity start to fade, that our workforces will remember how our leaders behaved in the difficult times. They will also sharply act on how they were treated, which may become the very reason for leaving their current employer.

So as 2016 accelerates into the second month, my advice to you is to take care of yourself first. You can’t show kindness if you don’t feel kindness within yourself. Strong mental and physical health are essential if you are to carry the burden of others worries and concerns on your shoulders. There are lots of options, gym membership, coaching, therapy, increased time with your loved ones, meditation and prayer. Each of these offer a degree of mental toughness that will equip you to focus on the needs of others in your organisation and how you should treat them.

Over the years central to all the choices and actions I have had to make and do, whether in the office, in my home or in my daily walk, has been the desire to show kindness to everyone I have come into contact with. I have not always been successful and can’t figuratively blow my own trumpet or claim any great success in this area. However, I can assure everyone reading this that I have tried, and in trying I have proved that a life filled with kindness is just as effective and often more impactful than any of the other core competencies we are expected to follow. Embracing kindness opens up the whole arena of listening, supporting and alleviating the very issues that can easily turn into grievances, relationship breakdowns and ultimately external litigation. Employees are very selective in who they will place their trust in about work experiences, therefore listen and act with kindness. It will cost you and your organisation nothing, which is a lot less than what the alternative is going to cost you.

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