Everyone has a different perception of what is and what isn’t valuable. My experience of the differences between my perceptions and those of others is what has, slowly but surely, drawn me over the years to leave regular employment and establish myself as a freelancer. This means that I can choose to work with people whose values I like.
A long time ago, when I was working for a company in Cheshire, I was taken into the owner’s private office and advised that although efficient, capable and creative, I would never qualify for promotion. I was not ruthless enough. I did not play (and I quote) “playground games”. This was a reference to refusing to be drawn into in unpleasant company politics. I was offered promotion in exchange for proving myself by doing the dirty on another employee. I handed in my notice some weeks after this conversation, feeling instinctively that if ruthless “playground games” were required of me, then I was no longer interested in being part of an organisation that prized them so highly.
I have never forgotten that conversation, and my bewilderment in my early twenties with what I felt to be a complete lack of appreciation of attitudes that I always tried to bring to working with colleagues – inclusion, awareness, sensitivity and respect; and for companies – loyalty, enthusiasm, application and innovation.
Years later, working for another company, little seemed to have changed – I was routinely surprised by the qualities that the management appeared to value in others – ruthlessness was misinterpreted as leadership, lack of thought as focus, pushiness as drive, and, on the other side of the coin, lack of inspiration or creativity as a safe pair of hands.
I wonder how many managers know whom amongst their employees should be encouraged and inspired for the greatest profit to the company. The signs (loyalty, application, genuinely creative thought processes around obstacles or contributions to new ideas) are often overlooked in favour of showier attributes such as overt ambition and eagerness to manage others.
Reading about what really makes successful companies tick, however, the story is always the same, no matter who is telling it. And I find it reassuring. The people who drive real progress are usually possessed of the qualities that I admire most – gratitude, understanding, creativity, originality, generosity, wholeheartedness, thoughtfulness and loyalty. When is the rest of the world going to catch up, I wonder?