We all live on the streets.

Yesterday I learned my local Big Issue seller had died.  A man my age, he was a familiar sight to many in the city.  I would usually, not always, remember to carry some cash to give to him.  If we did see each other, we would mostly stop and catch up on news.  Sometimes I would think I was too busy to stop.  Sometimes I didn’t. 

I was upset to hear the news of his passing, but alas, I was not shocked nor surprised. Over the past difficult year, I (like many others) had watched how his health had deteriorated.  I had urged him to go to the doctors.  He told me he would or he was. 

The last time I saw him, some two weeks before he died, was an event I had shared with friends and colleagues since.  We had bumped into each other in a part of town that now has its pavements, and it has to be said roads, crowded with chairs and tables as the cafes, restaurants, and bars work to secure their businesses.  One cannot walk in straight line on these streets anymore, instead one has to weave in and out whilst trying not to get in anyone’s way.  Before being asked, I searched for change.  There was none.  No problem, I have my card machine, he said.  A development I thoroughly approved of, not only for my convenience, but for the business opportunity now so few of us carry cash. 

He placed his pack of magazines on an empty table so he could manage the transaction.  Then came the complaint.  Two diners on a table a little further along tutted and gasped at how their lunch had been spoiled by having to share the streets with beggars and I was only encouraging them.  I picked up his pack, suggested we moved along, and helped him with the card machine – as he was struggling with it at that time.  We chatted and I asked about his health.  He told me he was off to the day shelter where he could get a shower and a shave.  We agreed to walk along the road for a little while as we were going in the same general direction.  He said he would go to the doctor again.  I was sceptical. 

The couple called over a waiter and continued their complaining.

We said goodbye.  And that was it.  The last time. 

That event stuck with me.  Being homeless or experiencing fragile housing, various addictions, or other issues, is a familiar situation for too many.  It is something that enters all our lives, if we are prepared to fully engage with people in our families, friendship circles, society in general, and when walking the streets of towns and cities.  It is something none of us can ignore. 

Those diners need to understand these streets belong to all of us.  Not just the few.  Streets are our society.  They are not just for those who choose to sit outside a restaurant and eat a meal on them.  For some, the streets are home, it is where they spend all their day walking up and down, asking for small change or selling The Big Issue.  It is where they sleep. 

These busy spaces are lonely places.  Over the past year or so they have been much quieter and far lonelier.  There simply hasn’t been enough people around for life to carry on as it had before.  Those diners most likely considered him to be invading their space.  The one they temporarily occupied for an hour or two.  My friend, might have considered them an intrusion into his streets.  He showed no sense of why they may be complaining about the use of the table, questioning me as to why I thought we should move along.  He had most probably got used to blocking out much of the unpleasant things said and done to him over the years. 

Now we are coming to live with the after-effects of COVID-19, we must all do more to be tolerant and understand how we can share these spaces and our lives.  We should not fall into old or bad habits.  Instead, we owe it to everyone to think again about how we rebuild our society, and our streets, for the best. 

Photo by Hejaar on Pexels.com

Embrace the average.

I loved, loved, loved it when in Meet the Fockers (2004), Gaylord Focker’s parents sex therapist Roz and retiree Bernie (played by Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman) revealed their ‘wall of Gaylord’ displaying all of his lack-lustre ‘achievements’. 

There were no gold medals, no first prizes.  Gaylord, expertly played by Ben Stiller, was clearly an ‘also ran’ and was embarrassed, awkward, and confused by his parents’ unquestioning and unwavering pride in him.  Especially as he was at that very moment failing in his attempts to impress Jack, his rigid and high-performing potential father-in-law, (Robert de Niro, no less), who observed he “didn’t know they made ninth place ribbons”.  His loss I say.  Jack never had to imagine them.  He no doubt came in first place or at least the top three.  That’s privilege that is. 

For the rest of us, it’s reality.  Meanwhile, Bernie tells us it “isn’t about winning or losing, it is about passion.  We just wanted him to love what he is doing.”  Well said that father.  Maybe we should all be more Bernie.  Champions don’t need medals or trophies.  They achieve in life, in championing for other people, or for a good cause. 

