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How to know when it’s right

How to know when it's right Image by Matthew BroomheadLet’s start this article with this simple idea…

You can only teach those that want to be taught.
You can only inspire those that want to be inspired.
You can only lead those that want to be led.

Sometimes those that are placed in a position of authority and have the perception of being more knowledgeable, sadly are not.

While working at a large corporate firm I took on the responsibility of volunteer Reading Scheme Coordinator. Despite having no direct support from the company, I encouraged a number of fellow staff members to give up their lunch hour and attend a local school in a very deprived area of the City and listen to children read.

Anyone that has run a voluntary group knows it’s hard work, but worthwhile. I knew it was worthwhile for three reasons:

  1. It was good for staff – as it got them away from their desks and PC screens. Spending 40 minutes with a seven year old who is excited to see you gives a new perspective on things and makes you more productive in the afternoon.
  2. Good for the children and school – if a child has difficulty reading then learning anything in our industrial model school system is very difficult. I think it was fair to say that they had few positive male role models in their lives and the only people that they normally met in suits were probably lawyers or social workers.
    It was also beneficial for the school as it got extra “brownie points” for linking with businesses.
  3. Potentially great PR for the company via CSR (Community and Social Responsibility) – the large corporate I worked for wanted to be perceived as an “employer of choice” and that its employees got involved in their local communities.

Well that all sounds great Matthew” I hear some of you say. “Three compelling reasons to do it, so you must have had lots of support?”

Hmm. Yes and no.

The small group of dedicated volunteers were a great bunch of people. They were so wonderful that I married one of them!

However my line management at the time couldn’t understand why I would give up my lunch hour to help a group of young children to improve their reading skills. [And yet they were able to spend a notable amount of their time outside in the smoking shed each day]

Like most work environments it was stressful and they had their own pressures and maybe couldn’t see further than that week’s kpi’s.

On the odd rare occasion I might be five minutes late back from lunch due to the head mistress wanting to speak to me or having to wait for the school office regarding CRB forms for new volunteers.

Unfortunately, this didn’t go down well with my line management and it was suggested that I wouldn’t be able to do the reading scheme if I was late again. Despite it being in my own time; I always more than made up the time before and after the normal working hours; it had had special mention from the schools Ofsted inspector; and the scheme would probably have to close if I didn’t run it.

So as I am sure you are already aware that sometimes in our careers we see things that others in more senior positions should see, but don’t. They’re not leaders, but they happen to have a leadership position.

Two other stories relating to school and where sometimes people get it wrong…

Damien Hurst apparently got an “E” in art class at school and despite various problems he has had in his life, he is reputedly the Financially Wealthiest artist. Apparently Damien is worth over £200m.

Not music to my ears…

The educational specialist Sir Ken Robinson has talked about meeting Sir Paul McCartney and asking him the question “Did you enjoy music at school?”
Sir Paul replied “No. My teacher said I wasn’t any good.
Ken also enquired whether George Harrison enjoyed music at the same school in Liverpool.
No.” was the response.
So Sir Ken went on to state “Is it fair to say that a music teacher in the 1950’s in Liverpool had half the Beatles in their class and never realised their potential?

Depending on the rich list you Google, Sir Paul McCartney’s net worth at the age of 73 is estimated at over half a billion pounds. So it’s safe to say, the person in charge – his music teacher – got it a bit wrong.

There’s only one Damien and one Sir Paul who were both trend setters and exceptions to the norm, so what about us in our day to day careers?

Marketing in a Magazine

In the City where I live, the financial business district had a magazine that promoted and informed the companies located in that BID area. I was reading the magazine the one day and spotted a double page spread written by the office head of a large law firm. So what was the main item he was talking about?
Was it the work they’re doing with the council? Perhaps some national or international clients they had recently acquired?
Nope.
What did the head of the firm want his existing clients, competitors in the surrounding business district and potential future clients to know?

Apparently something they were very proud of. Something that was very good for three compelling reasons:

  1. It got his staff out the office for a few hours every month away from their desks and screens.
  2. The scheme was great for the community members they were working with.
  3. Obviously it was great PR through CSR as he wanted everyone to know.

So what was it?

The school reading scheme that I had battled to keep going with half a dozen committed and caring people several years before. The scheme had sadly finished in my previous company sometime after I had left. Fortunately, it had been taken over by someone clever enough and caring enough at that law firm.

You’ll have times when your line manager doesn’t see what you see.

You’ll have times when your board or committee won’t have the same vision that you do.

Keep going if you know it is right.

But, how do you know if it is right?

Firstly, if you feel it’s pushing at your existing comfort zone.
Secondly, can I suggest you honestly ask yourself all of these four questions:

  • Is it good for me?
  • Is it good for my organisation?
  • Is it good for the clients I serve?
  • Is it good for my wider community?

[This last question is too often missed. If tax avoiding corporates or most in the banking sector had asked this last question then maybe their brand perception would be very different].

Even though when you know what you are doing is best, it may take years before a senior leader you respect in your sector directly or indirectly endorses your work.

Having the self-resilience to keep going certainly isn’t easy, but perhaps you’ll sleep a little better at night knowing what you’re doing is right.

Matthew Broomhead
“Raising the level of Business Skills in Britain”
Creator of Broomhead Business Channel

Permanent link to this article: https://www.matthewbroomhead.co.uk/how-to-know-when-its-right/