Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Decision

I gathered my new team together last week to meet for the very first time with the task of agreeing a project vision and mission statement.

The room was filled with highly skilled professionals and I was honoured to be standing amongst them. I outlined the basics of what we have been commissioned to undertake and set them the task of writing a vision statement.

Afraid that I may come across as some kind of ‘David Brent’ character (from the BBC sitcom ‘The Office’), I spent time at the start of the morning nailing my colours to the mast as to why I believed it was essential that we agreed a vision for the project before trying to create any detail.

Years ago, I remember spending an inordinate amount of time in a meeting doing just the same task. As someone who easily gets impatient in the work arena if I ‘can’t see the point of something’, I regarded that ‘visioning’ event as a gargantuan waste of time as I just wanted to crack on with things and get the ‘real’ work done.

I have since learned that many a project succeeds or fails on the quality and understanding of what the outcome should be. A vision should paint the ideal – sometimes that ideal seems unachievable (The vision statement of Oxfam for example is ‘A just world without poverty’) but I am adamant that if we don’t have a vision that is inclusive of hope then it is not worth setting out our stall.

I had set about an hour and a half for the task, and after some initial discussions, I let the group loose to come up with some statements in the hope that we may use these ideas to craft a collective vision statement.

Flipchart paper, coloured markers and post-it notes abound, my newly established group of professionals eagerly complied and began to come up with their ideas…

…after an hour or so, I could see that they were struggling. All of them had spent a long time in discussion and debate.

As time ticked by, I noticed that every sub group had drafted either a formal bullet pointed list or some creative buzzwords in different coloured clouds. Nobody had drafted a sentence let alone a paragraph and I began to feel a little concerned. 

They all had a sense of the important things that should be included in the vision of our project but pointed out that our vision statement could not be a plethora of words that had no sense or synergy to hold them together.

I was surprised just how difficult it was for them to grasp what I had required.

I am so passionate about our project that I stood at the front and waxed lyrically about the kind of message our vision statement should hold. I gave them more examples from other organisations that had crafted succinct paragraphs to paint a picture of what their work was aiming for and then one of them, a very learned colleague said ‘You have such passion for what we are going to do – you already have the vision – why don’t you write the statement and we can just agree to it!’

‘No!’ I replied, ‘This is not about MY vision – it is about OUR vision. It must be something that we create, that we sign up to collectively. We must own it and then strive for it together.’

We broke for coffee. And then like so many great ideas and decisions, our vision was borne away from the layout of the boardroom and on comfortable chairs, over biscuits and caffeine.

On return to the session, we worked on it quickly, creatively and with a firm understanding our vision for the future was fundamental to our moving forward. 

I love working as part of a team. 

As a leader, I lead from the middle as an integral part of my team but I am prepared to be the gatekeeper of our work. I can do this with confidence because I know that our decisions and actions have been planned thoroughly with every member being fully valued. In short, I expect to lead from the front where it is necessary but to be a team member first and foremost is central to my leadership philosophy.

In my first year of my new normal, work has been my salvation. I cannot say that when I returned last November, I had a spring in my step but recently, my professional life holds more interest and motivation than ever before. I am wholly surprised at this given the last 12 months but I am exceptionally grateful for it.

However, life this year has presented many more challenges when I return home.
On a personal level, I have had to adjust to losing a team member. The one with whom I consulted about so many different things on a daily basis and on aspects of life that I needed support with. 

Away from the office and the boardroom there was a far more important project taking place – LIFE.

In a team of two, that loss is utterly catastrophic. It doesn’t matter how f***ing awesome your vision statement is for the project that is life because it is aborted immediately.  And as failures go, I can tell you that this one sucks big time. 

I could blame myself of course. After all, if I had chosen to be in a team of one, a happy singleton with only myself to consider then I wouldn’t have found myself in this position. Plenty of people are single right? Plenty of people are successfully living their dreams without someone by their side and they do not have to consult, plan or negotiate anything with anyone very much let alone a significant other. Many of these people report that they are happy with this way of life – ‘why complicate things?’ they say.

