Dominic Irvine

My personal cabinet

The stress was really getting to me. I simply did not know what to do. Out of the blue, whilst grabbing a coffee together after a challenging business meeting, one of my colleagues handed me her resignation letter. Her date of departure was right in the middle of the three weeks I had planned on taking a trip of a lifetime to celebrate a significant birthday. My plan was to take part in one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races, 2,750 miles of self-supported riding in the wilderness from Mexico to Canada along the top of the Rockies. I was relying on her presence to keep the operation running smoothly. I had been in training for over a year for this race; dreaming about it every ride. Was all this for nothing? Should I cancel?

My first thought was to explore delaying the resignation. It required 6 months’ notice, so I hoped a week or two delay in departing might be considered, but it was not forthcoming. I wondered whether I should delay the race until the following year? But subjecting my family and colleagues to an even longer period of me being permanently tired from all the training seemed unfair. Various solutions and arguments churned in my mind but none of them resulted in a satisfactory solution. I needed some help thinking this through. But who?

I needed to talk to someone who would listen, ask questions to understand and not be afraid of giving me their opinion, based on their expertise. Someone whom I respected and whose opinion I valued. Whilst I think the concept of a mentor is great, but I have yet to meet one person who has all the answers and whose view on every aspect of life and work is equally valuable and insightful. I do, however, have a friend who has a remarkably creative way of thinking and with whom a conversation leads to all sorts of ideas and possibilities. I have another who has the ability to cut through the issues to pin down the nub of the issue. A third friend is superb at pragmatic solutions and I have someone special who provides the necessary emotional support to get through the toughest of times. Having these awesome people in my life has taught me that what we need is not one mentor but instead, a personal cabinet of key people to whom we can turn in those moments of uncertainty and doubt to seek counsel. What these people do is speak with candour. They listen; I mean really listen. They are not afraid of telling me the hard truth. They will tell me what I need to hear rather than I might want to hear. Above all, they care and their insights are always with my best interests at heart. Which one I choose to speak to is based on my perception of the nature of the issue. Sometimes, all I need to do is to speak to one, sometimes I need the opinion of all of them.

Seeking counsel from my personal cabinet is not about abdicating responsibility for the decision. Far from it. Any decision as to what I do is mine. This is critical for the relationship to work. It is unfair to make them responsible for a decision. What they provide are inputs and what I must do is apply judgement to that input and weigh it up in the light of everything else I know about the issue. It is precisely because they are not responsible for my decision that allows them to speak freely and provide a perspective based on their wisdom, insight and flair - it liberates them to be the critical thinkers I need them to be. Most of my cabinet are outside the business. I value the outside perspective they bring.

In the end, I did the race. As one of my cabinet pointed out, I was unlikely to look back in later life and be excited about spending more time in the office. Instead, being able to look back on an amazing adventure, reliving the stunning mountain scenery, remembering the wildlife and the incredible people I met along the way, as well as all the things I would learn about myself, was a far more rewarding experience. I discussed with another how best to mitigate the risks of loss of business in my absence, which led me to identify the key activities that needed to continue in my absence and working with my colleagues to ensure these were covered. In short, my cabinet helped me take control over my fears and concerns and helped me set myself up for success and my colleagues stepped up to the mark and did a great job.

If you don’t have your own cabinet, I encourage you to develop one. When you have selected them, make sure you tell them and tell them why they made the cut. That way they know what it is you value you about them and how they can help you best.

© Dominic Irvine 2019 All rights asserted

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