That was also one of my take-aways from Marcus Rashford’s book (You Are A Champion).  Champions take the honourable role of caring for those around them, or changing the world for the better, rather than the compliance of measuring against previously set standards or records. 

I wish they gave out prizes at school for absence, defiance, rebellion, innovation – not qualities welcomed at school, (especially some of the secondary schools I have visited).  These qualities are highly desirable in life and at work and should be encouraged not stifled.  For the record, there were no sports prizes in my bedroom – but there were art, class, and year prizes (I brag). 

This can all sit awkwardly with modern twenty-first century life.  And that’s not just a problem, it feels like a conspiracy.  We are all living in stretch-goal-orientated, self-publishing, social-media-filtered, fast-moving, hyphenated-times.  Too much of this frenetic activity is causing us to overlook, underappreciate, or devalue the middle. 

I say embrace the average. That’s the real winning language of champions.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The don’ts in leadership

I have had the pleasure of writing this column for over six years.  There have been scores of articles all about best practice in leadership and management.  It continues to be a privilege to do so. 

In a change of tack this issue, I’ve ditched the approach of sharing advice on all the good things to do, and instead have decided to focus upon all the bad things to do. If you really want to be the worst boss ever that is. These ideas can really help you by looking at things from a negative perspective – trust me, it works. Be honest, how many of these traits do you recognise? Read it and challenge yourself, please don’t blame yourself, but I urge you to make changes if they need to happen. Here is the leaders’ job description from hell…

First make sure that no decision is allowed to be made without your direct input, even if your view changes like the wind.  One day you want one thing, the next (maybe because you forgot what you said yesterday) you prefer another option.  Don’t allow anyone in the team to decide for themselves at whatever cost.

Never make the mistake of giving feedback whether it is positive or negative.  Stay silent at all times, and keep people speculating.  Force everyone to second guess your body language, or to analyse ‘how’ you said things rather than ‘what’ you said. 

Never miss an opportunity to correct even the smallest mistakes.  I mean, how could someone not notice that misplaced apostrophe anyway?

Always be unreliable when it comes to time management.  Be late, be early, generally never be on time.  Don’t wear a watch.  Bring deadlines forward at a moment’s notice.  Set deadlines, then forget about them – and leave all of that hard work hanging.    Be predictable in your unpredictability. 

Even if you are happy with things make sure there is always something you can express your disappointment about.  Develop a culture where nothing is right. 

Build a barrier around yourself that makes you unapproachable and makes everyone around you think you are too busy to be interested in them or their work.  You are much more important than anything after all.

Create a boundaryless culture and expect everyone else to be the same.  Over share your personal and professional dilemmas.  Ask too much of colleagues, don’t respect their privacy or their private lives or timetables.  Ask them to work early, over the weekend, or when they have booked holidays.  Invade people’s personal and professional spaces at work, online, on social media and on the ‘phone.  Email people at all times of the day and night. 

And never, ever say sorry.  Why should you?

Follow all this advice and you will achieve the status of becoming one of the worst people to work with.  And in reward, you will find plenty of opportunities to be working on your own, and then you can do what you like for a while.  Perhaps not for long though.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

The universe was talking to me today. And I was listening.

Today was Friday.  Work didn’t seem that important for a change.  I didn’t get much done, there was a different rhythm to that of recent days, and I had the benefit of being at home for most of it.  There were other pressing matters.  The first diary date was a visit to the local hospital and their dermatology department.  The result of a GP referral to check-out a couple of moles.  My fault, I had shown them off at my last check-up.  Pretty much the stuff of my age and stage of life.  But, it was my first time of having such an appointment.  I realise I’m at a dangerous age.  And given how surrounded I have been by friends tackling the ‘big C’, there was that natural and understandable niggle, that annoying brain worm, that distracting thought that connected to all sorts of feelings and some dread. 

The appointment was at 10am.  The hospital is a short 10-minute walk away.  So, I had plenty of time to have breakfast and get ready.  Of course, I was ready sooner than I needed to be.  I picked up one of my current books to fill the time.  Sue Townsend’s ‘The public confessions of a middle-aged woman (aged 55¾)’.  I never knew Sue but being a Leicester resident, I often used to see her in M&S, on the train, and in the local curry house.  I stopped reading when the next chapter was entitled ‘Our Hospitals’.  It felt like a sign.  Time to go. 

