Your Brand of Resilience

Business, depression, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Uncategorized, workplace

 

How do you keep going when things turn to shit?

Excuse a personal reflection.

I’ve been told I’m a resilient person, in previous blogs I’ve spoken about a few of the things that have happened in the last couple of years (chronic pain, depression, separation – all the good stuff). So how have I kept on keeping on? Well sometimes I haven’t, last year I had 6 weeks off work with depression, this year I’ve had a week off but I’m still keeping on trucking nevertheless.

I’m going to share with you some things that have worked for me and some of the things that contribute to sending me down into a deep pit of despair. If you’re interested in learning more about developing your own resilience you should take a look at these guys The Resilience Development Company – they’re doing some amazing work.

I talk about your “brand” of resilience because you need to know what works for you and also what threatens your resilience too as for different people its different things.

How to recognize when you’re en route to stress: for me, I know I’m struggling with my resilience when I start to more and more resemble Basil Fawlty. By this I mean that things at work that I normally would let go (people talking over me being the main one here) I am no longer able to stay silent about. I also lose my gameface and when someone says something ridiculous to me my thoughts are now all over my face. I start to interpret things personally too (they cancelled a meeting with me to have one with someone else, I must be less important to them etc). So what do I do about this? Firstly, I recognise it is happening. There will always be some people who push your buttons more than others and when I’m in Basil Fawlty mode (which only ever happens in the office and never when I’m out at conferences or delivering programmes) I tell my boss and then I go and work on Introvert tasks on my own in a spare office. I know that I never want to be the person that snaps at a colleague, or upsets someone because I’m feeling low or I’ve lost perspective so I make sure to take myself out of any situation that might end up with that result.

I also ask for help. This is a tough one for me for a number of reasons. 1) I’m proud. 2) I’m a perfectionist. 3) After 4 years of asking the NHS for back surgery and being constantly told no by just about everyone (except a surgeon, go figure), I now have a real fear of asking for help from anyone as my subconscious assumption is that I will be told no, and I’m scared of the emotions that I know that situation will evoke in me. I still quite often ask for help about 3 weeks after I should have, but I’m getting much better at it. Slowly, slowly.

My resilience always takes a hit by a low mood. Depression often involves peaks and troughs, mine is sometimes related to my levels of pain, and sometimes it isn’t apparently related to anything at all. There are some tried and tested ways of boosting my mood. Firstly, exercise. Hitting the gym on an evening or weekend, or spinning will make my mood so much more manageable both at home and at work. However, if my mood is low because my back is in spasm then there is no exercise to be done until my back eases off, so that’s a problem. Delivering programmes boosts my mood. I LOVE being out of the office, meeting new people, running programmes or even attending conferences. I love the buzz, the energy and I love showing off my expertise (definitely one of life’s showboats). But, that all depends on my work calendar, sometimes you’re out of the office for weeks on end and sometimes you’re in the office for weeks on end, alas, it’s the nature of the beast. The point is that my low mood is boosted by doing something I’m good at. I know that praise always improves my mood, my confidence and also my brand of resilience. Find something you’re good at and do it, be it something work related like delivery is for me, or the gym, a sport, writing a blog – anything!

When I’m in the office, here are the things that help:

  • People asking for my advice. One of my colleagues, Janet, is great at doing this. She loves bouncing ideas around, talking about the big picture, she gets me feeling really energised and buzzy and she makes me feel like an expert whose opinion she values. So, Janet – thank you!
  • Leaving the office for lunch/ break. This one is really easy and really important. Again, I have a fantastic colleague, Emma who is always up for grabbing lunch and letting me either sit in silence (but with company) if I need it or letting me vent about something that’s been getting me down. Thanks, Em!
  • Not asking how I am. I know this one probably sounds a little counterintuitive but what I mean is, if you think there is a chance I’m going to feel the need to say “I’m fine” when you ask me, because we’re not in private, or we don’t have that kind of relationship, or because I’ve just come back from sick leave for depression (dur of course I’m not fine), then don’t ask! By all means talk to me, ask me about my plans or how my day is going or tell me things but don’t ask that.
  • Listening to inspiring podcasts or TedTalks while I work.
  • Biscuits. Obviously.

I don’t know if these things will work for you, they certainly can’t hurt though. In the same way as I believe there isn’t one representative experience of depression or of any mental illness, I don’t think there is one type of resilience either. You’ve got to know your brand, how to boost it, and what works for you when it’s lowered. I would love to hear any tips you might have for boosting your mood or your resilience.

