Surrounding Yourself with Good People Who Believe In You, Can Help You to Pick Yourself Back up When You Get Knocked Down
We all make mistakes in our WorkLife, and there may be times when we’re out of our depth when we make a decision that brings about what we perceive to be disastrous consequences for ourselves and for others. When this results in our WorkLife going out of sync with who we are as a person, it can cause us to lose the self-respect that comes with having pride, confidence and trust in ourselves, that sense that we’re behaving with honour and dignity.
Niamh was at such a place.
She was feeling demoralised, de-energised and demotivated. Overnight she had lost everything that she had worked so hard for three years building, and now because of a stupid mistake, she had thrown it all away. But it was even worse than that because she wasn’t the only one impacted by what she had done, she had also cost the people who worked with her, their job, and her family who had invested their savings in her business, their money. She had no idea how she could face people again, having let them down so badly. Overnight they too had lost everything.
But let’s back up a little to understand how Niamh got to this point.
From a young age, Niamh had loved baking. As far back as she could remember she had spent her time growing up in Ireland, in the kitchen with her mum and grandmother baking up a storm. They ran a guest house and would serve up the best-baked goods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or any given hour in the day when tea/coffee and cake was the answer. It didn’t matter what the question was, the answer was always tea/coffee and cake.
Niamh went on to study culinary arts, and on graduating worked at a renowned patisserie in Paris. She always had a dream to open her own patisserie, bakery and cafe, and five years later, that dream came to be, when on a visit to London she discovered the perfect premises in the perfect location. She talked to the real-estate company about taking on the lease, and to the bank about the finances, she needed to equip the space with everything that was required to turn the downstairs into a patisserie, bakery and cafe, and the upstairs into an apartment, that she could call home. Niamh was surprised how quickly and effortlessly it was all handled, and within a short space of time, she opened the doors for the first time and welcomed people in.
For three years Niamh worked long hours, and she was OK with that — she loved her work, she loved her customers, and she loved the people she worked with. She had built a great team who worked alongside her, bringing their great array of baked products, coffees and teas to a great clientele. Niamh was living her dream, day-in-day-out.
But then, out of nowhere, one morning as Niamh opened her mail, she was shocked to learn that her rent was about to quadruple. It was just crazy. There was absolutely no way she could afford to pay such an extortionate rate. Setting up a meeting with her real-estate manager, she learnt the real-estate company she had been dealing with was about to be taken over by a different company, and this was the company responsible for making the decision to hike up the rent.
Niamh let them know there was no way she could pay this. They suggested a solution: a development deal, to invest in the development of the property. She was told the investment would earn a high yield, and that the monthly interest she would earn on the investment would cover her rent. The capital she invested would remain safe, and in time should she decide to move on from the premises, she could choose to withdraw her investment; but in the meantime, the interest from it would pay her rent.
Niamh didn’t have all of the capital needed for the investment. She reached out to her bank, requesting a loan — but they turned her down flat. They told her that development deals are extremely high risk. But Niamh didn’t want to give up on her dream; and so, she did the only other thing she could think of doing: she reached out to her family for the financial support she needed. In doing so, she held back that she had been turned down by the bank. It wasn’t that she wanted to deceive her family — it was because she believed she could make this work. Wanting to help her to continue to live her dream, they gave her the money she needed.
But thirty days later, the property company had collapsed. Niamh still didn’t know all the whys and wherefores, all she knew was that she had lost the money she had invested — her family’s and her own. The premises were being repossessed the next day, and all of the people who worked with her were out of a job.
And that was how Niamh had gotten to this point. That was how she had gotten to the point where she was feeling demoralised, de-energised and demotivated. Overnight she had lost everything that she had worked so hard for three years building, and now because of a stupid mistake she had thrown it all away — not just for herself but for those who had worked with her building the business, and her family who had supported her financially. She had no idea how she could face people again, having let them down so badly.
But she knew she had to. She had to deliver this devastating news. She knew she had to speak to her co-workers the next morning. She knew she wanted to speak to her family before then — as much as she didn’t want to do this by phone, she had no option, because she simply couldn’t fly home and back in time. So she phoned home and spoke to her mum, Mairéad.
