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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Who are you and what did you do with my team member?

1 Jun 2017

By Marc Wilson

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(Alternative titles could be: 'Who are you and what did you do with the person I hired? “Who are you and what did you do with the boss who hired me?” “Who are you and what did you do with my client?” …)

Some years ago, a friend of many friends died tragically. I had never met Joe (not his real name) but often heard of him. He was exceptionally popular and well known. In fact, he was clearly loved by a huge group of people.

What followed Joe's death was amazing. Hundreds of people went to a Facebook page and wrote of their sadness and memories of him. Many were personal, some merely referring to chance meetings and the incredible impression he had left on them. Some were even from people who had not met him, but were moved by his impact on people they knew.

One person wrote of meeting Joe at a party and how even though this was their first and only meeting, Joe had showed so much interest in her and interacted with her like an old friend. She had felt special – and left with an impression of how special Joe was.

Another wrote of a childhood cricket experience. He had played a blinding hook shot only to be caught by Joe at square leg in the crease of an arm. Joe had laughed and apologised repeatedly for accidentally catching him out off such good shot. Joe was secure with himself and the world and didn't seem to need praise or undue accolades.

It was incredible. This was the type of person that most of us hope to be. Super-achiever, immensely popular, loving and loved. Years later, people still go back to that page and comment.

Joe committed suicide. It did not fit with how anyone knew him. Friends were shocked and no one really knows what caused him to take such a drastic course of action.

Despite having ideals of what we should be and how others should act, people are complicated. We idolise 'perfection,' are insecure about our own fallibilities and follow journeys where most of our experience is internalised in questions and debate about what we and others should be.

Maybe a few people are truly like the Joe that everybody loved and knew. Strong, secure, at ease with the world and themselves. But mostly we react with surprise when we hear of others mimicking our own ups and downs as if this experience is rare and abnormal. That is not to say that happiness and contentment is a mask for an unhappiness in all of us – merely that people are multi-faceted and can be great leaders – yet display puzzling behaviour, great employees – yet show political dysfunction, great friends – yet make careless remarks.

On the course of my own journey, I have on more than a few occasions wondered where they hide all the 'normal' people. This led straight to the uncomfortable question, “How normal am I?”

Satisfyingly, a friend once sent me that great quote, “One man’s normality is another man’s insanity.”

So it’s all OK then.

Except that we all have to deal with our own or someone else's normality / insanity on a day-to-day basis. And while we sometimes stumble on that ideal team member / leader / friend / relationship, sooner or later we deal with that person or ourselves on a 'bad day.'

I guess we learn through life experience that no one is this idealised 'normal' and if we are lucky, we grow up to realise that neither are we. It might take our whole lives to give ourselves and others this break and become vaguely competent at dealing with our own and others' fallibilities.

Prescriptive 'self-help' books seldom give generally applicable answers. It seems that those books that help us question are more useful than those that try to help us solve.

Ironically (and confoundingly) I have realised that my own desire for some simplified rational view of people would not have explained me – and definitely doesn’t today. I am part of the complexity.

I guess that this experience has heightened my awareness and appreciation that succeeding in business and life requires a broad view and open mind.

In figuring things out for myself or working with team members and clients – or just in friendships and relationships, I've grappled with recurring challenges. No matter how rational, quantitative, strategic the work, sooner or later we deal with people. No matter how close our relationships, we all have those bad days. Dealing with ourselves or other people in these interactions is critical for the success of our work, our development and enjoyment.

For years I’ve been coached and learnt about these recurring challenges. I’ve talked through them with clients, mentees, colleagues and friends. In an upcoming series of our Thoughts newsletters, I’ll share some of these observations, experiences, questions and views. I’m still busy thinking of exactly what I will cover in my Thoughts, but at this early stage I’ll probably cover the following:

It’s an ambitious list and hopefully I’ll do it justice. I work with these challenges each day and still have more questions than answers. I look forward to your interaction and hope you share your experiences, challenges and lessons.

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