I’ve always thought I could perfect myself.

When you’re a loner, like me, it’s easy to think that the way to self-improvement is to strive relentlessly to make yourself better. And believe me, I’m aware of how much I need it – not least because when you co-habit with teenagers, you hear about your failings every single day.

But what it might have taken me a country-wide lockdown to realise, is that a much more reliable way to improve yourself is by building a team that complements your weaknesses.

There’s something really special about a work team. It’s different from a group of friends in several important ways. First, you spend way more time together. Second, these are people who might not choose to be together all day. Third, there’s no opting out – you have to work through stuff. Fourth, you have to be a grown-up – you can’t whinge like you would to friends.

I’ve spent the past year building up an awesome team of people I’m lucky to work with. But the very best moments are when you realise that someone else is really good at the stuff you’re really bad at.

I’m task- rather than people-focused. By that, I mean I get my kicks from completing assignments. You know that buzz of finishing an article, signing off a brief, sending out a newsletter? That gives me more pleasure than chatting to even the most fun colleagues about what they got up to at the weekend.

I know not everyone’s like that, because I see them, congregating in the kitchen to chat while honestly, I just WANT TO GET BACK TO MY DESK. (I’m not proud, by the way, it’s not a recipe for a balanced life. I’m envious of people who instinctively prioritise human connection.)

Someone recently joined our team who is a real people-person. They do things like send thank you messages on our company HR app. I’m a little overwhelmed, to be honest, by the simple humanity of it. In twenty years, I’ve never worked with anyone who did that. I adore many of my former colleagues – in case there should be any doubt – but I’ve tended to work in high-pressure environments and I probably don’t give the vibe of someone who needs reassurance.

But the fact that my new colleague is sending us heartfelt, genuine feedback makes me feel both appreciated, and lacking. The thing is, I’m the team leader. And in seven months of leading this team, I’ve never once found that feedback function. And it’s not just about the HR platform – in person, I sprinkle praise like vinegar at the chip shop – way too sparingly. (No, they never add enough, and yes we can argue that later.)

So for a moment I felt chagrined. Then I felt lucky – that someone in the team has a gift for something that I struggle with. Because even as the leader, I don’t have to be everything to everyone. I can learn from others. Growth can be situational. Good habits – just like bad ones – are contagious.

Lockdown has given me the space to reflect on team dynamics in a way I wouldn’t when we’re all in the workplace together. And maybe that’s also what spurred my colleague into action. I just hope they persist in relentlessly spreading their appreciation until the rest of us catch it too.

This blog was inspired by the #DailyWritingChallenge set by the awesome Hannah Wilson. Today’s theme was “Support”.

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

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