Why Aren’t We Emotionally Intelligent Yet?!

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, workplace

EI

Those people who are self-aware and sensitive to others manage their affairs with wisdom and grace, even in adverse circumstances.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 03).

 

Later this year I’m presenting a talk around Emotional Intelligence (is it a pipedream or a prerequisite) at a conference. A very hot topic that featured prominently at this years’ #cipdnap16 too; and yet this isn’t a new theory. Why aren’t we there yet? Surely we all want “wisdom and grace”?

So what is stopping us from becoming Emotionally Intelligent? First of all, are we all talking about the same thing?:

[W]ritings on EI are a confusing mixture of unsubstantiated opinion and hyperbolic claims, together with serious, but still preliminary, research grounded in psychological theory and careful test development.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 21).

EI is much written about in books and articles and has almost come to take on a mythological status as the Holy Grail of leadership aspiration and in the pursuit of self-reflection and awareness. I’m sure some people view EI as quite nebulous in nature, and maybe a bit abstract or conceptual…

However, I don’t find the aspirational nature of EI to be overly problematic, perhaps  that’s because I significantly prefer the abstract, and conceptual to the realistic and practical. Of course, it’s always preferable to be able to share a language and context with our teams (so pick a model/ Profile and go with it) – but as a concept in general I think it is both worthy of effort and a laudable endeavour. Whether you prefer your EI theory to be more based in philosophy, neuroscience, sociology or cognitive psychology is somewhat by the by. Surely we can all agree that anything that will help us to be more self-aware, that can help encourage empathy and emotional control can only be a positive? It doesn’t take a genius to see a correlation between boosting these areas and creating a culture of trust, respect and therefore of high-performance. Here are some great tips on boosting your EI.

Is Emotional Intelligence relevant to all industries and cultures? Tough question. My issue with EI theory is the same issue I have with the concept of “authenticity” in the workplace – in so much as, there’s not just one type of EI, and there isn’t just one version of yourself. We must all balance being our true selves and also our professional selves at work, and we must also workout our own brand of Emotional Intelligence and what that looks like and what behaviours we’re trying to elicit and reward as leaders. There is a great article here on the “Authenticity Paradox”.

The very core of Emotional Intelligence is understanding yourself, being self-reflexive, empathising and creating valuable and meaningful relationships with our co-workers. Particularly for leaders, we need to be able to emotionally engage with our staff, to understand how to motivate them, how to support them and to know what they need from us whilst conveying respectfully and simply – what we need from them.

One area that I don’t agree with is the theory that there is a ‘Dark Side’ to EI. For me this seems a bit like saying, if you have nice things you might get robbed…dur. There will always be people who want to manipulate and misuse knowledge but we shouldn’t let that stop us from having nice things. For me this is a non-argument.

How do you boost your Emotional Intelligence? Firstly, you have to want to. Being self-aware is hard, being honest with yourself is hard, being open and potentially vulnerable is hard, challenging your heuristics and cognitive bias is hard. As D.S Blell has claimed, “the beginning of self-transformation is the acceptance of the need for change and the will to do so.” (Blell 2011: 32). You’ve got to want it, your team has to want it and your organisation has to want and encourage it. And don’t for a second think that you can create Emotional Intelligence through policy and procedure – you can’t.

Bibliography

Emotional Intelligence: For the Authentic and Diverse Workplace – DS Blell (2011) – Bloomington Press.

Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth – G Matthews, M Zeidner, RD Roberts (2004) – MIT Press.

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman, R Boyatzis & A McKee (2013)Harvard Business Review Press.

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success – S Stein & H Book (2006) – Jossey-Bass Press.

Working With Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman (1998) – Bloomsbury Publishing.

 

The World We Believe In

Africa, Business, Charity, L&D, Uncategorized, workplace

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing – Edmund Burke

 

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This September I’ll be travelling to Kampala in Uganda with an incredible group of HR professionals, and the charity Retrak and #ConnectingHRAfrica, to help and support street children and to train local staff. You can find out more about what we’re planning to do here: https://www.retrak.org/work-in-hr-come-with-us-to-uganda/

 

What is #ConnectingHRAfrica ? We are the extension of #ConnectingHRManchester, which is a regular meeting of HR professionals around the Manchester area. This is a get together to talk about all things HR and L&D, a project founded by Ian Pettigrew who has gone on to organise #ConnectingHRAfrica (Ian is a trustee of Retrak). Here is a link to Ian’s blog on why he is so passionate about his work with Retrak: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/please-help-us-make-positive-impact-lives-street-hr-africa-pettigrew?trk=prof-post 

 

Why have I volunteered? A ginger going to Africa, why would you do that?!