I picked up my ‘phone, popped in my Air pods, and grabbed my new book.  Off I went, walking in time with the divine sounds of Liza Tarbuck (radio 2), which just happened to be Sister Sledge and ‘We Are Family’.  A classic.  Another sign I pondered. 

After the inevitable confusion of navigating the metropolis that is the hospital, I arrived early at clinic three. I confirmed my COVID-19 status, sanitised my hands, registered, and sat down. I opened the new book, ‘Midpoint, Manhood, Midlife and Prostate Cancer’. So far, the book, seems to be all about the author’s relationship with his prostate and cancer treatment. I am wanting more about the mid-life. I might have to be patient. Pun intended.

But get this, bearing in mind I was sat in the waiting room of clinic three, the opening line, and I kid you not was… “I was sitting alone in examination room three”. The third sign of the day, I thought.

The examination was good.  The outcome was that there was nothing to worry about.  A great result.  I was pleased.  The consultant said it was just old age.  ‘Just’ I thought.  Easy for her to say, given she was in her thirties. She meant no harm. I remained gratefully silent.

I left the clinic, reconnected to Liza, and decided to walk into town to buy bread and have another breakfast – and why not? I went to the café I have visited for over 30 years. A true constant and a real pleasure in my life. I ordered my usual, poached eggs on toast, green tea, and a side of marmalade. Because the second slice of toast after the eggs are gone, deserve such attention! “Sorry, we have stopped serving marmalade” I was advised. Well, that capped it. Sign number four. I had read enough press articles informing me that marmalade was the preserve of older people. And what a day to be confronted with this reality. I did not complain. Next time, I will have marmalade in my bag – made expertly by my dear friend Christine. And no one will stop me from using it!

Another one of those C days.

Today started like any other, it ended with a familiar tale.  Another call from a close friend to let me know they’d had a breast cancer diagnosis.  Thankfully, all my friends and colleagues so far have been lucky enough to survive the ravaging torture that is the necessary treatment.  There’s a little bit of me that wonders when our luck will run out.  And we will lose one of us.  That is a real fear and something to deal with. 

So, these incidents stimulate and prompt many emotional responses, and rational and irrational thoughts.  The familiar pattern of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is triggered.  It’s a classic, well documented response.  But the frequency of these cases has enabled a skipping through the first stages and takes me straight into depression and then acceptance (and back again).  It’s just all too miserable and we have no choice but to get on with it. 

But this is all easy for me.  It’s my friends and colleagues that have needed to generate the resolve to battle the big C.  And good on them all for that.  So far, they have all approached it with quiet, accepting and steely strength.  I much admire them for that.  Their responses have been a combination of getting on with things with as much normality or routine as possible.  There have been checks and balances in lifestyles too, ensuring there is less of one thing or another, and perhaps more of something seemingly better for one’s health.  There’s been a bit of life laundry going on as well – getting rid of things or people that they have come to realise aren’t what they want in their future lives.  And understandably there’s been some tidying up of affairs – which is sensible, but it must be a very strange experience – at odds with the ultimate aim of getting through this and surviving to tell the tale.  One of my friends is an out and proud ‘flattie’ as she puts it, after having a double mastectomy, exploring her new body and lifestyle all over social media.  Giving hints and tips to other women. 

Today, my friend was a ‘warrior queen’.  It was a response that matched her character type.  She was pragmatic, practical and planning.  That’s response number one.  She wanted to assure me she would tackle and battle, she would win and it would not get the best of her.  She wants to live.  And she wants things to be all sorted for any event, and for her loved ones to be looked after.  Her concern of the day was that I should not treat her differently and we should be the same as usual – not to wrap her in cotton wool – or to limit expectations of her or how we spend time together.  I will love her whatever; pre- and post-surgery, macrobiotic or vegan or meat eater, teetotal or party woman, hair or no hair, good wig or questionable scarf.  Of course, tomorrow will be another day, and response number two will no doubt be more emotional.  And we predict a pendulumlike ebb and flow of all those emotions and more.  They need to be expected, valued, understood and consciously processed individually and together.  And talked about, asked about, listened to.  It is always a rollercoaster and for that ride, I’m sat in the next seat. 

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com