Don’t worry, this isn’t another piece about football NOT coming home, this is about a moment in time that took place just after the final semi-final whistle blew.
The faces of the England team spoke volumes, as our summer of ’believing’ came shuddering to a halt. Gareth Southgate, dignified in defeat, quickly seeking out his team to speak to them individually in those first raw moments of disappointment.
A little later, and several of the England team were still sat on the turf, heads down, still caught up in the moment, but no doubt trying to process the impact of the loss. I watched as Gareth Southgate again approached each of these players, helping them to their feet and turning them towards the England fans, and in that moment I had an insight into what may be happening.
Let’s rewind a couple of years, a huge part of my previous role was around process and compliance, and as a management team, we lived under the constant anxiety of the auditors arriving unannounced at any moment.
It always seemed that no matter how hard we worked, the audit team would dig and dig until they found a compliance breach – looking back, it was hardly a healthy state of mind! Furthermore, you’d struggle to bring your ‘best self’ to work when operating under a cloud of turmoil!
Nevertheless, I usually performed well in an audit, and I would demonstrate the achievements and compliance of the People Team with pride and confidence, and then breathe a sigh of relief when the auditors had departed, along with the rest of my colleagues!
But two years ago, for the first time, I failed my section of the audit. And it wasn’t just a slight miss, it was a spectacular fail – for various reasons, I’d taken my ‘eye off the ball’ (couldn’t resist a football-related play on words!), and for me, this audit was a shocker!
But that wasn’t the worst of it, oh no, that was to come…
I had been informed of my spectacular fall from grace moments before our weekly senior team meeting, so I had to hurriedly compose myself and sit through the meeting waiting for the agenda to reach the audit section. All too soon, it was time for the auditors to join the meeting to announce the results of their findings and talk us through the inevitable ‘improvement plan’.
Each department in turn had to listen to their feedback, of course some colleagues had performed well and gratefully wore a look of relief as they noted their next steps.
And then the moment I’d been dreading, although I wasn’t the only manager to fail their section, it felt very much as though the worse had been saved until last.
I sat in abject misery as my short-comings were displayed in their full PowerPoint glory, time seemed to stop, and I thought the horror would go on forever. After the auditors had unknowingly crushed my soul, came silence, an awful silence that spoke volumes, yet not a word was uttered.
Unable to bear it any longer, I started to babble my apology like a prisoner desperately trying to engage the compassionate side of the executioner! But the more I talked, the more I could feel the anger build inside. I knew deep down that I’d fail, I knew I’d been distracted, I also knew that other colleagues had failed to support me and that other parties had played a part in the catastrophe.
I could feel hot tears fill my eyes and I fought to control my emotions, fingernails dug deep into my palms.
I looked over at my own manager for support and then quickly realised I was very much on my own – the ultimate betrayal.
The remainder of the meeting passed in a blur, the supreme effort of trying to control my thoughts and feelings taking all my focus.
Everyone rushed to exit the room the second the meeting had concluded, like passengers fleeing a sinking ship, stubbornly I took the roll of captain, remaining firmly in my seat to the bitter end. The mass exit left just my manager and me, maybe this would be the moment of compassion and empathy I so desperately needed…
But no, my manager suggested I ‘crack on’ with my improvement plan to put things right before the auditors returned for their obligatory follow-up.
And then I was alone, and of course the tears came, hot tears of failure, disappointment and self-pity. A few minutes later, one of my colleagues returned, a manager who had previously been a strong support and confidant. He let me cry, and then when the sobbing abated, he listened whilst I angrily ranted and then gave me a much needed hug…never underestimate the power of a hug!
He then left me alone, knowing that I always felt embarrassed after ‘letting my guard down’ and letting the ‘real me’ show herself at work.
I was exhausted, just like those England players, I felt as though there was absolutely nothing else to give and I felt the full weight of disappointment. I believed I’d let down my immediate team, my manager and my depot, just as those boys must have felt as though they’d let down their entire country.
Just then, the door opened and my depot manager joined me. This was a manager I’d always had a great working relationship with, and I was keen to tell him how truly sorry I was to have let him down, and worse still, I was worried he’d lost confidence in my ability.
But what came next, was a powerful lesson. He simply asked me to describe to him how I was feeling at that moment. I again started to babble about apologies and recovery plans until he raised his hand and told me to stop. Then he asked the questions again, “how are you feeling?”, “what are you feeling?” “describe your emotions to me”.
So I found myself peeling away the layers and telling him exactly how I was feeling. He then told me to sit quietly and allow myself to ‘feel’ exactly how I was thinking and feeling, to be present in that very moment.
And it was painful, and I few more tears came, and I fully felt the weight of emotion.
He then told me to remember just how those feelings had felt, because that was the last time I was going to feel them. I’m sure Mr Southgate applied a similar method when he helped his players to their feet and guided them to face their fans, to ‘feel’ the emotion of both loss and support – it’s powerful!
In my case, there was a happy ending, never wanting to re-visit those feelings again, I directed my energies and resilience to exceed compliance expectations, and I passed my re-audit with flying colours. I also had the confidence to challenge and feedback to both my manager and other colleagues who had been unsupportive and only too happy to let me ‘carry the can’ for the team.
So for me it was a quick reversal of fortune, for the England squad, it’ll be a slightly longer wait, but lessons learned will last a lifetime.
We think Sue must be a ‘Master of the Dark Arts’, as she has hidden depths! Running our office with meticulous planning and capability, Sue is an avid list writer with a keen eye for detail. But don’t be fooled by that organised demeanour, for Sue is as creative as she is efficient! A skilled communicator with a humorous edge, Sue is as passionate about people and their learning and development as she is about becoming the future Mrs Tom Hardy or Mrs Benedict Cumberbatch (either will do!). An interesting career path has taken her from the glamour of working in luxury London hotels to the chilled Distribution Centres of supermarket retail, and whether managing small groups or large teams, people are at the heart of everything Sue does.