Last year I was invited to a talk by Melvyn Bragg, the UK broadcaster, journalist and film maker. He was being interviewed about his fascinating career. He has interviewed over 1,000 people – predominantly in the arts – many of who have risen to the top of their professions and are highly accomplished.
The interviewer asked Melvyn if there was anything these people all had in common that has made them successful. Any common core attributes? He said he couldn’t think of any, but that many of them had said the exact same four words when asked what they attributed their success to. At some point in their education and career, they said, ‘there was this teacher.’
It reminded me that in business, at work, it’s easy to forget the importance of this fundamental human connection. Anyone who has been working for any significant period of time is in a position of influence on their colleagues. It’s easy to overlook, or under appreciate, the potential of this role. When starting out, few of us are born with a particular dream job or career, but we look to people to emulate and grow into. Some people are lucky enough to get it from parents and family. But for most, we respond to people who take an interest in us, our work, and people we want to emulate.
In my experience, inspiration and passion are some of the most potent forces in business and its crucial to recognize that managers, at all levels, have this role and opportunity. If there is an abundance of passion, inspiration and a keenness to mentor and take an interest in colleagues’ careers – you can pretty much not worry about many development processes, books and training courses.
We need to recognize that we are in a hugely privileged position to be that one ‘teacher’ who can shape and inspire careers.
Tom Coombes is Cognito's founder and CEO