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It’s the People that Make all the Difference

By Kathy Mann

Early in my career, I worked very hard. The successful delivery of the project was the top priority in my life. My values were around ambition, learning and achieving to the best of my ability. I worked long hours and was frustrated with team members who didn’t put in the same level of effort I did. Back then, it was confusing for me that the project delivery would not be everyone’s ultimate goal.

I changed companies a lot in my career, enjoying the learning and the exposure to different industries, environments, and technologies. In my early thirties, I accepted a leadership post and had to develop a new set of skills to manage and motivate my team effectively. At this stage, I developed a great appreciation for the capable people around me and the difference it made in successful delivery. I was also exposed to the complexities of different agendas and political antics that I was previously unaware of. Although not enjoyable at the time, these experiences and insights stretched me and contributed to my growth.

I had the realisation when I was pregnant that I would no longer be able to be the workhorse I was before having children. I remember speaking to my manager about my concerns and, being a father himself; he assured me that in becoming a parent, I would bring something new to the mix. I thought he was just placating me at the time but looking back, becoming a parent offered me more compassion and empathy for others in the workplace. I was suddenly aware of the challenge many people face in trying to be a great employee and a good parent at the same time.

I left the corporate world to run my father’s business after my first child was born. My values changed, and I no longer felt a sense of belonging on the management team. I was ready for a new career challenge, and my father needed a successor. I wanted to see whether I had it in me to run a business.

I served the business as owner and managing director for five years and learnt some interesting lessons. I enjoyed the freedom to make the decisions and to implement my strategy. Even more rewarding was the speed at which a small organisation could deliver new products. I gained a strong understanding of what it takes to lead and grow a business, to take ownership of all revenue and expenses, while complying with legislation.

I engaged with shareholders, suppliers, clients, and staff. These dynamics were all different with their own challenges and blessings. The projects were smaller, and the funding was limited, but we were still able to serve clients and to make a difference. It felt wonderful to make sales and to build the revenue, knowing that it was my efforts that got us there.

The only thing I missed from the corporate environment was the people. I missed bumping into fifteen people I know on the way to a meeting. I missed the spontaneous coffees we had at one of the many coffee bars scattered around the office complex. My father’s staff were very different from those I encountered in the corporate world. I had some real assets, hard workers, eager and positive contributors and one toxic employee. This mix challenged me further in my leadership style and in different ways than in my corporate positions.

I suffered a severe health collapse and had to leave the business. I took about three years to recover and in the process, changed my career. I’m now a writer, and I work from home. I have a great deal of freedom, and I still get to make all the decisions on what to tackle next. I love the work, but it can be lonely at times. A few months ago, I joined a networking organisation to promote my work and my brand. My calendar has become so full in meeting with the members and following up on leads that it has really stretched me, particularly after my hiatus for recovery.

I’m an introvert, and I love the time I spend writing, but I also need people. A plethora of research on happiness shows that social relationships are one of the strongest predictors of happiness. Studies show that people recover better from illness when they have a strong support structure. Looking back over my career, it’s really the people that have made every job enjoyable. The team jokes, the small interactions, and discussions about what happened on the weekend, the disasters that made us work all night to correct, the conflicts that led us to understand each other better. These interactions may seem small and insignificant, but in truth, these are the things that make life rich.

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After a successful career in corporate IT, Kathy was ready for a new challenge. She succeeded her father as managing director and owner of his financial services business. She is the author of Avoiding Burnout and enjoys writing and speaking on topics such as self-preservation, the science of happiness and working in alignment with your strengths. Kathy is a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters, and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

kathymann@talenttalks.net

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