 

Well, there are a number of reasons. Firstly, 2015 was not a good year for me personally, perhaps some of you may have noticed that I’ve returned to my maiden name on LinkedIn and Twitter (enough said), and I am desperate for 2016 to be a much more positive year for me. I want it to be a year of exciting experiences and happy memories.

 

When I heard about this opportunity through a post on LinkedIn, it was incredibly serendipitous timing as I was just then starting to feel in a positive enough state of mind that I was looking for volunteering opportunities. Coming off the back of a few months of wallowing, I had started to gain some perspective and had come to the conclusion that it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself, and to do something for the benefit of others. I had already started researching different charitable opportunities when I saw this title on LinkedIn, “Work in HR? Come With Us to Uganda” – YAAAS. Not only a chance to volunteer but also to be able to utilise the skills I’ve gained from working in L&D and HR these last 3 years.

 

I feel very privileged to be in the position to be able to offer support and help to homeless children and local workers. Retrak is a fantastic charity, and the work they do is truly inspiring. Retrak believe in a world where no child is forced to live on the street. Their mission is to transform highly vulnerable children’s lives, preserve families, and empower communities. We put children at the heart of everything we do and we will defend and promote their rights. Retrak operates in Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, and Tanzania. Retrak has also trained partner organisations in Mozambique, DRC and Zimbabwe. Retrak is also involved in ground-breaking research working with organisations across the globe from Mexico to Cambodia. The last Retrak annual report shows that 96 children were rescued from trafficking, 4,265 street and vulnerable children were provided with help in outreach, placement, and follow up, and 605 children were reunited with families.

 

Last year I travelled to Morocco and visited the Sahara Desert, and en route to the desert there was a child begging by the side of the road – but not for money, for water. It is hard to imagine such levels of desperation, of needing to beg for water, and it was utterly heartbreaking to see. That experience has stayed with me, and at that point I knew I wanted to volunteer in some way to help children who are struggling so severely.

 

I know this trip to Kampala is going to be an incredibly emotional and potentially heart-wrenching experience. I’ll be visiting the slums, working with children who have suffered terrible abuses, neglect, drug addiction and much more. I’ll be working in a safe home for girls, organising a huge football match, and a community day for HIV testing, medical and dental help. I’ll also be running around like a lunatic with the kids, playing with them and entertaining them as best I can. I really hope that the time I spend with these children, and the money I raise for Retrak, can positively and sustainably influence their lives.

 

So how can you sponsor me? I’ve got a JustGiving page, and I would be incredibly grateful for any support you can offer (you, or a friend, or even your work!):

 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Alice-Cowell1

 

retrak letter.jpg

An Ode to Benny Higgins

Business, L&D, Leadership, Uncategorized, workplace
FullSizeRender

My “Howl” tattoo

 

so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

 

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the annual HR Grapevine conference (#HRGV2016 if you want to check out the Twitter coverage of the day). Last week’s conference, and in particular one of the keynote speakers Benny Higgins from Tesco Bank, inspired me to write this blog post. From here on out I’m going to be referring to Mr Higgins as Benny, for convenience and also because its fun to pretend we’re friends.

 

So what was it about Benny’s speech that I found so inspiring? Never before, has my career and my love of literature collided so vividly than it did during Benny’s talk. I have a BA & MA in English Literature, but I’m now an L&D and BD Consultant; Benny is a banker and according to his Wikipedia page he has a “literary bent”. He quoted from the Great Gatsby (one of my favourite books) and from Maya Angelou’s poetry (everyone should read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) and I lapped it up. In his lilting Scottish accent, it felt to me like he spoke from the heart about subjects and topics he truly felt inspired by, and that’s what the best kind of presenters and speakers can do. They leave you feeling as if they’ve given you a small piece of themselves, an insight into their lives and hearts and you feel connected.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.55.04

Benny Higgins speaking at the HR Grapevine 2016 conference, I added my own favourite Gatsby quote.

