I know the most amazing people.
They are the best team I have ever worked with. They offer support, understanding, and space for me to be who I am, in a world where many others neither want nor allow for that to be so. They laugh when it’s good to laugh but they are sensitive to the underbelly of life that none of us can escape from. When enticed to talk about their own challenges, triumphs, realities they are humble, tentative and grateful.
I have worked with and around clinicians in our NHS for a quarter of a century and I cannot tell you how amazing these people are. Not all of them. I have a catalogue of rather comic adolescent behaviours that will save until another day, but I find, time after time, that those who gravitate to me and to whom I gravitate are beyond exceptional.
One group in particular have provided for me a career defining high. I work in many quickly assembled teams, some members constant, some coming and going. The quality of the work I do is contingent upon how I feel and what is going on behind the scenes. Some work has been very challenging – trying to support, care and guide others when you are under attack yourself is not only difficult, but it creates a wealth of long lasting dissonance, self questioning and insecurity. When you are being grilled at breakfast, poached at lunch and boiled alive over dinner it is nigh on impossible to focus on the needs of others above your own.
In a dim wine bar, many lifetimes ago, I linked fingers with my soon to be ex partner. It was one of those banks-closed-down and turned into a rather cool bar, a long way from where I am now, a long way from its roots, playing cool music, and serving overpriced gin when it was last fashionable. My soon to be ex partner said something that has haunted me to this day, a quarter of a century later. He said, “you are remarkable. And I’m not.”
My view of humanity is that we can all be remarkable if we so choose to be and if we have the right conditions to work in. I still don’t believe that I am remarkable – I didn’t think it then and I don’t now. What I do know is that some of the people I work with are remarkable, and oddly, like me, they don’t think they are either. Of course, remarkability like anything else is subjective, like beauty – in the eye of the beholder.
Eight years ago I joined an already formed, very loyal and close team of people, on a new project. I was very aware that they had worked together for the best part of 20 years and had their own in-jokes, ways of working and group loyalty. I was grateful to be there, and mindful of my position. Within days they had accepted me, embraced the work I had to contribute and were more than happy to adjust their direction of travel accordingly.
I see them for two days three times a year, an intensive period where we work long hours in a mutually dependant way, dealing with a range of challenges and addressing the emotional needs of the people we train. New members of the team have joined us, older members have retired, but still We work really hard and we have great fun. We receive outstanding feedback from the people we support who attend our courses and we go home feeling like we have really made a difference. Like the best relationships, we enable each other to be our best selves, but without altering our fundamental natures. It is remarkable.
So what, I ask myself, is it that makes this work?
All the acknowledged truths of team work and leadership are relevant here, but I feel there is an additional something. There is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ within our group that binds us together. Mutual respect, yes; honesty and openness, without a doubt; but there’s something internal, something we don’t display but we know is there in each and every one of us. And I think that is humility and humanity. A humble recognition that we are all human. We are all doing our best, relying on each other because we cannot do it all, alone. I am certain that my colleagues in this team don’t just do what they do, because they can but I think they spend time on a regular basis to ponder the great questions, looking inwards at themselves and outwards at those they admire, wondering how they could be better. And the more I age, the more I wonder if that is what makes for remarkable people – the constant desire to grow, the ongoing curiosity about others, the perpetual connection making.
If life is a journey, we are never at the destination, and the feeling in this group is that we are all facets of a larger diamond, we all have our own place in the team, in the world, but that the entirety of what we do together is greater than the sum of the parts. At the end of the last course the participants were queuing to say thank you and offer incredibly flattering feedback to me. But this was only possible because of the outstanding, unprecedented support of the whole team. Without them I am nothing. Without the ability to let go, to trust in the team, to be my true self, I can never offer my very best. And that is true team work. Real remarkability.
I love my colleagues. I am going to tell them.