01/11/17, Peter Russian

Letter to my younger self

young people, leadership, learning

A few weeks ago I was given an interesting and rather thought-provoking task. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self, a letter which would provide useful advice and guidance to the “young me” on the things to avoid, opportunities to grab with both hands and how my business life would pan out.

For many of us who have been working for several decades it’s sometimes easy to forget the challenges we faced to get where we are – the challenges which many of our younger colleagues are facing at the moment. I found writing my letter a rather liberating experience and for those who want to read it you can find it here on the Scottish Business Insider website.

One of the most important things I told my younger self was that life isn’t going to be all about schools books and exams and learning by rote, it’s a journey in which we never stop learning.

I undertook a vocational degree course which helped me realise that learning can be fun, interesting and more importantly the key to my future. I attended Sheffield Polytechnic which has a brilliant Public Administration degree and spent a year working at Westminster City Council during Dame Shirley Porter’s notorious regime.  This, it turned out, was an early lesson of the impact of leadership on organisation culture.

At the beginning of the 1990s (where the recipient of my letter was) the economy started to get a bit sticky, and it wasn’t easy to get a job.  Now I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but London was a pretty exciting place to be at this time and that’s where I decided to start my career.  Importantly though I found out rather quickly that quality of life was much more important than the buzz of the big city.

It’s important that we accept that we all make mistakes. In my first job at the Management Charter Initiative I worked for a hard task master who taught me about the importance of attention to detail, but thankfully my resilience was noted and I got my chance to shine.

Now that I am in a leadership position it seemed odd to be talking to my younger self about this when I would have only just been starting out. Leadership may not seem to be a relevant word for many younger people at the moment, but it should be central to your career from an early stage.  It certainly was for me. I found that my work was dominated by roles which help organisations to think about how they lead people and I was given lots of opportunities to practice what I preached.

I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to lead much sooner than I had imagined. I realised that “strong” leadership isn’t about having the loudest voice or being a ruthless decision-maker, but being prepared to think differently, have difficult conversations, go out on a limb and sticking to your values.

Personally I had two big light bulb moments soon after the credit crunch.  The first was about understanding purpose and not just what you do but why you do it. This was going to lead to some big changes in the way I worked.   

The second “moment” came on an executive team away day when I realised that as long as you go on separating people into leaders and followers you shouldn’t be too surprised if leaders are more engaged and committed to an organisation’s success than followers.  It took me 20 years of working in people development to come to this conclusion and I’ve spent the last few years finding ways to create leaders at all levels.

Leaders at all levels. The term is simple and effective. You can be lead, no matter what level of the business or organisation you are on. This concept is very timely at the moment as Remarkable prepares to develop and take this much further. I can’t say too much at the moment but watch this space…

I’ve always thought myself to be a creative person and this creativity reached its pinnacle earlier this year with the rebranding of Investors in People Scotland to become Remarkable. The change was bold and brave, and the best way of retaining IIP in Scotland whilst being able to respond to the needs of Scotland’s employers.

As a young(er) man, I was able to get involved with some great international development projects including an amazing programme for leaders in northern Kenya, where I had an interesting brush in the bush with a charging rhino, but that’s another story for another blog. I spent time in South Africa helping the post-apartheid government to adopt Investors in People as part of a regeneration, and I even made it to the Florida swamps with a former nuclear submarine commander who’ll be resurfacing (excuse the pun) again shortly as part of an exciting announcement.

Ultimately my job shaped my happiness beyond work. I met my wife at a business meeting in 2000 and, through our own sustainable development strategy, Louis, Lottie and Ruaridh came along.  This is the single most important – and successful – meeting I will ever have. Remember my point about quality of life being more important?

Over the years I have learned from more people than I can count. We should never stop learning, whether it’s from colleagues or peers, senior management, friends or family or the diverse range of clients we may work with.

It’s all about the journey, so enjoy it!

Share this on