 

Sticking with the literary theme, I would say that Benny was the very antithesis of what Holden Caulfield would have described as a phony:

 

“He started off with about fifty corny jokes, just to show us what a regular guy he was. Very big deal. Then he started telling us how he was never ashamed, when he was in some kind of trouble or something, to get right down his knees and pray to God. He told us we should always pray to God—talk to Him and all—wherever we were. He told us we ought to think of Jesus as our buddy and all. He said he talked to Jesus all the time. Even when he was driving his car. That killed me. I can just see the big phony bastard shifting into first gear and asking Jesus to send him a few more stiffs.”

(J.D. SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye).

 

Perhaps I’m just one of life’s skeptics, and maybe I found Benny so shocking because post the 2008 financial crisis, we’re all experiencing severe distrust for anyone working in banking, and maybe I was expecting more of an 80s cliché, a Gordon Gecko or someone straight out of Glengarry Glen Ross:

 

MOSS: That’s the God’s truth. And it gets me depressed. I swear that it does. AT MY AGE. To see a goddamn: “Somebody wins the Cadillac this month. P.S. Two guys get fucked.”

(David Mamet: Glengarry Glen Ross).

 

After Benny’s session I started wondering about my presenting style, and if I manage to make a connection with my audience. I was recently lucky enough to give a guest lecture at Leeds Beckett University for their 3rd year business and HR students, and my talk was on values-based leadership. I truly hope it resonated with them. I tried to speak from the heart, I was open and honest about the types of leadership mistakes I’ve made and seen, although I doubt I was inspirational. Nevertheless, Benny has got me thinking that maybe its time that my literary and work lives stop being so separate. Although my favourite poem is Howl by Allen Ginsburg (the tattoo is mine), and I’m not sure your average sane person is going to be inspired by that, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked” – and then again, maybe those of us who empathise with Ginsberg need inspiration the most.

 

Nevertheless I can certainly see why Benny chooses to quote Maya Angelou, an undeniably inspirational woman and a beautiful poet, I can’t believe he has been fortunate enough to have met her in real life:

 

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

(Maya Angelou: Still I Rise).

 

I’m going to endeavour and aspire towards making my audience feel connected with me, and feeling as though we’ve shared an experience together. Next time I prepare for presenting or public speaking, I’m going to attempt to not just inform and persuade but also to connect and engage and I hope you do the same. We could all be a little more like Benny Higgins.

Values-based Leadership

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, workplace

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Roy E. Disney.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked back to Leeds Beckett University to talk to their Leadership Centre students again. This time I’m going to talk to them about values-based leadership.

 

I started thinking about my leadership journey, and what type of leader I used to be, which invariably got me thinking about the leadership mistakes I’ve made; which is why I’ve decided my guest lecture is going to be centered around my own experiences, and helping them to avoid the mistakes I’ve made. I have also witnessed some leadership mistakes from people above me (as I’m sure most of us have) and I’m going to share those too.

 

One of the moments that so clearly stood out in my mind around the times I’ve seen terrible leadership, leadership from someone who apparently stood for no values whatsoever, was when my ex manager used to espouse buzzwords after jargon followed by nonsense to the extent that whenever he spoke someone would mouth “bullshit bingo” to someone else in the room, and we would all start mentally counting how many of these words he used. Values-based leaders are inspirational, and nobody was EVER inspired, by jargon. I hope the students leaving my session remember that for when they’re all of our bosses. The person I’m referring to was eventually found out, as is often the case, as being all buzzwords and no substance, and I was given his job, and if nothing else, I always avoided jargon and buzzwords.

 

I also want the students to leave the session understanding that they have to be their own brand of VBLeader. It is great to be inspired by someone, but you’ve got to adapt, hone and create a leadership style that’s your own. How do you do that? In my experience it was from getting stuck in, trying new things, and making some mistakes. Some people see being a VBLeader as being an “authentic” leader. I’ve got a lot of problems with this term, for a fantastic article on the contradictory nature of “authentic” leadership, see my colleague Mark Gilroy’s blog: The Problem With Authenticity 

 

Ok, so that was an example of bad leadership that I’ve witnessed, but what leadership faux pas have I been guilty of? One of many things I’ve learnt about the world of work since joining TMS, is that we don’t all want the same things from work, from our colleagues, leaders and career paths. We don’t all have the same values. That seems pretty obvious I’m sure but I think generally speaking, the world of work and certainly the world of clinical trials (my background) is so fast-paced that you never get the opportunity to stand back, think self-reflexively and wonder if there might have been a better way of packaging that piece of tough news, or in communicating a new strategy. We’re all so busy with our own goals and deadlines, and of our teams and staff hitting their deadlines that most “development” becomes a tick box exercise at best. However, as leaders it is our responsibility and our duty to think about these things. We must make the time to be self-reflexive and consider what our staff wants and needs from us, not just always think of bottom lines and outputs. I wish someone had offered me that advice in my first leadership role.