Her mum’s reaction was one of concern for Niamh. She could hear the pain of what she was going through in her voice. She tried to assure her that she and the rest of the family would be OK and that they would put their heads together to help her figure a way out of this. But she knew Niamh wasn’t hearing any of what she was saying. She resolved to fly over the next day; but Niamh asked her not to, saying once she had informed her co-workers in the morning, she would see the rest of the day out alone. She said she wanted to be alone because after doing what she needed to do, in talking to the people she needed to tell what had happened, she then needed time alone.
There was no way Niamh’s mum was going to allow that to happen, she knew she would be flying over the next day. But in that moment, she wanted to do something that might get through to Niamh, when her words weren’t.
Knowing how in the past when Niamh was faced with a challenge she would take herself away from people and pick up a book to read — not necessarily for the solution but by way of taking her mind off the immediate problem, or by way of calming herself — her mum reminded her of a book they had both read and discussed. She had no idea if this would help because she recognised Niamh was in a very bad place; but she felt she had to do something, and this was all she could think of until she could get there to be with her.
The book Mairéad reminded Niamh of was Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It’s a book that Niamh had shared the discovery of with her mum, when growing her business, she was looking for a business strategy from experts in their fields. Niamh had learnt the ropes of starting, owning and running a business by doing it.
That was her approach: she threw herself in at the deep end, doing what was needed day-in-day-out. She didn’t have a plan or a strategy. What she did have was a willingness to learn what was needed each day, and then the next day learn more, and so on. Then one day, when she had felt that she was up to speed with the day-to-day running of the business, she picked up this book as she had seen it recommended because she thought it could help her with developing a business strategy to grow her business.
Mairéad reminded Niamh of how pleasantly surprised she had been to have discovered how naturally she had done a lot of the things recommended in the book. She brought her back to the chapter ‘Build Execution Into Strategy’, and read these words to her: “A company is not only top management, nor is it only middle management. A company is everyone from the top to the front lines. And it is only when all members of an organisation are motivated to support a strategy, for better or for worse, that a company stands apart as a great and consistent executor. A company needs to invoke the most fundamental base of action: the attitudes and behaviours of its people deep in the organisation. You must create a culture of trust and commitment that motivates people to execute the agreed strategy, not to the letter, but to the spirit. People’s hearts and minds must align with the new strategy so that at the level of the individual, people embrace it of their own accord and willingly go beyond compulsory execution to voluntary cooperation in carrying it out.”
She did this to remind Niamh that although she had felt she had never had a strategy, she had succeeded in building a great team, who had consistently demonstrated motivation, trust and commitment in growing the business together. Her mum went on to say that she needed to believe that her team, in the same way as her family did, still respected, trusted and believed in her. The silence from Niamh on hearing these words gave her mum a sense of relief that she would be OK until she was able to be with her the next day; and also having met her co-workers, Mairéad felt confident that they too would be there for Niamh, until she arrived.
Her mum was right. The words and wisdom she had shared, had given Niamh a sense of calm, ahead of facing what she knew was going to be a difficult day. Ahead of falling asleep, she asked herself: What do I need to do to get through tomorrow? The feedback she received on awakening was that she needed to talk to her colleagues first thing and then see out the day alone. While this was exactly as she had planned, sleeping on it gave her a sense of confidence in that, yes, it was going to be difficult, but it was just two things she had to do to get through the day –, and for now, that was enough. The rest she could figure out later.
And it was tough. When she delivered the devastating news to her colleagues, they didn’t respond. Niamh knew they were in shock and she gently asked if they could leave her to finish out the day, saying she would be in touch as soon as she knew the next steps she needed to take to help them in whatever way she could. She was shaking and fighting back the tears throughout, and once they had left, she felt better being alone. She felt she couldn’t have gotten through the rest of the day in their company, because she felt so bad about what she had done, facing them all day would just have been too hard.
But later on, that day, having closed the doors to her business for the last time, as she returned into the kitchen to turn the lights off, she was surprised to see all of her colleagues standing there. As they all stood together in the kitchen, one by one they each spoke to Niamh. They shared words that she came to consider and value as:
Words of Wisdom
Oscar: “Earlier when you told us the news, we were shocked, and we didn’t know what to say, so we didn’t say anything. But we each have something we’d like to say now.
