Who We Are

Mentors. You’re supposed to have them, aren’t you? Very in vogue.

I don’t have any mentors at the moment. Nothing active. But it occurred to me last night that what I’ve got from people previously comes with me wherever I go.

People who’ve given me perspectives.

I think of them, the individuals, as I recall the nugget or the way of being or I wish they were on hand to just answer this one tricky problem with me.

(It’s an amazing gift that isn’t it? To have given people knowledge and ideas they carry with them wherever they go. The miracle of humans with our infectious tools and ideas).

Last night it was a guy called Ray Richards who came to mind as I sat on the roof watching the skyline waiting for a rain storm to come. I’d had a good thought about work and remembered a conversation between me, Tom and Ray and Ray had said ‘anyway, you’re always working – you guys don’t switch off’ in the context of us and anyone like us in that early stage, being entrepreneurial, of running a small new thing in a start up phase, of being people wanting to do something. And I remember feeling the relief that other people knew that was what it was like and that it was recognised.

As I waited for the rain (it sounds so zen, I’m going to keep saying it) my thoughts then went from that ‘always on’ thing that I see in the most driven people to what makes us good at our jobs.

What does make us good at our jobs?

I think it’s:
Who We Are – our character, what we’re about, what makes us tick
How We Are – how we interact with others, how we behave under pressure
What We Know – the actual stuff
..in that order.

I would rather be in a team of people with the best character, attitudes and behaviours than a team with the best expertise in their domain areas.

You can probably find countless examples to prove this. And countless more to disprove it (a heart surgeon operating on one of my kids – do I care how she is or who she is or do I just want to know that she’s the best in the world at this kind of procedure?). It’s just what I feel, what I’ve seen, what I think it all comes down to in the long run.

If that’s right, what about What We Know?

Of course it matters, is hugely influential. But maybe my hierarchy is because the context I’m thinking of is constantly evolving and we’re writing the playbooks as we go. There’s a body of knowledge to build on but every organisation, every market, every ecosystem is unique and changing.

In fact, I do think that’s it.

If the heart surgery needs to happen on my kid tomorrow, I’ll take the best surgeon in the world and forgive their bedside manner. But if we’re a team going on an adventure together, one that’s going to last years, that’s where my hierarchy fits.

So then what?

It’s about doing the work
Doing it
Being willing to admit when it’s gone wrong or we don’t know

They say it’s good to be vulnerable, but I know from personal experience that it can confuse and it can create doubts in others. But ultimately it’s what’s needed.

To finish the adventure we have to be able to adapt and learn. We have to be able to pull together. None of us really know what it will take. Even people who’ve done it before, because this time will be different. What we have to believe is that whatever it is, we’ll overcome it. And that’s about Who We Are.

2 thoughts on “Who We Are

  1. I would rather be in a team of people with the best character, attitudes and behaviours than a team with the best expertise in their domain areas.
    That is the nugget of pure gold!
    Love it!

  2. really lovely post – totally resonates. And often it’s the Who we are that gets in the way of How we need to be. There’s a quote I read that’s really stayed with me – it’s from a guy called Bill Hanover who was CEO of some big financial firm: “the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.” I really believe it – and have experienced that feeling personally.

    Which makes me think about your surgeon example – anyone in any high pressure job needs to be able galvanise their team, because even a surgeon is dependent on the others being able to do their best work. At last year’s Dots conference there was a talk by a paediatric surgeon called Martin Elliott. He described how his team at Great Ormond Street were trying to improve the life chances of their patients. They realised that the most dangerous art of the procedure wasn’t the operation itself, but the point of transfer between operating theatre and recovery room – a point at which they swapped care teams. Through a creative leap they realised that there is a similarity between this process and a Formula One pitstop. So they rang Mclaren and got help in redesigning their process. If the individuals on that team – and its leadership had felt defensive, or fearful that their authority would be usurped – if they hadn’t shown vulnerability by enabling themselves to say they didn’t know and needed some help – then they would never have made that creative leap, and their patients’ life chances wouldn’t have been improved.
    There’s a (very clunkily written) transcript of the talk and his slides here: http://brilliantnoise.com/speaker/professor-martin-elliott/

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