And who am I to argue with them? I believe them or at least I believe a few of them – the few that I know really well and who all have very valid and individual reasons for their choice.

There –in lies the rub. It is their choice. I do not relate to that kind of choice but I don’t need to understand it – in fact, it is none of my business. 

I did not choose this way of life. My vision was not to live my life alone. 

I chose to be in a team of two. We sketched out plans for our life with an understanding that many challenges would appear along the way. We faced each hurdle as it presented itself and had team meetings accordingly. And like all good teams, we discussed, we debated and we didn’t always see eye to eye on every issue. 

In our team of two, we had twice the confidence. Can you imagine that? Having a confidence level to deal with life to the tune of 200%? 

It meant that we were able to do so much more. I was more productive at work because I had a powerhouse at home that enabled me to run thoughts and ideas over a glass of wine. 

There is so much I miss about being with Bebe. The daily debrief which we used to call the ‘story of the day!’ was always something I looked forward too. Over the years, our stories of the day took on many different themes. We would share our frustrations, our experiences, our thoughts on the news or a particular event. 

As a team of two, we were happy, optimistic and upbeat – even when life threw up difficult times, we found it possible to be pragmatic and even humorous.  Yep, there was a lot of humour.
I was the class clown and he was court jester. Our home was always full of laughter and nonsense and chasing each other and doing daft voices. 

The ‘in’ jokes.
And the jokes that probably weren’t that funny – but he made me think that they were.

We had started a toyshop from scratch after Bebe had been made redundant. I continued to work my full-time job while he ran the business. The story of the day was always a highlight when we caught up with each other every evening and I loved hearing stories about his customers and their idiosyncrasies.

On our first day opening, a customer came in and asked ‘will you be getting any toys in for Christmas?’

Errr..  We had a shop that was stacked to the rafters with toys. We were unsure which bit of the term TOY SHOP she was struggling with! The clue was in the title really. It made us laugh and we referred to it often, even years later.

When my team became ONE, I struggled. The struggle is now well documented in my nods to tears, pain, snot and anxiety, but the thing I found most difficult was that I had no-one to bounce any ideas off.

I had nobody to check my decisions – not that I needed every decision to be checked in our relationship but I knew that I didn’t have to make decisions completely alone. The quandary of whether to accept voluntary redundancy, the dilemma of which jobs to apply for – the wondering of whether to sell or rent out my house when we moved to Wales…

…all of these were discussed with each other. Of course it was necessary for the both of us that I made the right decisions because the outcome would have an impact on our situations.

In my new normal, I am having to make decisions alone.

I have plenty of wonderful people that I can voice my ideas to but they rightly point out after letting me express my thoughts that ‘ultimately, it is only you that can decide’.

And they are right. It is only me that can decide. I have to do what is right for me.

I certainly have to do what is right for me when it comes to major decisions – for example, I wonder whether it is right for me to stay here in this house. It is where we lived together and it is where Bebe died. Nobody can make that decision for me, I must do it for myself.

As the first year of widowhood is drawing to a close, there are lots of decisions I still have yet to make. Most of the year has rendered me powerless (or so I thought) but actually, I have realised that not making a decision is a decision in itself!

I am learning to have faith in my own ability to decide the BIG things in life myself. Without him here, I have already made the choice to go back to work, to engage in some of life again, to take a promotion and to set boundaries between myself and others who are not as helpful as I may have hoped.

And most of all, I know that it is absolutely okay not to make a decision at all. Some decisions can wait a while longer.

Some may wait a lifetime. 

When I am ready, I will know.

And what about my personal vision statement?  I am working on it. With Biscuits and caffeine.

And hope.

For Bebe: I know now that there are many choices and decisions that only I, alone can make. I valued your input on so many things and I really miss not being able to run things by you.

However, as the first year without you is coming to an end – I realise that I can still apply all of the questions, logic and sometimes just raw instinct that we always used – that is still at my disposal and I must use it!

And most importantly, when doubts creep in and I find myself pondering – I say to myself ‘The best decision I ever made was to accept a date with you!’ and that reminds me that I am perfectly capable of making excellent choices.

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