I still remember my first day in a real job. It was July 13th 1982 and I had just graduated with a degree in computer science. Even now I can remember feelings of discomfort and fear mingled with excitement and anticipation: a heady mix indeed. But there was another very powerful driver: a deep-seated fear of upsetting people.
Perhaps it stemmed from my childhood (must get that analysts appointment booked in the diary) or maybe everybody feels that way I don’t know but it was certainly a huge influence on my early career; making me behave and react in certain ways but always with a need to be liked and not offend.
Now these are quite natural feelings; who wants to be disliked or who wants to offend people but what I didn’t realise is this: occasionally, when you champion a cause, take a stance or support one of your values some people will be offended or may dislike you for it. This is an unfortunate fact of life.
Later in my career I worked for a remarkable man called Mike Sparkes. He was my first agent and represented me during my entire freelance career as an IT professional. Then, when I switched over to sales, he was my boss and a very short time after that he became my business partner. I had the privilege of working with him for 18 glorious months before a man who should have had an extra couple of hours in bed turned the key in his lorry instead. But during that brief time I think I learned more about business than any other time in my career and it was Mike who made me think differently about making enemies. Quite frankly he was pretty relaxed about it all.
His view was simple: if you’re not pushing the boundaries you’ll never be great and pushing the boundaries can create conflict. Believe in something, have a set of values and defend them to the hilt. Compromise is a wonderful thing so long as you can retain your personal integrity and all concerned are winners otherwise dig in and slug it out.
So what does this mean in practice? Here are a few thoughts: -
- When you know something is wrong speak up.
- Don’t be bullied into anything that clashes with your personal values
- Don’t let anybody just take what’s rightfully yours
- If you don’t have the skills, experience or time to do something then say so.
- Don’t suffer fools gladly or in any other way for that matter
- If you have an idea that you believe in stand up and be noticed even if it’s against the prevailing beliefs
- Never, ever get dragged into a conversation or situation on the basis that somebody will be offended if you don’t.
Doing what’s right isn’t always doing what’s easy and this often means conflict. If you want to reach your full potential then you must do what you see is right and live with the consequences. These days I may have a few more enemies but I have also achieved much more than I could ever have dreamed possible on that scary summers day in 1982.