 

Being a leader can be tough and sometimes it calls for some tough decisions. I’ve seen many a leader fall into the trap of wanting people to feel involved in a decision they ultimately have no power to influence (thank you for voting against that change plan, we’re going to do it anyway but thanks for playing, I’m glad I got to waste some of your time with this). It has got to be the fastest way to frustrate your staff. If you’ve made a decision, or someone above you has, and it has to be that way, don’t take a vote or package it like you’re after consensus if you’re not. Be honest with people and tell them you’re going that way and why. I’m not saying to close yourself off to hearing other people’s opinions, but don’t mislead people. I understand the temptation, if they agree with you then you look magnanimous and people feel like their opinion matters, but if they don’t and you do it anyway you’re just confirming for people that their opinion AND their time don’t matter to you.

 

To summarise:

 

  • Know what your values are
  • Understand what your staff needs from you
  • Appreciate that different viewpoints can be beneficial
  • Be honest
  • Don’t bullshit.

 

I’m going to end this blog on the quote I’m going to leave the students with:

 

“In order to become balanced, you must dismiss one big myth: that the leader is the all-knowing person with all of the answers. […] The goal, after all, is not to be right but to do the right thing.” (Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jnr 2011).

How I get out of bed in the morning: top 5 tips

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, workplace

Now the mornings are getting cold and dark, you might need more help than usual getting out of bed. Here are the top 5 things that help me to get out of bed and acting like a functional adult, especially when I’m feeling down. Let me know if you have any tips!

  1. Set a good alarm tone. This is so important for me, I don’t want to be woken up by something shrill and urgent. That is a recipe for annoyance and grump. Something upbeat that won’t frighten the life out of you when it comes on at 7am. Don’t annoy yourself before you’ve even given your *colleagues the opportunity to do it for you.
  2. Set a motivational message as your alarm. A friend of mine has, “if Frodo can get to Mordor, you can get out of bed”, as the text that accompanies her jazzy alarm tone. If we think about the trials and tribulations of poor Frodo, it can really put getting up for work into perspective.
  3. Create an inspirational play list to get ready to. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, it’s always best to avoid The Smiths and instead err towards the styles of Destiny’s Child. Many a morning I’ve gotten myself out of bed trying to be the type of woman Beyoncé wants me to be, because I’m a survivor. NB, if you have a significant other that works different hours to you, it might be best to use headphones or singledom can ensue.
  4. The 5 minute rule. If the thought of getting out of bed, caffeinated, dressed and into work feels like an insurmountable task, try breaking down tasks into manageable 5 minute slots. This can help with the feelings of being overwhelmed that in my experience accompany low mood/ Mondays.
  5. My reward for getting out of bed and into the office (other than my monthly wage) is a jolly nice cup of Nespresso coffee each morning. My coffee machine changed my life, and each morning my world is set on fire anew with a delicious cup of coffee. Thanks to a handy travel mug my mum bought me, I also get to have one of these treats in the car on the way to work too! If it’s good enough for George Clooney, it’s good enough for me – that’s my motto anyway.

Go on, get out of that bed – you can do it!

*My colleagues are lovely and don’t annoy me at all.

What qualifications do I need?

Business, education, L&D, Leadership, Management, qualifications

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it. – Theodore Roosevelt

This blog as been inspired by a conversation I had recently with a lovely German client of mine. After a day together, we went out for a pint and started chatting and she asked me what I studied at University. So I told her, I’ve got a BA and an MA in English Literature, and my specialism was postcolonial literature. She was baffled, “I thought you used to work as a manager in clinical trials?!” she exclaimed. I did, and now I’m a Learning & Business Development Consultant. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?

My client explained to me that she got her degree in finance because at that time, in Germany, she was told that a degree like philosophy (which is what she actually wanted to study) would not get her a decent job at the end of it – and that got me thinking…

Certainly when I was at University I had no idea this is what I would be doing now. If I knew when I was 17, that my career would take me into L&D and business development, would I still have applied to study English Literature? I would hope so, I’ve had the privilege of learning about a subject I truly love, and when I studied literature I also studied history, politics, philosophy, gender, sexuality and cultural studies. I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky.

