Every so often I’m asked a question, the answer for which I think you might be interested in. Here is Hope’s question: “What was one of the most important things you learned from a manager or mentor?” Love it!
Well, my short answer is: Don’t burn bridges, but let me flesh this out a little, so you may absorb what I absorbed.
I once worked with the Commercial Director of a motorsport team, whose job (amongst other things) was to attract lucrative project contracts and sponsorship agreements. It was a great job, and I had the time of my life travelling to various race circuits and rally courses, long before motherhood became a glint in my eye. As the company I worked for didn’t specialise in one particular type of motor sport (i.e.: Formula One), the work was wide and varied, but it could also be highly changeable. In fact we were so successful in one branch of motor sport, that the motor manufacturer decided their goals had been achieved three years ahead of schedule and would pursue pastures new. We were actually a victim of our own success, and the management team hadn’t seen it coming.
This naturally put the company on a back foot, as the the Directors sought to find an alternative contract to keep us all employed. Eventually a new project was found and harmony was thankfully restored, but not before fears of mass redundancies had been contemplated, and more than a little bitterness with how we’d been treated by the manufacturer had crept in. Things had definitely become tense for a while, as we stared down the barrel of the unknown.
Even though the manufacturer was perceived to have treated us badly, my boss continued to keep in regular and friendly contact with the Le Grand Fromage over there, even sending expensive bottles of Scotch every year for Christmas. Due to my youth and inexperience at the time, I didn’t understand why my boss would do such a generous thing, so he explained it like this:
“Never burn your bridges. You never know when and where your next opportunity is coming from. There may be a future project we can help X [the manufacturer] with, but if we sulk like children because of what happened in the past, we’re unlikely to be considered for the contract. We must be grown ups and adapt to change, rather than grieve what was purely a business decision. It wasn’t personal; we over-performed and did a great job. By keeping the channels of communication and allegiance open, we keep ourselves in the running for what may happen next. If we sulk we only rule ourselves out, whilst looking small and petulant in the process. We need to make the hard – but correct – choices to grow and survive in this cutthroat business”.
About a year after my boss finished imparting this wisdom, the manufacturer did indeed decide to step into a new motorsport arena (a completely different one to the one we’d helped them with previously, which was again totally unforeseen) and, following a lengthy tendering process, the company I worked for was awarded the contract. My boss’ wise words were validated in that moment, and have been seared into my psyche ever since.
It’s my understanding now, being so much older and experienced, that patience, understanding, logic and the adult powers of general reasoning are eroding away from our societal norms. What seems to be preferred these days is an aggressive and reflexive knee-jerk, reaction where vengeance must be sought, rather than a thoughtful and logical response mulled over. So much is taken so personally these days, possibly because loud and rampant egos are swallowing well considered reason whole. Why must everything be on fire and hate-filled?
My boss’ wise words taught me how to game out scenarios, to see the bigger picture and be patient, to not take anything personally and that sometimes Life throws us a curve ball. What matters most however is not what happened, but how we choose respond, because it is a choice; it’s always a choice. Throwing empty hissy fits and vowing vengeance of biblical proportions may have vented the steam from my boss’ spleen, but how was it actually going to pay the wages in real time? The huffing and puffing may have given my boss something to do, and may have made him feel better (temporarily), but it wasn’t going to achieve a damn thing. It was an empty calorie gesture, with bugger all substance, and he knew this, which is why he followed the road less travelled.
Instead, my boss made the correct decision to spend his time, attention and resources on seeking alternative opportunities, in entirely new waters he hadn’t previously considered; which did eventually pay the wages. With the wages bill secured, he then refused to harbour a grudge against those who had “wronged” us, and behaved like a grown up. This act of maturity was not only recognised but rewarded years after being dropped, with a brand new exciting opportunity, no one had seen coming. It’s too common these days for us to assume we know what’s going to happen, or what’s best for us and then to try and shape events to suit our circumstances, but more often than not we can’t.
Besides, how can we ever be certain that what we want is truly better for us than what’s coming down the road towards us? Our egos are allowed to over-inflate too readily these days, when a gentle, ready acceptance for whatever might come our way would be so much healthier and stress free. We’re all about the power and control, when we should have more faith in our ability to handle whatever the unknown might bring us, based on the successful navigation of our past. Whoever we are, we have survived 100% of the worst days of of lives, so we can confidently predict we’ll survive this sticky patch too.