The trouble with leadership

Last year (2016) was the very beginning of THE DREAM.

“Enthusiastic, I’ll give her that…”

I’d never really considered the complexities of what I was about to take on. I’d read books and study up on leadership and how to do it right. I’d ask the advice from my friends and look for input from my team. I knew if I was going to scale the business I’d need everyone onside.

Easy! Right? I mean I’ve been working with these guys since I was 14 years old – they know what I’m about, they trust me to lead the business in the right direction… Surely? I’ve got the degree, I’ve done the work, I’ve made their working lives better – new pay schemes, processes, entitlements, bonus’s – you name it they’ve got it. I’ve led the business through recession, tribunal and redundancies. I’ve made the business profitable – I’ve earned my MD status.

Not quite.

I looked at my team and I thought; these guys are going to be something. I’m going to help them be the best they can possibly be. I’m going to create a world for them beyond their operational roles and I’m going to lead them on their personal development journey. After all, a business is nothing without the commitment of its people right?

The first thing I had to do was to get them to appreciate each other. The manufacturing industry is notorious for “macho ego” – putting each other down, belittling and generally just being a bit of a dick. There was an ongoing element of animosity amongst the team; an unwillingness to help one another and clear devisions between departments.

Being a small family business, the line between work and life is a little blurred to say the least. 2 of my team are my brothers, 1 is my ex husband, 1 is my dad and another is my uncle. The rest are life long friends/acquaintances.

Regardless of their family status I had to make sure we were all communicating effectively and (for the first time in a long time) in the best interest for the business.

My desginer Col (Pixels Ink) had talked to me about the Thrive Programme and how effective it had been for him and his working life. I felt there was something in it that could really help at least one member of the team to see things more positively. I thought If I’m going to get the best out of the team I have, I have to invest in their potential.

At the time, one staff member had a massive hang up on how other people worked and they way in which they were managed by myself and my fellow directors.

After speaking with the Thrive coach, Ben, we decided that the best way forward was to include all of the team members and take them on this journey together.

The programme was structured round 6 weeks of coaching. The guys would spend every Friday afternoon with Ben. He would teach them the principles of Thriving for life and give them exercises to keep them in a positive mindset.

First hand, I watched them go through some pretty brutal realisations. Some questioned their belief in god, in the their addictions and in the way they had always behaved when problems came to head in their lives. They were on a transitional journey.

I kept up to date with the guys and Ben throughout the 6 weeks – making sure I was there encouraging them. I enrolled myself and the other 2 directors on the the programme also. We were all on the journey together… Or so I thought.

After the 6 weeks, Ben and I had a meeting for which I had intended to gain an insight into what the guys really wanted from their employment [currently] and where they envisioned themselves in their future. Whether that be with Gillies and Mackay or not.

What actually happened.

Ben explained there was uncertainty within the team. Doubt, fear and disbelief in what they thought I was able to achieve was very much a thing. It became apparent all the trust and belief I bestowed in them was definitely not reciprocated.

Gillies and Mackay and the people in it was, at the time, everything I’d ever known.

And so, this revelation, as it came to me, absolutely broke my heart. Crying isn’t something I do… I fought it so hard when Ben was telling me. I knew, he knew it was too much, he tried to console me, told me how brave I was for taking on such a challenge, I couldn’t hear any of that. All I heard was the people I loved and cared for, did not love me back. When I got back in my car after speaking with Ben, I cried my heart out.

They just didn’t get it. Any of it. They didn’t get me. I thought they did, I thought they believed in me.

It really fucking hurt. I felt so alone and sorry for myself. Self pity ain’t pretty by the way.

Chris (then marketing consultant, now boyfriend #loveofmylife), told me at the time; ‘you can’t be one of them Ca, you’re their leader. This is why you’re in this job and they are not. You need to do your job and lead.’

Getting over myself was easy, getting over them was hard.

Weeks past and their Thrive commitment deteriorated – I kept up my weekly meetings promoting team engagement, empowering them and their position within the business. It was awful. I’d stand there desperately trying to get them to join in. I’d try and explain my expansion plans, encourage them to help with development and give them the freedom to make changes to their working day…

They were resisting, hating and resenting big time. Mass speculation about my integrity, little support from my fellow directors and because of my recent separation, a sense of entitlement to discuss my private life at great length, adding whatever new notion of bullshit they felt fit, was all at play. Nothing was off limits.

Fortunately – I stopped giving a fuck and after a holiday to Boston. I detached from the emotional aspects entirely. I focused on my original dream;

To create a place where everyone worked towards the same vision, where we all benefited from the businesses success, where Dad and Grant could step back from their operational roles and where we were able make G&M future proof for generations to come.

With the help of 2 good friends who just happen to be shit hot business consultants (Rod McMillan and Alasdair McGill) and the much needed support of my fellow directors, we moved forward. Ali and Rod, amongst others (Stuart Graham) taught me that I didn’t have to seek the approval of all – I had all the approval I needed from most and in particular myself. I knew deep down, I was doing right by the business.

It wasn’t until I had let go that I truly appreciated the words Chris spoke to me months before. I’m not a team player. I’m their leader; I can facilitate, support, guide and help them but I am not one of them…

More specifically, they are not one of me.

I was so focused on involving them in all I did, I didn’t realise that they didn’t want to be part of it. I was forcing them to engage! I was making them think of things they had no intension of understanding.

They don’t want to lead. They don’t want to run a business, they don’t want to plan for expansion. Nothing like it. What they want is security and safety.

I scaled back the weekly meetings and focused my attention on what things they could decide for themselves and what things I would take back as my own.

Leadership is hard. It’s even harder when you count on others to believe in you. Don’t do that. Believe in yourself, take advice and remember, there’s always way.

The dynamics of my team and the way my business has operated for the past 30 years had a huge impact on why my initial methods failed.

I know when I embark on new business ventures in the future I will get the opportunity to create a working environment where everyone wants to be included.

For now, in my current leadership role, I’ll do what’s best for Gillies and Mackay, the team and the directors.