If I could talk to my 22 year old self leaving University to embark on my exciting new career in HR Management – what would I say? This may feel slightly self indulgent on my behalf; but I’m going to take the opportunity to share a few pieces of advice I wish I could travel back in time and give myself – if anyone else finds them helpful, all the better!

 

Life isn’t always fair, but you have a choice about how you deal with it

To be honest this is one that I keep reminding myself of throughout my life. But as a young woman navigating her way through her early career in large corporate organisations, experiencing many things – I often felt hard done by. Managers changed their minds, made decisions that affected me, offered jobs to other people, gave pay rises and bonuses to other people, made judgements about my ability and didn’t always like my suggestions. How very dare them…

One of my memories is being a stand alone HR Manager for a logistics business, when the parent company closed that business down. Overnight I had to manage the redundancies of about 170 people – the whole business was going. What about my job? I was told that I wasn’t at risk of redundancy, because there may be alternative roles available in the parent company’s HR department – 120 miles away… Stupidly I got on with the redundancy process getting more and more angry and feeling poorly treated. I found another job and left.

These days I can contextualise these experiences knowing more about how our brains respond to social threats (SCARF Dr Rock). I’ve learnt that what I was experiencing was a normal human response to external stimulus – one of our basic human responses that has kept us alive for centuries. But I also know that despite these feelings, I can still retain control of my responses and choose how I should respond. How I feel, and how I respond are two different things.

 

 

My one liner advice here “it’s OK to feel the way you do, this is a human reaction. Now choose how you respond, and show the world you’re awesome!”

 

It’s OK to ask for help, or admit you don’t know something

Throughout education I had become conditioned to having and providing quick, confident answers as a sign of competence and academic achievement. Having gaps in my knowledge needed to be hidden at all cost because knowledge is how you are judged in education! Now in the world of work, my knowledge meant very little, but my self esteem was based on knowledge. And being somewhere where success wasn’t reliant on technical knowledge about HR, soon saw my self esteem plummet.

A vicious cycle can then start –

I don’t know the answer – I can’t let anyone know – I must say something – Why don’t I know the answer? -I can’t let anyone know – I must say something…

The only person who thinks you should be perfect, know everything and never need any help – is You! Just because you’ve left University, doesn’t mean you have finished learning. This is just the next stage in learning – learning that leadership isn’t about seeing what others don’t, or having all the answers. Ever seen that quote from Alvin Toffler? “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

My one liner advice here “No one knows everything – so why the hell do you think you should?”

 

No one will listen to you, until you make it relevant to them!

Just because I spent four years at University and had a lot of information in my brain – didn’t mean I could communicate well with other people! In education I took on board information because I had to – it was part of the curriculum and I needed to learn it. So without realising, there was a relevance to me – I needed the information for my benefit.

In the world of work, and life in general – people choose not to listen unless it is interesting to them, or means something to them. And people do not want to be lectured to either! But when you start to consider the other person’s views, needs or aspirations – and then consider how what you have to say may be relevant to them – how you communicate moves to a different level!

They respond to you in a very different manner, and suddenly you are both listening to each other and amazing things happen. Ideas grow and improve. Patience becomes greater. Discretionary effort starts. Things become easier to do. Your mood lifts. Your stress reduces. You feel relaxed and content………

My one liner advice here “Shut up, and listen to the other person before talking”

 

You can put those Paparazzis back in their boxes

The paparazzi report juicey, interesting news that may not be totally true. Often their stories are out of proportion or only show one person’s perspective. We don’t often base our decisions and actions on a paparazzi’s story do we? For me, my paparazzi are those inner dialogues I have with myself. Those dialogues that limit my ability to believe in myself and my own abilities, and reach my potential.

What do we do when we read a news article written by a paparazzi? We question – “seriously, did that really happen”?” We may pick another newspaper with a similar article and read that. We may ask friends or family “did you see that story. What did you think about that?” It’s not very often we take their word as the truth, without any questioning.

So why should we listen to our own paparazzi without questioning or considering an alternative perspective? I had a fantastic coach once. He asked me what went through my head when I responded to someone in a meeting. That was the first time I spoke the words “he thinks I’m an idiot”. Why did I think this, had that person told me that? No. It was my paparazzi telling me…

My one liner advice here “what evidence do you have for that? Seriously, where is your bloody evidence girl?”

I think these are all relevant lessons for leadership today, as much as it was 20 years ago when I left University. Frustratingly, I learnt some of these lessons a long time after leaving University! And even today, I sometimes have to remind myself of them. These are the things that you often don’t learn on traditional “Leadership Training” or “Executive Education”. I believe Leadership starts with you, and your mindset – not in the training room, or at University! What are your life lessons you’d like to share with your younger self?