No, no and…umm…no

When I started on my SBM journey all those years ago, I received two pieces of sage advice. The first one, “don’t always be the one that is saying no”, I’ll admit now, I haven’t managed.

I try very hard to accommodate as many requests as I can but it is just not possible to please everyone, especially in the current climate. I do find that if there is bad news to communicate, it often falls to me and I don’t mind that, but I am I always astounded when the recipient of the ‘no’ then appeals to the Boss, as if I’d made the decision on my own and he would over-rule me (i.e. change his mind!)

The second one is a little more hum-drum but, I believe, has been a vital key to my success as an SBM. When I first started work I received two days of training from a long standing County AFO, let’s call her Gwen. Gwen had, for many years carefully cultivated a fearsome reputation as the LEA dragon, even my Head at the time practically bowed as she entered the room, she was close to retirement and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I was her last trainee. She was thorough, precise and direct. She told me the job as she saw it; scary responsible, emotionally challenging, merciless and…huge. She made it clear to me that she doubted I was cut out for it. These were her final words as she swept out and I’ve never forgotten them “If you can’t walk away from this at the end of each day, you’ll never succeed as a Business Manager. You need to learn to just get up and leave.”

Now, I tell this story to people and they look at me horrified. “I could never do that. I would have to tidy my desk”. And I think to myself…yes and that is what would make your days here numbered.

Because Gwen was right. If I stayed until my desk was tidy every night, I’d never get home. I’d need to start tidying at 4pm in order to get out by 5.30pm and even then I’d uncover one last quick job. I’d stress about where I’d filed this or that, and whether I was ever going to find it again. Every day I would be spending an hour and a half at unproductive paper shuffling. And why? I don’t hold with that ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ nonsense, it’s not like I share a desk. My office is locked and, believe me, it’ll all still be there in the morning where I left it.

I use a standing desk (which gives me even more surface area to store paper) and I admit I am a very long way from the ideal of a paperless office, but I know what is on my desk and where. I can dig out notes on benchmarking, budget ideas, change of address emails and the odd bag of small change. I’ve got a not-a-priority-to-do pile the shoulder height of a small pony and more buried pens than you’d find in a betting shop. The cleaner may never have been able to find a spare window of wooden top to dust and if I go under a bus the Finance team are going to have one hell of a job sorting it out, but my desk is my space, my home, my haven, my sanctuary. Mine.

So to Gwen, thank you. Your methods might have been a little unorthodox and terrifying but you were right, they work. I can still only aspire to your level of ‘dragon’ and you probably wouldn’t recognise the job now. But I am proud to say that over 14 years I have gone home at a reasonable hour most nights and I have never ever lost anything, not even the requests marked ‘No’.

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