"You can pack your bags, and start skipping town
Hang up your hat when the show shuts down
But when the world says you ain't quite, 'World-renowned'
Don't count yourself out yet"
- Javier Bardem, Lyle Lyle Crocodile
Harper, my seven year old daughter, loves going to the cinema. It's been one of her favourite pastimes since she's been old enough to sit up straight and we've never had a problem with attention or with fidgeting and making a noise during the film. I've pondered in the past whether it might be more to do with the snacks than the films themselves (she has a very well-planned routine of getting her snacks and getting things set out just so in her seat so she knows where everything is, including Gerold the Lion who normally accompanies her to such events and helps eat the popcorn!) but she has a remarkable level of recall of small details in the films we go to see, so she must be paying attention to more than what she's getting to eat! I have frequently joked that you could take Harper to see The Shining as long as there were snacks, but that's probably not a good plan!
As a general rule, the cinema offerings typically have one or two kids films showing at any one time. Usually one that's on a typical cinema run and then another which can be a special feature or a throwback, so it's not uncommon for us to go and see the same film multiple times while it's on the big screen. Last week, we went to see (for Harper's second and my first time) Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.
Before we went, I didn't know much at all about the film, other than what Harper had shared with me at bedtime after she first saw it with her mum, so I went in with minimal expectations. For those who were equally unfamiliar, it follows the story of a house in New York where a singer and magician lives, before he heads out on the road to earn some money and a family move in. Unbeknown to them, he leaves behind his talented, but shy singing Crocodile, Lyle. The son of the family is struggling to adjust to their new surroundings and is lonely. When he discovers Lyle in the attic, they become fast friends and spend much of the remainder of the film eating takeaway food out of bins!
The Crocodile is voiced by singer Shaun Mendes, but it's the magician who most surprised me, singing his way through the film. Hector P. Valenti is played by none other than Javier Bardem!
There are many actors who have played characters and been in films which show significant variety across their careers, but often, they play certain characters or at least certain types of characters, which really stick in your mind and make it hard to distinguish the actor from the character. In Bardem's case, in my head he will forever be Anton Chigurh, the iconic villain in the Coen Brothers brilliant adaptation of the equally brilliant Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men!
There was something about his performance in that role that was so captivating and so natural that it is hard to imagine him as anyone else. And that, as you can imagine, gave me a challenge when I went to see Lyle, Lyle Crocodile! You see, Anton Chigurh is a cold blooded, almost robotic killer, travelling around Texas and murdering people with a captive bolt pistol and a shotgun, whereas Hector P. Valenti is a larger than life, singing, dancing magic-performing showman, searching for fame!
When Bardem first appeared on the screen I had one of those moments that you have when you meet someone that you know from one environment, in a completely different one - like meeting a work colleague at the football, or in the cafe of a kids soft play - and you recognise the face but can't remember where, because the contextual cues aren't there!
This all got me thinking about people in the workplace who seek to reinvent themselves, and how that's often perceived by others. Having worked in a large corporation, there were a huge variety of roles and departments which people could progress through, over the course of their career. More often than not, career paths tended to be pretty linear, for example starting as a cashier in a branch, then moving onto a customer advisor role and selling products to customers, then into a specialist sales role (such as protection or mortgages) and then into a leadership role of some kind (assistant branch manager perhaps) and up to manager, then manager of several branches and so on. The same in HR, where many people start as generalist HR consultants and then either move up into lead consultant positions and then to business partner roles or to more specialist areas of HR such as remunerations and benefits.
From time to time, however, people would make what looked like significant leaps into different areas of the bank. For example moving from frontline banking to HR or from HR into Technology. And sometimes, the people in the new area would be welcoming and embrace the newcomer, but other time they'd be looked upon with suspicion or frowned upon for having come from the 'outside' of that world.
When it comes to the technical aspects of our roles, these have all been learned along the way. Nobody is born able to write code in R or Python to manipulate data or to run a group-wide pay review process. We learn as a we go - sometimes through trial and error and experience and other times through formal learning interventions. Every job that we do and every experience that we have inside and outside of our work, gives us new skills and tools which, with the right support and opportunity, can be applied to our work and can help the teams, departments and companies we work for be successful.
In my work with teachers over the past 12 months, some have expresses a desire to move on from teaching and into other jobs. The challenge that they've all raised, however is linked to the challenge I've raised above. It's the self-limiting belief that what they're able to do in the future has to be directly and clearly related to what they've done in the past. 'I've been a teacher so all I know about is teaching and education.'
What's much more useful, is to think not just about the roles you've held in the past, but the skills and traits that you've demonstrated in doing those roles. And not just formal, paid roles. What about all the things you do, and do well in your spare time. A friend of mine has spent her entire career in the police force, again following a fairly standard, linear path for that line of work. As she approached the age at which she's able to retire from the force and take a pension, she's been reflecting on the next stages of her life. It's been through conversations like this that she's begun to recognise the myriad skills which she's deployed throughout a long and successful career. And by taking her mind away from the roles and onto the skills, she's been able to picture herself moving into the next phase of her career, in a completely different environment. Using the stakeholder management and investigatory skills that she honed in the police to help uncover financial crime, for example.
As leaders, it's equally important to take that mindset. Instead of looking at your people as a function of the roles they've performed before, think about the skills they have, the traits they display and the passions they carry. Let them try new things and follow those passions and find the ways in which they can contribute most fully to the goals of the team!
We all have within us, the capability to do more than the thing we're doing right now. It just takes the right mindset from us and our bosses and a little support on the way!