I'm the asshole and that's OK.
It was a cold, mid-winter Monday morning and I was running towards my office to get out of the rain.
I was careful not to spill my coffee.
'Please God let me not spill this coffee....I need this coffee to be OK...'
I stopped mid-step in the middle of the road staring at the front of the building I was about to walk into. I felt a cloud and a fog surround me and a weight push against the front my chest — squeezing. An anxiety-raising, cigarette-craving kind of chest-squeeze.
I didn't want to go in, and to be completely honest with you, I would've been happier if I could've walked into another job that same day.
The thought of another eight hours at work filled me with fear, apprehension and a will to turn around, go back home and sink my head into my pillow. Being at work was the last place I wanted to be.
I hated my job, I was uninspired by the clients I was working with and the culture I was part of was toxic. I had approved one warning letter that month, and there was another on my desk to review.
I worked with twenty-five good people in an environment that wasn't conducive to the type of work that meant anything to me, or, more importantly, healthy for me.
My life at the time had withered down to a repetitive, meaningless Groundhog Day. I had taken up smoking again which had left me with a sense of self-loathing I can't even put into words today — I'm sure if you've ever 'gone back' to anything that isn't really good for you — you know that hollow feeling well. I had let myself down.
I was part of a culture that had a favourable looking surface to the outside world, but showed rust and mould as soon as you scratched the top layer to look a little deeper.
I was part of something that meant nothing to me, something that didn't inspire me and made me feel sad.
Depressed and anxious.
Tired. I was always tired.
And sadly, I owned the business.
I was surrounded by good people who were simply not good for me, in roles that the business didn't need. I was surrounded by people whom I couldn't relate to and I'm sure, couldn't relate to me.
Trust was a word thrown around like a paper plan — it whizzed by, hit a wall and fell flat on the floor.
I walked inside and got on with the day.
Later that day I went for a walk along the beachfront which neighboured the precinct I worked in — the rain had stopped, the wind was cold and I hoped that it could blow this feeling away.
As I sat and watched people enjoy a cold afternoon by the water — some of them lost in their own thoughts as I was — a thought stopped me. It rolled around in my mind, back into the depths and up again onto the surface, and each time it resurfaced I would smile. I realised something so profound and simple that it had me staring out across the horizon for quite some time.
The warning letters, the toxic culture, the lack of accountability and responsibility — the constant feeling of disappointment — all of it was my fault.
All of it.
Every single part of it was my fault because it was my business.
I was accountable for everything and this, to me was empowering because it meant that if I was accountable for everything, I could change everything.
This simple, obvious thought was empowering.
I walked back to the office wondering how something so obvious had eluded me for so long.
Sitting at my desk that afternoon I shut my office door, opened my notebook and started writing down a plan for my life, not my business.
I wrote down my personal goals and the goals I shared with my family — my wife and children. I wrote down the things I value and the principles that were important to me in life.
I then looked at my work, my job, my career and my business and realised that it all had to change and if I was to be a leader, I needed to lead through thick and thin.
I needed to stay focussed on the things I wrote in my notebook. I had to stay strong because these were the things that were driving me forward — not the culture I was in, not the clients who were calling or the people I was surrounded by.
I knew this meant drastic change. The type of change that saw some people leaving a business and most of them losing their jobs. The type of change that would have my name whispered next to the words 'asshole', 'bastard','arrogant', 'difficult' and 'hard-arse'.
I looked in the mirror that night and realised I was OK with it all.
All of it.
To me, this was the truest test of my role as a leader — was I prepared to be perceived as the bad guy in an effort to reach my own goals? Was I prepared to remove roles from the business that the business no longer needed; to restructure everything from the ground up.
Was I prepared to not just reimagine, but restart with a blank sheet of paper? To draw a line in the sand and say 'this is the line, this is my line and if you'd like to stand on this side of the line, this is how it's going to be.'
I was OK with it.
I walked into the office the next day, I took a large, blank sheet of paper, stuck it to the wall and in thick, black marker, I wrote three words on it.
Do Meaningful Work.
The change had begun.