The other day, I had the honour of taking part in an ‘interview practice day’ at the local comprehensive school – the school that both my children attend.
I met with outstanding individuals, who were able to field even the most difficult questions with sensible and thoughtful responses.
These young people represent our future generation. Bright and talented, each of them filled with hope and desire and passion. Their ambition is to carve out a path for their adult selves. A path where they are valued and contributing in their own unique way to society.
These young men and women are powered by their values and there is a genuine desire in all of them to make a positive difference in their corner of the World.
This is the third year that I have had the pleasure of this opportunity and each time, I am humbled by the grace and willingness of teenagers I meet.
My first year, I had the experience of interviewing a ‘goth’. Or so she said. In fact, she looked far from it to me. She was smartly dressed in a suit, with a splash of sensible makeup, betrayed only by the fact that she approached my desk entirely without a smile – this being the only nod to her chosen identity. We talked and she responded in a guarded fashion for a while and to be honest, it was a bit tricky to get much out of her at all.
I decided to ask about her hobbies. This was when she shared with me her goth status. I was interested to hear what that entailed. She described her friends and the fact that they love nothing more than to attend special conventions in London. As she chatted, she began to smile broadly and became engaging and animated, a pleasure to speak to. Then, and with absolute delight she exclaimed “…and the best bit is the free hugs!” “Free hugs?” I enquired, “What do you mean?” The girl explained that there are several people at these conventions offering free hugs to anyone who wants one.
This was a very profound moment for me. I had been invited in, briefly, to her world. The one filled with love and camaraderie different to my own experience. An unconditional acceptance within a group of people, brought together by their shared identity.
We went on to talk easily about her ambition to become a graphic designer and her passion for the subject.
At the end of the interview, the girl and I shook hands and her mask returned. Her smile gone, she walked quietly away. A goth in a suit. And as I watched her leave I felt immensely privileged.
That encounter gave me an insight rarely allowed to a stranger and brought home to me so powerfully the human need that we all have inside us, whatever our chosen identity or circles we mix in, for acceptance and unconditional love. She touched my heart.
Year 2, and again I meet outstanding teenagers, all doing their best and opening themselves up to scrutiny and critique. Laying themselves bare to the judgement of older, more experienced, (but not necessarily wiser) adults.
One girl stood out. Her practice interview was for a job in fashion. When I asked about her interest, she said she had her own blog, which she used as the vehicle to share her fashion tips. She already had over 300 followers – forward thinking for a school-girl in 2012.
This year, probably because of my own personal focus specifically over recent years, I was particularly struck by the integrity of these young people. And what I came away with has given me an even more urgent and determined impetus in my work.
Every young person I interviewed has a very clear and strong set of values. They are respectful, committed and loyal. They are interested in contributing to society in a positive way. They measure their success and personal fulfilment by their ability to do an excellent job, whilst remaining aligned to their values.
At one point during the day, I interviewed a boy interested in dentistry. His practice interview was for the post of trainee dentist in my imaginary partnership. He showed great promise, was eloquent and very interested in the patient experience. He described a day’s experience he spent recently, shadowing a dentist. In the feedback, however, he said he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to be a dentist, he felt he might go into medicine instead. I explained that in an interview, he should show the interviewer that this is the job he’s absolutely committed to and passionate about over and above any other. His response? “But that wouldn’t be true.” I paused for a moment and then said to the boy. “Is there another way to show your passion without compromising your integrity?” We came up with a solution. Whatever job he interviews for, the important thing is to show his vision and purpose behind it. For instance, as a dentist, he would feel passionate about giving people confidence because they would have a smile to be proud of. This is his truth.
I am privileged in my work. I am both a professional roleplayer and a breakthrough coach. I observe people’s behaviour. And I see when a person’s values are compromised. They feel it. They feel the immediate stress and discomfort of their own misalignment and it creates both a physical and emotional reaction. It is visible.
Yet, in the workplace, how many leaders, managers, colleagues take the time to look out for the misalignment of values? How often are people told to do things that they feel personally uncomfortable about and don’t feel in a position to challenge it?
I believe that there is a spectrum and we all fall along it in some way. At one end of the spectrum, we use language that can be misinterpreted. As with my suggestion to the boy that it would serve him well to show his focus and commitment to the role of dentist. Yet, how many leaders in business take the time to listen to what their staff are feeling and adjust their language accordingly?
At the other end of the spectrum, after years of overriding values again and again, some appear to no longer know or care what their values are. Hector Sants, Chief Executive of the then Financial Services Authority (now Financial Conduct Authority) during the banking crisis said in his Mansion House speech in October 2010:
“…It is crucial that we improve behaviours and judgements. To do this we must address the role that culture and ethics play in shaping these.
“I believe that until this issue is addressed we will not be able to prevent another crisis of this magnitude from occurring again, and will never fully restore the trust of society in the financial system.”
Hector Sants and his team determined that years of erosion of values had occurred in the financial sector in the name of commercial success, to the point that ethics had become a secondary concern in some organisations and people became blind to the risks. The repercussions of which, we are all still feeling.
Just like an addiction, drink, drugs, gambling, food, sex, money – our bodies start out trying to tell us that we’ve had enough. We feel the physical symptoms, we feel stressed, depressed, hung-over, uncomfortable, anxious, sad, empty, alone. Yet rather than listening to our body, we press the override button for another ‘hit’ to make us feel better. And we press it again, and again and again… Eventually, our body no longer knows if it’s had too much or not enough, it is just in a permanent state of stress and wanting. In an unhealthy organisation, this feeling is magnified and it is the employees who are burdened by organisational stress and emptiness.
As a society, it would seem that we are (in the main), bringing up our young people to respect values and to trust their own intuition. Yet as adults, too many of us will trample over our own values and the values of others on a daily basis, both at work and at home. So much so that there are many people who would find it hard to even articulate what their values are if asked.
But whether we are consciously living our values or not, they remain key to our wellbeing, fulfilment and happiness, and our bodies will continue to give us signals whenever we violate them. To get back into alignment with oneself delivers a sense of self-worth and freedom that can’t be found anywhere else and is probably the most important step we can take in terms of our long term health and quality of our relationships.
Dramatic Breakthrough Coach
The Performance Business
+ 44 1932 888885