“Speaking for the whole group, I want to let you know that in no way do we blame you for what happened. Through no fault of your own, you found yourself in the worst of situations, and you did what you believed would help the business that we built together to survive. You found the money to invest, and you did that because you wanted to save our livelihoods. We appreciate that so much, and we recognise that you took the only option that was available to do what you needed to do. To save the business that you and we believed in, to save it for all of us. We are so grateful for that, thank you. It didn’t work out, and that’s bad, but you’re not bad. You’re not a bad boss, manager, leader, or friend for that matter, and we can’t have you thinking you are — and so we’re going to tell you why you aren’t. And when we’ve done that, we’re going to put our heads together to see what we can do as a team to come out of this. Because we owe that to you, for being such a great boss, manager, leader and friend.
“Something you said when we began working together has remained with me ever since. You said you would never ask or expect us to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. You honoured that in everything you did — from getting stuck in to deliver on all aspects of the work, to making us coffees and lunch, to cleaning up. I always felt you were our boss and I also felt you were one of us. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend is willing to do what they expect others to do.”
Kira: “Building on that, I always believed you had our backs. Again, you told us that at one point. I remember you saying that you chose to work with us because you liked us because you saw that we were good people and that you believed you could work with us because of those two things. You said you knew we would always do our best, and that was good enough for you; and that because of that if anything ever went wrong, you would have our backs because you knew we would have put everything we could into it, and that you accepted that there would be times when for some unforeseen reason things would go wrong, but that was OK. That meant a lot to me. It meant I always had the confidence to do what I believed was right, in the knowledge that that was good enough; and if anything did go wrong, I knew once I took responsibility, you would have my back. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend admits their mistakes, and takes responsibility when things don’t go as expected; and makes it safe for other people to do the same.”
Nick: “I want to thank you for the feedback you’ve given me because it’s really helped me to grow professionally and personally. And that’s because I knew it always came from a place of sincerity. You have such a high degree of self-awareness, it’s as though it’s infectious. You enabled me to see things within myself that I couldn’t or hadn’t seen — how my work and actions impacts others. The good, and at times the not so good. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend has a high degree of self-awareness.”
Shirley: “On the subject of feedback. In the beginning when you gave me feedback that I now recognise to have been constructive. I reacted negatively because I thought it was negative feedback and you were criticising me. But you enabled me to move beyond that because you always turned the conversation into a learning and growth opportunity. I realised you wanted to bring out the best in me, and I saw that you believed that I was striving to do my best. That meant a lot to me. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend believes that people are striving to do their best.”
Jim: “On the few occasions when things did go wrong, and you had to make tough decisions, you always did that fairly, and you always took full responsibility. Not once did you blame anyone else. When things went really right, and we all enjoyed great success, you always gave us credit, even when it was your idea that led to the success. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend always gives credit where it is due.”
Mel: “I’ve always felt supported by you, in that I never felt I had to be a ‘yes’ person. I felt I could bring new ideas, and that I could challenge the status quo of things. I felt confident in showing initiative, in that I would be supported as much as anyone else. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend supports everyone and doesn’t show favouritism.”
Andy: “I always felt confident that it was OK to take risks, and that without some risk there would be no growth, only stagnation. I felt encouraged to take risks and I felt confident that I could come to you if things didn’t work out as planned. You encouraged openness and honesty and I appreciate that. Thank you.
“A great boss, manager, leader and friend is not afraid to take risks. They are open and honest about it, and they encourage the same in others.”
Listening to the words her team spoke, moved Niamh to tears. But not the tears of sadness she had wanted to avoid by letting them go early that day. They were tears of pride that came from a sense of knowing that she wasn’t the bad boss, manager or leader she had believed she was. But that she was and had the ability to be a great boss, manager or leader, and as importantly friend. Her friends had just imparted the greatest gift to Niamh: a gift that allowed her to see herself for who she really was; a gift that in that moment had allowed her to regain her self-respect, self-trust which, that in turn gave her a sense of motivation. Motivation to pick herself back up, to figure out what she needed to do to move beyond this point, in the knowledge that she wasn’t alone.
Surrounding yourself with good people who believe in you, and can help you to pick yourself back up when you get knocked down, is important as you travel along your WorkLife journey to help drive your self-motivation through self-respect and self-trust.
Sometimes we don’t recognise what’s great about us as a boss, manager, leader or friend. We don’t see ourselves as others do, or we lose sight of it when things go wrong. Take time to consider how you measure up to the following characteristics of a great boss, manager, leader or friend. Think about them in the context of how you treat other people. See what you can put in context, in the same way, Niamh’s team did for her.
Today’s featured book is Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.
WorkLife Book Wisdom
The intention of this story is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.