Leaders - Being oneself

Do you know what you want, and are you prepared to go and get it?

Spike Milligan’s headstone on his grave reads ‘I told you I was ill.’ Even after he was gone, he left a befitting legacy of his great comedic talent. For me, Spike’s headstone is surpassed by a famous blues singer in the USA whose headstone reads ‘Didn’t wake up this morning’ which is incredibly funny if you listen to the blues.

Not a cheerful way to start an article, I know, but imagining the end of our lives may be a useful place to start to examine what choices we can make to ensure it has been the life we would have wanted it to be.

I worked for Sir Chay Blyth CBE BEM for a number of years and one of his favourite stories was about imagining yourself lying on your death bed and looking at you toes and saying to yourself did I do it all, and if the answer was NO then you had BISHED it (a clean way of saying you had got it very wrong).

Quite simply put, had you made the right choices for you? Presumably not many of us are going to be lying on our deathbeds and be heard to say, ‘I wish I had worked harder.’ Notionally though if you did, it may mean that you really did get your work/life balance sorted.  I am sure there are many people who end their careers and think, what if? I am also certain that many people have very fulfilling careers and are at their most productive when doing a job of work that they enjoy and believe makes a difference.

There are many self-aware people who have chosen to manage their career paths wisely and achieve what Maslow identified as Self Actualisation at work. In other words, they are highly motivated, highly skilled and working to their strengths, on a daily basis, delivering excellent results with endless energy.

Let us continue that thought…. hands up all those who are doing the job that for them is the most stimulating and fulfilling job they could ever have imagined doing?

Over the past few years there has been a great emphasis on work /life balance and/or being in a vocational career path, one which adds value to your life as well as others. My view on this, is that work/life integration is the way to a fulfilling career. Doing what you are destined to do in all aspects of your life.   

I got into trouble as an Executive Coach when I asking a CEO what did his job mean to him and did it add to his overall life goals. You can imagine my surprise when after our consultation I was summoned to the Board of the Company to be told that after our session the CEO had resigned and was last seen wandering around Kenya in a loin cloth ‘finding himself.’ I was horrified by the summons but in the long term the Board agreed it was the best solution for both the individual and the Company.

I had a recent recurrence of this situation with a married couple on a programme at Henley Business School. One of the programme highlights was to undertake a leadership immersion by going into other leadership environments, very different to the participant’s normal environment. After the programme they both promptly resigned and set up a social enterprise to supply clean water to remote villages in Chad, having been moved to action during one of the immersion visits. Their employers took a really adult view, wishing them success and asked them to get back in touch if and when they wanted to return to work with the company. Which they subsequently did 3 years later.

In future, careers may look very different because of the changing world of work:

  • Individual workloads are on the increase,
  • Organisations are de-layering
  • More work is being outsourced, sometimes to different countries
  • The overall population is aging
  • A higher proportion of women are in the workforce
  • More people are working on flexible and short-term contracts
  • Project work is favoured
  • New skills are required
  • Working at home or mobile may become the norm

Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, employees may expect to be on a climbing frame that cuts across a number of organisations and may include a range of different roles during their working lives. You have one life, live it, so the saying goes. This might mean you have to make the right choices for you and carve out the career you want, or simply inherit the career you are given.

In the meantime, if you meet a very happy chap, in a loincloth in Kenya, ask him if it was worth it.




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