Were you as lucky as this ugly duckling?

Simon the Ugly Duckling


This ugly duckling was lucky.

Remember the Hans Christian Andersen story about the ugly duckling? Well, as all of his stories there’s always a happy ending and in this case the ‘ugly duckling’ grows into a beautiful swan. Not that Simon, the subject of our story, looked or felt ugly, but he may as well have been as he was obeying the rules at work but not enjoying them one bit.

He wasn’t just an average employee either, as he was in an important senior role. But he was downtrodden and stuck in a cultural trap of someone else’s making and Simon felt like an ugly duckling, along with lots of his senior colleagues.

Simon had been working for a number of years in a public sector organisation.  He had reached a senior level, taking responsibility for the strategic development of services. However the culture in which he worked was one where the senior employees were expected to put in many extra hours of work, without any additional financial compensation. Simon, like everyone else, complied with the oppressive and controlling leadership style – one that what would be considered as a toxic environment today. His work/life balance was severely compromised, but he didn’t feel there was anything he could do about it.

Simon had built up a national reputation in his field, making major contributions at seminars and in published works. Fortunately for him this had been acknowledged and noticed by others in the industry, outside of his organisation. One day he was invited to undertake a year’s secondment to government department in Whitehall. He knew it was only a secondment but accepted it, having no idea just how profound an effect this move would have on his life and future career.

From the moment he arrived at Whitehall Simon was given an enormous amount of responsibility. He acted as a government advisor, liaised directly with the Minister on matters of policy and attended the House of Commons during debates. He was being trusted to use his skills in an independent way, and as a result was having a real effect on people’s lives. Being given this amount of personal control in such a high-powered and exciting environment meant that Simon fell in love with his job all over again.

The ugly duckling was no longer ugly.

Simon told us one of his greatest moments whilst on the secondment came during a meeting with a group of consultants. Simon’s Whitehall boss was present, and when asked which of the two men was in the senior position, the boss replied that although he was technically higher up the ladder, it was Simon who had greater knowledge and experience. It was this acknowledgement, which stemmed from a healthy, confident and self-aware leader that allowed Simon to regain control of his own life and work.

Simon knew that he could never return to his old organisation, where micro-management, command and control behaviour was the order of the day.

What’s the lesson?

Simon’s mind fitness was restored by his time at Whitehall, and he realised the poor leadership at his original place of work was the cause of the damage to his psychological fitness at work and at home. It had made him feel like the ugly duckling.

They lost a great member of the team because they would not allow him an appropriate level of control over his own life, and did not acknowledge his skills and experience. As a consequence, the performance and productivity of the team suffered greatly.

Now Simon’s experience seems to be very common in fact it seems all too common and on the rise.

People tell us time and again that they would like to be trusted to get on with the job, and they find constant interference from leaders and managers very frustrating and extremely disruptive. Unfortunately, many leaders or managers are too frightened to relinquish any degree of control for fear that it will be abused. Of course, there will always be the odd member of a team who will abuse a freer, less tightly controlled management structure, but the consequence of over-control is an unfit mind, demoralised and disengaged workforce who will likely suffer from stress, conflict and under-performance.

If leaders and managers realised the risk they are taking by over-controlling, might they think again?


What if they became more aware and in control

Being aware and in control takes individuals to a different place whether as individuals, team members or as managers and leaders. Conversely, people who are not aware or have no sense of being in control merely function and their performance is much lower.

Some of the benefits of greater awareness and personal control for individuals and organisations include:

  • Less stress
  • More time for managers and leaders
  • Better decisions being taking by people at the coalface
  • Individuals taking on more responsibility
  • Increased performance
  • Greater productivity

What is there not to like about that?

Hot tip

The reality is that most people perform best when they feel trusted, empowered and in control of their working lives. Allowing members of your team more individual control may seem frightening at first, but if it is backed up with supportive appraisals, realistic goals and deadlines and an open door policy for feedback, their journey to mind fitness and greater personal power can truly begin. Why wouldn’t you try it so that individuals, teams and the organisation benefit?

Summing up

Sustaining and improving on one’s position on the Mind Fit Map demands a level of personal control. Mind Fit people feel in control even when the outside environment is trying to take control away from them. They will tend to focus on the things they can control, retaining a positive attitude to their work and doing the right things.

Sadly, outside influences can remove many opportunities to take control of life in the workplace. The consequences are disengagement, stress and ultimately poor performance. If you are in a position to give appropriate levels of control back to people you lead, take that opportunity. You will be rewarded by a more committed, more positive, more engaged and more productive team. They’ll be on the Mind Fit journey.

The Mind Fit approach is easy – takes less than a day to try.

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