Jul 5, 2018

The Re-born Identity

By James Spears

Will you commit to this programme?

It’s not often you compare a leadership and innovation programme to the experiences of an amnesiac assassin, but the Friday night after the latest segment of the UKGBC Future Leaders course, that’s what I found myself doing. I’d flopped on the sofa to chill out and as it happens one of the ‘Bourne’ films was on. The titular character has flashbacks to his training and is repeatedly asked ‘will you commit yourself to this programme?’ I’ve found James the Future Leader asking James the Engineer the very same question, and discussions with my fellow Future Leaders suggest that quite a few others are having the same internal struggle.

You picked us. You volunteered.

I’d been drawn to engineering because I like solving problems and want to make a difference in the built environment. Up until the last year or so, this has mainly been at a project level, but then I started to think more about the ‘big’ problems – how do we make our company truly sustainable? How do we combat the effects of climate change? How do we drive innovation and disrupt the existing market? Questions that can’t be answered by spreadsheets and calculations, and this is what lead me to wanting to join the UKGBC Future Leaders programme.

The main thrust of the leadership coaching and advice we’ve been given is allowing our minds to enter a creative space, rather then being in the controlling, process-driven mindset we often fall into during technical work and project delivery. This can only really happen when we’re chilled out and in tune with our emotions. Stress, over-work and burn-out pushes us in the complete opposite direction, back into our box and straight into well-trodden traditional approaches.

Just how true this is hit me right between the eyes a few weeks ago. I’ve been chairing a climate change adaptation group within Cundall as part of our new sustainability roadmap to 2025, and this requires a lot of strategic thought and future-gazing. Cue James the Engineer trying to prioritise a huge list of actions for the group. I may even have involved a spreadsheet. Luckily, my fellow group members pulled me out of my process-driven box and made sure we had a much more strategic (and fruitful) discussion. It was as I walked down to our London office I reflected on this – what had gone wrong? Why was I getting stuck on the details? Why couldn’t I open my mind? Of course. This was the same week as a bunch of major deadlines, my mind had been racing 24/7 and I was more than a little stressed – I simply couldn’t ‘switch-on’ my creative mindset.

Have you made a decision? This can’t go on, you know. You have to decide.

Thankfully, this also works the other way. A week later, deadlines passed, well rested and couple of bike rides under my belt, we had an office strategy day to think about our business aspirations in Scotland. My mind unleashed and ‘switched on’ we had a great day, covering a wide range of issues and challenges in an open and inventive manner – admittedly others did take a little bit of getting used to me using ‘pain’ and ‘chaos’ so much (see my previous blog for more on that)!

This drove home to me how valuable committing to ‘switched on’ mindset is, going from what could have been a bog-standard, less than useful and likely dull meeting, to a highly useful strategic discussion in the course of a week. The key now is to focus on what got me there; more exercise, being well rested and not getting sucked so far into technical delivery my mind can’t escape it. This will be a challenge (who ever said working in construction was easy?) but the benefits both to me individually and to the business are more than worth it.

It’s time I commit to this programme, throw in my process-driven Engineer dogtags and embrace being James the Future Leader.

Welcome to the programme.

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Geotechnical, James Spears, Working at Cundall


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