“If he lacks compassion, throw it into his face” - was her mentor’s advice.
TV series rarely deliver accurate representation of reality (just think of Sex and the City), so don’t believe that Wall Street or City firms are any good at management and staff development. What really stuck with me is that if a typical law firm or an investment bank actually bothered to invest time in improving management skills of their employees, we’d be very likely to see less burn-outs, failed relationships, corporate fraud and other dire consequences than we do today. Compassion is not a quality ordinarily highlighted by HR directors, corporate coaches and senior managers, but how many of you wished your boss had better life skills?
I was not born with compassion in my bones. Growing up in the Soviet Union, we were taught to praise bravery, excellence, determination. I remember a classmate who really struggled at English classes at school despite working very hard and always doing her homework. It was not good enough. Hard work, effort weren’t particularly relevant in a country where its pioneering leader Vladimir Lenin taught himself to speak five foreign languages. I learnt competition not compassion and entered adulthood lacking this vital social skill.
Landing in London’s City, I need not have worried. Junior staff were treated like cogs in a soulless machine, made to work around the clock. Relations at work were described as meritocracy in a corporate brochure, but in reality strict hierarchy was in place. Everyone looked after his own interests. Help was not offered, what’s more, it was a shameful thing to solicit. A typical banker would donate hundreds of pounds to some remote cause of children dying in Africa, but he would deprive his juniors of sleep, life outside work and empathy.
Life has a way of teaching us its vital skills. In a corporate and then entrepreneurial world outside banking I’ve learned that we are all wired differently. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, taking time to understand what motivates others help to communicate and develop relationships at work and at home. Most recently, I had a humbling experience taking a friend for a walk in a wheelchair. I had no idea the pavements in London had so many bumps. The slightest incline made pushing quite strenuous. Crossing roads was a nightmare before I figured out how to get the wheelchair over the edge. There were many passers by, but only one person (an immigrant Polish builder) helped me to lift the chair over one of many edges I encountered. If Harvey Specter (feel free to substitute with an equivalent you know personally) spent just a day looking after another person, a toddler, perhaps or an elderly, someone with a speech impairment who nevertheless wants to make herself understood, then his work ethics would give room to some compassion.
At the end of the day, no one wants to work for an a**ehole.