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Leadership and career development

Love, authenticity and responsibility – some reflections

Ahead of CFG’s Wellbeing Week, our CEO Caron Bradshaw has been thinking about behaviours and practices in the workplace, how we shape culture and demonstrate our values by the way we interact with each other.

I had the huge privilege of spending time with some female friends this past weekend. During the many and varied conversations, I saw practices in action which I think are essential for a healthy working environment. I thought it would be helpful to share my musings…

Firstly LOVE. I believe with every fibre of my being that love is an underrated way of being and there is insufficient love in workplaces. Whenever I talk of love in a work context people do one of three things;

  • Smile and think I’m a bit too fluffy and nice
  • Tilt their head in curiosity and ask me to say more
  • Agree and then add a ‘but’; ‘but you sometimes need to discipline people or have difficult conversations so love doesn’t work then does it.’

Let me be clear: love is not about being nice. Love’s hard and challenging and requires effort. It’s more than compassion and kindness. Love is not something to be dispensed to well performing staff and people you like and withheld from those falling short or underperforming. It’s not a reward or a punishment. Love is just as essential when working towards a dignified exit for a staff member from a job which isn’t going well, when offering guidance and adjusting feedback if behaviours are not meeting expectations and in saying no firmly when the need arises. Love breeds trust rather than demands it and can offer security and safety for all.

There’s a whole book on it - when I get around to finishing it!

Next, I observed that being truly vulnerable and your authentic self – showing up and being present for those around you – requires you to feel safe. You cannot truly be safe without boundaries and a shared understanding of values. I can trust, and be vulnerable, if the rules of engagement are clear and the consequences for not sticking to them, for departing from the shared values, are visible and consistently applied. Hugely difficult conversations are possible and solutions can be found when this framework is agreed. Working remotely complicates this because people can become disconnected from the wider team. As we wrestle with new ways of working, we must keep this in mind.

My third observation was the importance of personal responsibility. We all can commit to consciously avoiding assumptions and listening to understand what someone is saying rather than listening whilst forming our reply. It costs us nothing and just requires practice.

These are pivotal to creating the environment in which the most difficult of topics can be aired, worked through and solutions found. Equally, my weekend of sharing highlighted a whole bunch of crunchy stuff which is beyond my control. During the weekend I reflected on just how intense the last few years have been and how much of it has been broadly outside of our individual control. Love, boundaries and personal responsibility are also necessary when confronting the limits of our ability to change circumstances, the imbalances in power, and the systemic failures that are hard wired into many ways of doing things that shape our society and workplaces today.

Whatever the extent of the things I cannot control, I am in charge of how I react to others. I can take steps to limit the harmful experiences that I let into my personal space and I can ultimately walk away from things that do not serve me. This applies to everyone we work alongside and those who work for us. I am also able to be an ally to others, because whilst I may not be able to change the status quo with my actions I can challenge it. The power of support, of knowing you are not alone and that someone has understood your experience, can be the difference between facing into the challenges and disadvantage or being swallowed up entirely by them.

As we approach CFG’s wellbeing week I will be reflecting on these observations; pondering what more I can do as a mother, as a CEO, as a friend and partner. In the meantime, I am reacquainting myself with the principles Don Miguel Ruiz sets out in his book The Four Agreements. We too easily concede to being bound by a multiplicity of rules, soft and hard, that society imposes (and we impose on ourselves): how we look, what we wear, what someone meant, whether we meet with someone else’s approval.

Step back and remind yourself; to use your words wisely (say what you mean and mean what you say), to not take things personally (for good or ill, what someone thinks about you does not define you), to stop making assumptions (we all do it but we don’t know what’s going on for others, so ask don’t assume), and to always do your best (recognising that this will vary from times of illness and health, when we’re busy or bored!).

Life is tough and continued uncertainty is seemingly the only certainty. We can become more resilient and find the strength to continue our work to challenge injustice, poverty, disadvantage and all we do in the sector through time well spent in contemplation and through the support of colleagues, friends and community – and, in my case, a good dose of sisterhood!

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