Where Are We 5 Years On?

Tom Wheelhouse, Mightify Director and Founder

5 years ago, I made up a word to tackle a problem that’s anything but imaginary.

Sending the Chancellor my annual £13 today for – not sure what’s it for really but enjoy it, Rishi – made me reflect on 5 years of successes, failures, wrong turns, despair, pride, frustration, progress, partnerships…

Excuse what might seem self-indulgent, but if you’re thinking of a career change, starting a business, pursuing a dream move or just want to hear what swimming against the tide can really be like without the “hustle culture” nonsense, read on…

First things first: if you’re reading this far, seriously considering changing your circumstances and feeling that spark that just maybe this is the time to do something different, then kudos to you. That’s the hardest part. So much of success is turning up and continuing to turn up consistently and relentlessly. You can do it.

The word was Mightify. Quite simply, if we can amplify sound and fortify walls, we can Mightify people’s lives, careers and wellbeing to reflect their skills and value.

I don’t go in for the law of attraction completely, but I do believe that if you put right thought and right effort into something you believe in, combine it with a well-planned and adaptable strategy and refuse to listen to the naysayers, then you can pretty much achieve anything.

If you only read this far, let me summarise my advice:

If something isn’t working – do something else.

Stop and sit with your reaction to that. Did you agree with me? Did you roll your eyes and mumble some sort of obscenity? Think it’s easy for me to say? Too simple?

Any of those are positive reactions, because now we’re chipping away at your current situation and way of thinking. It wasn’t easy for me (understatement of the year) to get to a point where I’m much more willing to take those calculated risks and leap for opportunities, but there does come a point where you realise that if you want something to change, you have to change something.

Where are we up to on coaching phrase bingo now? Anyone got a full house yet?

Don’t worry, there’s more.

Why Cool Runnings was right

People really are afraid of what’s different. “Look in the mirror and tell me what you see”. 99 times in every 100, those with a background of selfless service (i.e. emergency services) will bow their head and undersell themselves. Opening the door to all the reasons why something won’t work – with none of the evidence they (ironically) deal in professionally for those limiting beliefs.

People go through life never knowing what they are truly capable of because we exist in a society where fitting in is a path to comfort, and comfort is a drug.

I’ve been there, I see this every day in my coaching work, and it’s right in front of my face taking on some massive and well-established structures that actively protect the status quo.

Is it apathy or an active interest in things not changing?

When I first started going to police forces, healthcare trusts, any public sector organisation really – whether through conferences or direct – I found very little interest in what to me was a simple and obvious concept. Invest in your people proactively and you’ll see a massive return on investment.

Never mind the fact it’s basic human decency in sectors where we know trauma is a given, workloads are unsustainable, and we’ve seen an exodus of talent that shows no signs of slowing.

At the time, I put it down to those senior people being out of touch – one of the downsides of the traditional system of promotion linked to time served is that the frontline of 2020 is very different to that of say 1995. Perhaps, I naively thought, they just don’t really understand the importance of this.

I also understand that we live in a world where results need to be immediate and short-termism rules – if you’re going to be in a post for 18 months and move on, the system dictates that you need your name on a tangible achievement. That is not conducive to genuine change.

As time has gone on and the bruising on my forehead from continuing to bang it against the same brick walls has remained, I can’t help but wonder if there is in fact a desire to expend energy on actively not changing things. It’s an uncomfortable truth, and I by no means include every leader in this, but if there’s a real push for action and results, why are we still doing so many surveys, putting up posters for “awareness” and listening to the same presentations at the same conferences year after year?

Time to step up or step aside, frankly.

There are many great people out there with brilliant skills and all the tools to make this change happen – the answer is in bringing together those experts and just saying “here’s the problem – solving it is what you do – let’s go”. Having the bravery and vulnerability at the right level to understand that bringing the right people in or empowering those who aren’t “senior” on paper or might be “different” is not weakness, it’s strength.

If you’re thinking you might be one of those experts in your field, or you want to strike out on your own, there’s an eternal question in the early stages.

To niche or not to niche

At the risk of overloading on cheese, I didn’t find my niche: my niche found me (camera zooms in, looks to one side like Steven Seagal, long constant keyboard note).

If you’re starting a new business, this is going to be something you hear a lot. Who’s your ideal client? What are their issues? How can you solve them? How do you find them?

All relevant and important questions, but don’t feel you have to know that to the nth degree on day one. Your strategy will change, partly led by demand, partly by profit, partly by your passions, partly by shifting market forces. Marketing is absolutely an art, but it also contains a large slice of trial and error, constant review and adapting to the world around you.

My “ideal client” is me 6 or 7 years ago. I know that the factors that led me there have only got stronger since, and I know there are around half a million people in the UK alone who could benefit from what we do because they’re in a similar boat. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Keep in mind what drives you. Personally, I couldn’t have started a business, or taken a job, where I was doing something I don’t believe in. There may well be huge margins in selling washing machines, I have no idea, but that wouldn’t get me up in the morning or keep me going at 3am when I really question why I went down this path. Maybe money (or the result of money) is your driver, and that’s great too – the point is to know what the end goal is and do something you actually feel aligned to, rather than “work” being a 50-hour per week conflict with your soul.

Reasons to be cheerful, part 3

It’s empowering and energising to be part of a kind of rebel alliance taking on the Death Star of stigma, existing structures that don’t work and the Dark Side whose mantra is “we’ve always done it this way”. I won’t run the risk of saying who’s who beyond myself probably being Chewbacca, but in the fleet you’ll find some incredible people doing the right thing because they have the skills and they believe in it.


Time for action, it is. Stop the empty platitudes, we must.

Most (if not all) of us are in this broader “team” because we went to the darker places, had the bad experiences and resolved to use that as fuel to the fire to change things for others. Steering away from the iceberg rather than continuing, blissfully ignorant, to enjoy the music of comfort and familiarity until it’s too late. It’s not overly dramatic to continue that metaphor and say that unless those at the wheel of policing, health, education, prisons and more start to listen to some different navigation, the services that the country depends on will sink without trace.

What does any of this mean for you?

The point I’m making in a very roundabout way is that it’s about the whole person.

Everyone has different needs, motivations, ambitions and these internal and external factors all change over time. The concept of Ikigai – a reason for being - which I’ve gone into in other blogs.

- Looking for a career change? Start with your true, whole self and what you want from that change. Be relentless in pursuing that end goal and what it will yield for your life. Ask for help along the way, learn, evolve and keep pushing forward.

- Have a role in HR, wellbeing, a staff association? Look at what your people really need. If you don’t know what that is, ask them. Act on their feedback and involve them.

- In a leadership role in a key service? Step up and empower your people - or lose them. Be the one who actually does things because they work and are the right thing to do.

Successful professional sports teams train the person, not the player. I’ve said before that we should see first responders as athletes of their own type – so let’s equip them, support them and develop them just as we would any other person whose skills we value.

As for me, the process continues. We now have a core team of 5 but a much bigger family of contacts, partners and connections. It’s been testing, energising, demoralising, proud, brutal, hopeful and everything in-between. It’s brought home how many fantastic people are out there – and the opposite end of the spectrum too. I remain an idealistic kind of optimist though.

We can help – and it’s hugely pleasing that we are being asked to help on an increasingly large scale. Bringing new people on board and seeing their passion and growth over the past 5 years has been brilliant and we’ll always be on the hunt for great talent – as well as partnerships with other top purpose-driven people.

The next 5 years? We’re just getting started.

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