How mistakes enhance your work and life journey

The Communicator

Ask open-ended questions and get people to think. Stock image

Gina London

I’m just back from my summer vacation, dear readers. If you’re a regular reader, and I hope you are, then you know I’m an American who is proud to now call Ireland home but who still refers to some things in the old American parlance. I’m back from “vacation” not “holiday”. Whatever you call it, it’s essential to take it. Each of us needs to disconnect from our busy work-lives to refresh and re-energise.

So, where did we go? Thanks for asking. For the first time in three years, daughter Lulu and I (along with my beau Damien also in tow) returned to one of my favourite places: Tuscany. In particular, we sojourned to a certain agriturismo, or country inn, known as Il Pozzo. It’s named in honour of the ancient well discovered on the grounds that served the farm inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

It is now owned and managed by my wonderful friend Carla Veneri, who serves as a prime example of how a good boss behaves. Throughout the pandemic, while hospitality was locked down, even though Carla’s own livelihood was in jeopardy, she found a way to take care of her staff so when Il Pozzo was able to reopen to guests, her loyal employees also returned.

We received a hearty “Bentornati” or “Welcome back” from Gioia, Valentina, Alessandro and others we hadn’t seen in years and who took great care of us just like the old times.

Teach people skills, not management skills

The experience reminded me of a recent interview I had with Rob Peacock. Based in the UK, he’s responsible for talent development for the Very group, the online retailer. Specifically, I recalled the part of our conversation when he explained to me how, at Very, they are committed to teaching their leaders “people skills”, not “management skills”. “We’re teaching people how to tap into their sources of inspiration,” he said.

“We teach them how to show up every day. How to grow themselves. How to take an interest in people around them. How to take interest in their impact on others.

“When you know all those things, you’re going to be a good manager. Good management follows.”

Rob also shared how he came to discover the importance of learning and leveraging people skills through the journey of his own career. He started out in retail banking.

“I took a graduate role and started selling personal loans and insurance products. I thought I had a talent for sales. I didn’t realise it was actually a talent for people. People are sales.”

Successful at hitting targets, Rob was soon offered a bank manager role. It was then he realised he didn’t want to do sales anymore.

“Where I got my energy was encouraging people to be their best. It made me a good boss but not a good bank manager. I wasn’t chasing people for how many business meetings they have had each day and were they reaching their targets. So that’s when I thought I needed to change.”

In addition to his passion of being a husband and a father, Rob now says he is fulfilled in his position of helping “every single person to maximise their capabilities to do what comes naturally to them every day and to grow”.

Build a democracy of talent

Rob said that one of his latest pursuits in the area of talent development is to find more ways to infuse social mobility into the business.

“How do we know we don’t have some future leaders in the operations department? But they just aren’t being spotted or sponsored? How do we give them opportunities? How do you provide learning opportunities for everyone? It’s important to recognise everyone as talent and create a democracy of talent.”

He said he previously worked in businesses where people were often put in boxes. “High potential on one side and others on another. It’s better if we can equally recognise everyone has potential,” he said.

Ask questions

He also wants to encourage organisations to stand back and get managers to think about coaching as an art of asking catalytic questions to help prevent them over-managing their teams.

“Ask open-ended questions like, ‘What do you enjoy about your role?’ or ‘What would you see yourself doing that you are not currently?’ Get your people to think.”

Rob wants to help managers see themselves as holding the container for the conversation and not simply as someone dictating performance.

Explore and experiment

Looking back, Rob said he believes exploration and experimentation are among the most important things you can do in a career.

“There’s value in getting things wrong. There’s value in being in a career that’s wrong for you. There’s value in finding it painful to get up every morning to go to a job you hate, because that can motivate you to strive for more. It’s more difficult when what you’re doing is just OK, because OK can become comfortable, and you can get stuck in just being OK.”

Keep making mistakes

“You stop making mistakes when you are dead. Keep going, mistakes and all, while you are breathing. Live.”

That pearl of wisdom is from my wonderful friend Teresa whose father, Peter Harte passed away peacefully at his home in Ryefield, Co Cork recently with his wife and daughter by his side. He was 98 and, according to Teresa, lived a “lovely and blessed” life. Keep going, dear readers. Experiment. Make mistakes. Most of all: Live.

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