The smokescreen called nostalgia

Posted by on Aug 3, 2014 in views | No Comments


“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” ~ Don Draper, “The Wheel”, Mad Men.

Recently, I got lost navigating within my own moral compass because of what Don sentimentally refers to as nostalgia. (Too much Madmen can make you erm, mad. But that’s another topic altogether).

I was courted by an opportunity that I had managed to convince myself – rationally without compromising any moral values that I hold – was appropriate to pursue, albeit with a little shadow of a doubt.

It was an intoxicating chance to own what I term a nostalgic account. The big one that traditional ad agencies fight to get. Their claim to fame, to having arrived as one of the big boys.

I wanted to get a feel of that. I wanted to also get an insight into the workings of this particular industry, what makes it tick. And unfortunately, I kind of lost myself in the process.

And I want to take this opportunity now to apologise to my team and partners for losing my way.

In a team environment, I realised there’s nothing more important than getting the collective moral compass right. At the expense of the so called nostalgia. Or a wonderful dream or two.

On top of Don’s emotion-laced definition of nostalgia, another word appeared right beside it: integrity.

There are two meanings to the word “integrity”, and as I walked out of my meeting room after a briefing to my guys of the said project, I began to understand the depth of what they both truly mean. And how one is so intimately intertwined with the other.

The first meaning refers to the individual code of ethics that we all hold within our hearts, the moral code that guides us as we seek to live our lives with conscience and without regret.

Individual integrity consists of a set of values we believe in. And it varies from individual to individual in terms of weightage and intensity. That means that it is possible that two individuals won’t necessarily agree with each other when it comes to a particular value, principle or conscience, no matter how sound or valid the logic may be. And one may concede and give in to the other’s final decision for a variety of reasons.

It may be due to a lower intensity of belief, a different degree of prioritisation, or just lacking the will to debate further. It could also be, in this particular case that I’m sharing, a different position of power.

As head of the company I co-founded, I have complete authority to make decisions without veto.
And I nearly made one without realising the power I possess and the effect it may have.

In initially deciding to give this opportunity a shot, I realised that not everyone in the team were totally comfortable in going ahead. It was not a level of discomfort that would result in any violent objections, but I could feel it simmering nonetheless. In the end, the decision was surprisingly easy:
I decided not to pursue the opportunity further. Because I realised, that it was never going to be worth it.

It was actually a very simple, black and white decision once I’ve broken down all the intoxicating smokescreen of “nostalgia” and removed all emotional attachments, and looked at it very purely and clearly. There is simply no two ways about it.

My consideration was this: in a position of leadership, with total power to make decisions,
it is fundamentally important to make sure that your decision takes into consideration all the values of individuals in your team, because these are the people you trust to be fighting alongside you and giving their all when the going gets tough.

No matter how much I can convince myself of the logic that grants moral legitimacy to any decision, it counts for nothing if someone in my team is not totally at ease with it. What’s more, I was beginning to feel that it was an rationalisation exercise of excuses.

No matter the degree of discomfort, even if it was just one tiny percent, a leader who has felt it should never allow it to be glossed over. Never. Ever.

In a team, the collective integrities of everyone secures the overall integrity of the team. One small crack of uncertainty, and the overall spirit and unity will be compromised. It may not happen now.
But the crack, no matter how small, will eventually enlarge.

That’s the second meaning of integrity. The collective unity that drives a team ahead as one solid, unbreakable unit.

A team of talented individuals drives the company forward. But a team of talented and aligned individuals sharing the same solid values and having the same integrity drives the company forward in the right direction.

And I’m glad I have these brilliant individuals with the right values in my team.

To them, I say this with all my heart: thank you all for reminding me what integrity truly means.
I nearly failed you. But it’ll never ever happen again on my watch. You can trust me on that.

To those in a position of power, or some sort of leadership role, may I humbly request that before making a decision, pause and think about the values and ideals of the people within your team.
Do you sense a little inkling of discomfort with an impending decision you’re about to make? If so, consider not going ahead with it. Pay some attention to how your team think and feel. And show them you’re listening and making a collective decision as one united team. Not for your own needs.

Because dreams and the allure of fame and riches may give you a moment of high, but will never last. And you might just end up dreaming on your own.

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