I’ve been very fortunate with my career journey and also in finding open-minded employers, willing to take a risk and give an un-experienced youngin’ a go. I do know that I’ve been fortunate, but I also think qualifications are what you make of them. Qualifications might get you into an interview, but on their own, they won’t get you the job. Interviewing well is one hell of an advantage.

I got into clinical trials (I was a technician in a lab) to pay for my Masters, but when I was at the lab I worked hard and tried to make an impression, and when I finished my Masters I was offered a supervisory role and then a management role. This is where I got my leadership experience, knowledge of working in a global environment, and HR training, which has been incredibly valuable to me in my current role.

Needless to say, if you want to be a dentist, don’t study English Literature – but, I would say, if you’re searching for your next employee, don’t discount someone who might be a little different to your usual candidate. They might bring with them a host of unexpected skills, experiences and talents. So far I’ve made a living out of being the youngest and least relevantly qualified candidate and I don’t think anyone has been too disappointed!

What do you guys think? Have any of you had a meandering career path like mine?

Would You Hire Someone With Depression?

Business, depression, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, workplace

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

— Albert Camus

I found this blog post incredibly hard to write and that was partly due to being unsure as to whether or not I should write it at all. I’ve been debating writing a blog about depression and the workplace for a while now but when I’ve shared these thoughts with friends, some have felt it could be a potentially career limiting move – hence the title.

Full disclosure: I returned to work recently after 6 weeks off with depression. One of my biggest concerns about coming back to work was what excuse I was going to give my colleagues for being off work sick. Ultimately I was debating as to whether or not I should pretend I’m not depressed. In the end I decided to come clean and in the spirit of “in for a penny, in for a pound” I also decided to write this blog.

So, would you hire someone with depression? Would you be put off or concerned? It is true that we’re now better informed about mental illness in the workplace than ever before but for many people, they still choose to keep it hidden and instead explain their absences with fictional physical maladies. I also can’t help but think that some industries and professions are much more supportive of mental illness than others; has your experience been the same?

Lenny Henry has said this about how his depression has affected his life: “[t]hat’s where depression hits you most – your home life. It doesn’t affect your work.” Until about 7 weeks ago I would have agreed with Lenny, as it was seemingly easy enough to play a part 9am to 5pm everyday, but it wears, those 8 hours at work make 5pm feel like 2am and there’s nothing to do but go to bed. How depression affects your relationships and home life is for a different blog.

I’ve been suffering from depression for about a year or so now, induced by chronic pain from a back injury from playing netball (I’ve had 3 prolapsed discs for around 4 years now), and so I’ve never had the dilemma of asking myself – should I disclose my mental illness to a prospective employer, or not? What do you all think? Would you disclose it in an interview or application form? As Sarah Lancashire has said, “It’s a cruel illness, because you can’t see it and you can hide it so well.”

I’ve always been proud of never having had long-term sick leave despite my chronic pain but I can’t say that anymore, 6 weeks is a long time. Would I judge myself so harshly if I had been off for 6 weeks with broken legs? Probably not.

In hindsight, had I been more proactive in verbalising my situation to my boss and my colleagues, and explaining how difficult I was starting to find summoning the “energy to merely be normal” I could’ve perhaps prevented some of what followed over the next couple of months. I think when you’re ambitious, motivated and high performing, it is really hard to talk to people about your limitations.

Despite this period of darkness, now that I’m back at work I’m still determined to be high performing, to deliver a quality service to my clients and to try and contribute positively to the workplace. I’m not saying I’m fine now, but for those of you out there, reading this blog and worrying about dealing with your depression and maintaining your career, I do wholeheartedly believe that we can achieve our goals and be successful.You’re not alone; according to the charity Mind 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year Take comfort in the knowledge that some of the greatest minds and stars have suffered as we do and yet achieved greatness (this is also where I got the inspiration for the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Hemingway quote) – to name but a few: Stephen Fry, Buzz Aldrin, Abraham Lincoln, and many more. Take heart, keep going.

I found this comment by JK Rowling in an interview with USA Today back in 2008 to be particularly comforting:

I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.

I hope that in the future, learning that a potential candidate suffers from depression would not put you off hiring them.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences.

