This week has been all about business.
On Monday I announced the launch of Mindless Mag’s Social Media Takeover and I’ve spent the rest of the week sharing my thoughts on the importance of having a business mindset with learnings from books such as Think And Grow Rich, The Chimp Paradox and Tipping Point.
Today, I’m finishing the week off with one of the most talked about business challenges and what I believe to be the antidote to it.
Your office could be lackadaisical or dog-eat-dog, you could go into business with somebody on a handshake or have a formal contract drawn up before you’ve even started, you could be at the bottom rung of your career ladder or the top.
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, the one thing you can guarantee about your relationships at work is that you will always have to deal with conflict.
It could be competition with a colleague in applying for a new role vacancy or fighting for a share of the team budget to get your project off the ground. It could be a disagreement on how to spend that budget once you’ve got it.
Maybe you disagree with your boss’s approach to people management, that their expectations are too high or too low or maybe you feel that their vision is unclear.
What’s in one person’s head will never be the same as what’s in another’s and sooner or later, conflict will arise.
One of my biggest lessons in this area of business was around seven years ago when I lost the best manager I’ve ever had.
I was devastated. She had been a role model to me in so many ways in such a short space of time.
She had a clear vision of what we were setting out to achieve but also gave me the autonomy I needed to drive my categories forward. She balanced it all perfectly; guidance and direction with empowerment and trust.
Only seven months into working together, she moved on to a different area of the business and was replaced by another manager who didn’t share even 1000th of her passion, drive or commitment.
Team meetings became pointless. We’d hover around the coffee bar every morning chatting about peoples’ weekends rather than focusing on work and there appeared to be no interest when it came to actually getting things done.
For her, the role seemed to be more about status, prestige and glamour and less so about genuinely wanting to galvanise a team to make a difference.
All of us felt it. Everybody was complaining but nobody was speaking up and so, as somebody ridiculously passionate about that company, it wasn’t long before I did.
And this was when I made one of my greatest career mistakes to date.
I tried to broach the subject in one of my one-to-one catch ups. It was right to do so but I hadn’t prepared myself enough; the conversation was painfully awkward, she was very defensive and I didn’t get across exactly what I was trying to say.
We left that meeting with a slightly damaged relationship and no progress made.
I let it go for a few more weeks, but it was only getting worse. She was starting to let us down in big ways and the team complaints were becoming more and more incessant. My blood was starting to boil and I just couldn’t stand by and watch any longer.
I called a meeting with my Director, her boss – somebody equally as passionate as I was about the company and the role our team played within it – and I told her everything.
This was another of my greatest mistakes.
I didn’t just speak up about my issues with her managerial skills or lack thereof, I spoke on behalf of the rest of my team. And that didn’t go down well at all.
I’d not handled the situation directly, I’d spoken on behalf of others and I was pretty much badmouthing her to her own boss. My approach had been nothing but flawed.
So that morning, while sipping on a cappuccino in a little glass office on the seventh floor of a Hammersmith highrise, I lost one of the things I treasured the most; the trust and respect of my Director.
My lesson out of all of this was that assertive conversations go a long, long way.
And from that day onwards I’ve followed in the footsteps of my former manager. I’ve adopted her unapologetically French approach to making blunt comments and telling it like it is with zero time for merde de bull.
I try at all times to focus on the facts, not the opinions, I do my best to keep an open mind and I never, ever speak on behalf of somebody else.
And while at the time it might make your stomach churn with anxiety or your abs clench with awkwardness, having an honest and open discussion is the only real way to move things forward.
It lays it all out on the table in front of you creating space to share thoughts and feelings. It forces you to face the truth together.
And out of it all springs a blueprint of what the future could look like – one that you shape together. Because no matter how hard the challenge or how high the obstacle may seem, there is always, always a way to move things forward.
Nothing is impossible.