I felt excited commuting downstairs to work this morning. Great to feel normal again. We’ve had a wonderful holiday catching up with people. They were all so kind during my year-long chemotherapy treatment. I’m in remission due to medical miracles and the kindness of stranger clinicians and nurses, now a big part of my life.
And, like the many cancer patients before me, I am not the person I was before my treatment. I must confront this first working day of the new year as a different sole employee of my consultancy to what I was a year ago.
What do I care about at work now? What’s my career purpose? What’s my answer to that question that I have so easily posed to hundreds of clients over 20 years? It doesn’t feel so easy now that the boot is on my foot. What’s my strategy? What’s my plan to implement that strategy? What’s my PSB?
Feck! I’m not sure. That’s why I’m writing this blog today. I must figure it out before tomorrow when people are back at work. After a year of ticking over, I must restart marketing and selling my services to them. I must play revenue catch-up. But what if…?
Doubts gnaw at my previous certainties. Can I sell board effectiveness programmes now with a straight face? Can I help senior leaders make career choices to find jobs to make a significant difference to the organisations they join? Do I care anymore whether my lawyer leader clients are sleep-walking into last chance saloon in their pact with society?
More broadly, do I care as much about politics, news and current affairs as I did? Why am I listening only to the news headlines and quickly switching to Radio 3 or sports? Time was I used the sports section of the newspapers to light the fire. Now I read it cover to cover. By the way, ’tis the best of journalism. Who knew?
My intention at work must, as I tell my clients, be about how my work contributes to my life’s purpose. But what’s that now? Nietzche’s famous observation was that if you can figure out your why, you can bear any how. This insight helped me through my bleakest days in the hospital. I did figure out my why: caring for those I care about.
So what has changed? I always cared about people, but they were not, in truth, always my primary focus in my all too busy life. Now I think about others first more than I did. Indeed, when I feel low, I pick up the phone to help others in more pain than I am. Why is that? Is it because I have needed them more, and it’s all about me, not them? Is it, as per my Dad’s favourite quote: there’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole? Will I return to my old ways when the fear of cancer eases?
I don’t think so. A good and kind friend, who has stood by me through the worst days, told me I found a richer version of myself through my experiences last year. I like this because it feels true. And because that’s what people frequently do in adversity.
But if I were my customer, I would now ask how this navel-gazing would put bread on the table, top up my pension and make me feel fulfilled as a fulfilled thing. What am I saying now to my customers? What does it mean for boards, teams and senior leaders teams needing support in difficult times?
It’s all very well for me to have fancy epiphanies, but in 2023, boards, teams and leaders face complex organisational choices, personal pain and challenges to their feelings of fulfilment. In-house lawyers, a market segment of niche interest to me, return to work at a time of uncertainty regarding their role and purpose.
Today, if you are a board, team or senior leader at a point of inflexion – scaling, leadership issues/changes, or career crossroads – I can help you if I can care about you. If I can’t, I won’t. Only hire me if you want me to care about you as much as your organisation. If I do that, your organisation will benefit. Organisations are a coalition of people’s career businesses for a relatively brief period. If I can help each person thrive I can help your organisation thrive.
How will I do that? What’s my strategy? It’s by helping people reframe their relationship with themselves, their boards/teams, their organisations and, ultimately, with society.
If I work with a board or team, I start working on the personal purpose of each member in one-to-one sessions; then, I work with the entire board or team in plenary sessions teasing out the interdependence between individual intent and organisational purpose. Then I facilitate a statement of shared purpose, strategy and behaviour. I can trace most organisational problems and conflict back to a failure to work through the pain of agreeing on a shared purpose, strategy and behaviour plan.
When I work with individual leaders on their career crossroads, I work through with them what I have worked through here for myself in this blog. I help them reframe their why, how and their behaviour plan – their PSB. Then I help them execute it.
When I work with in-house lawyers, I focus on helping them reframe their relationships with themselves, their profession, and their employer clients at a time of emphasis on the environment, society and governance. That’s the subject a book I’m writing for publishers Globe Law and Business to be published later this year.
I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is connected in their involvement in the fulfilment business: how we fill our lives with meaning. We still must make money. I must. But it’s a means to an end. Not an end in itself.
All’s changed, as Yeats said, in a different context. For me, 2023 is about helping people reframe their relationships and they mine.