Honest Advice to New L&Ders

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management

This week I read Julie Drybrough’s jolly good blog on “Advice You’d Give to Someone Starting in L&D”, and my mind starting exploding with all of the advice I would give to myself 2 years ago, if I could, when I transitioned from senior management in clinical trials into a Learning & Development consultant role.

I would tell myself, “mate, this is a completely different ballgame”.

I had transferable skills, sure. I could empathise with the managers and leaders I was now training and accrediting. I knew of the challenges facing global companies, geographically dispersed teams, how so many companies are in a constant state of flux (it’s a VUCA world, you know), because I had been there.

In my role as a manager I had to train my staff in various practical skills and also, a lot of soft skills too. But did I know how to be a facilitator? To lead a group or individual into the right direction without imposing your solutions on them (which, lets be serious, I sometimes did as a manager) is a completely different kettle of sea life.

If I’m honest with you all, staying neutral is still a tough one for me. I’ve had to perfect my “game face”.

A mindset change for me was going from being senior to the group of people I was training or leading, to being hired by someone to deliver training, because those two scenarios are very different. Clinical trials is very much command and control, because, if my team mislabeled a sample, or incorrectly entered a result, people could die, multi-million pound drugs could fail to come to market. There’s definitely less scope for accidental death in L&D. Something I’m greatly appreciative of.

I also had to become more flexible. Sometimes as a consultant a client wants you in a different country next week, or tomorrow – at first, I found it tough to roll with the fluidity of consultancy work. Now, I relish it. I could be working anywhere in Europe, Middle East or Africa with any type of industry you can imagine, and what a huge privilege that is.

So what would I tell myself?

I would say: you’re going to come up against some resistance (to your age and experience, to the very fact you’ve been brought in to help in the first place) – you’re used to this, but this time, you can’t rely on your seniority to push your ideas and solutions in place. You’re going to find this tough. I would say, be confident, remember you’re an expert and you’ve been brought in for a reason and you’ve been hired for a reason.

I would also say, chill out and roll with it; you’re going to love this.

What advice would you have given yourself, if you could, before you started your L&D career?

Who Promoted the Kid?! #LDbravery

Business, Leadership, Management

Welcome to my first blog. I’ve been meaning to set this up for a while now, but I’ve been nervous about it, to be honest.

My inspiration for finally getting going was reading Tony Jackson’s #LDbravery article on courageous L&D.

Firstly, a caveat, this blog and I, we’re not an oracle; for me, this blog is meant to share some of my stories about being a leader, a young manager, and later, an L&D professional. Hopefully you’ll learn from some of my mistakes, hopefully you’ll relate to some of my topics.

Back to my story. Tony’s blog post made me remember a time, way back when (about 2 years ago), when I was a senior manager in a global clinical trials company, and I was also the youngest senior manager in the company and ALL of my staff were older than me. Tony talks about receiving resistance (quite extreme resistance) from one of his participants. I can relate. Probably all of you reading can too.

I first experienced this type of resistance at my first team meeting as the European Lab’s Sample Processing Manager. I was 23. Looking into the faces of my team, all of whom had been at the company longer, were more experienced, and were (to be frank) much older than me, was daunting to say the least. Crossed arms and skeptical glances.

This department was struggling. They had just lost their manager (fired), who had been extremely ineffectual, the wider company had lost respect for this underperforming group, and they had lost their confidence in a big way. Rapid expansion and a company buy-out had blown-up this department’s workload and they were under the types of pressure they never experienced before.

I’m not saying my methods were ideal, nor even that my new and scary ideas were right. But I went for it. I stepped up and shielded my team from criticism, criticism that really should have been levied at outdated processes, but instead was hurled at individuals. I encouraged trialing new approaches, what we were doing wasn’t working! I opened up lines of communication between processors and project managers, and ultimately I helped the team believe in themselves again. They were a GOOD team, but their processes were no longer fit for purpose, and they had been let down by their previous manager.

In my experience, people stop resisting, stop doubting and criticizing when it turns out you were right. When your ideas start paying off, when processes start improving, when morale is lifted. Stick it out. You can do it, and it will get better.

I’m sure you won’t find any of this advice in leadership books, or the blogs of infamous business experts. Nevertheless, it worked for me. To all young leaders out there, I say, be courageous, believe in your ability, be respectful but don’t, ever, let that respect disable you from sticking to your vision.