Opinion

Praise is like a Walnut Whip - very gratifying, but not all that nourishing

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

About a year ago, I decided to raise my profile as a third sector leader. It made sense. I had things to say, a book coming out and an urgent need to bring new investment into my organisation.

But it came at a price. For a while, I neglected my organisation. My eye went off the ball and, predictably, I made a few bad decisions. The team felt that I wasn't there for them. My appraisal from one of my team said it all: "You're never here! Either leave now - or stay and be a proper CEO."

My first response to this criticism was to write my letter of resignation. But I knew in my heart that they were right, so I threw it away and re-engaged. I still do the external stuff but make sure that people know where my priorities lie.

Whether or not I have succeeded, I don't honestly know. The vibes are better, I know that. And I feel a lot better, too.

The heat and light of constant Whitehall seminars and speaking engagements is pleasant enough, but somehow it doesn't always feel like real work somehow. Indeed, there are few easier or more enjoyable occupations that of the professional networker.

And then there's ego. Last year I probably received more public recognition than in all the years of my life combined. In the short term, it had a very positive effect. I felt, for a time, fantastic.

But it doesn't last. You seem to end up back where you always were, wherever that happens to be.

And my default position, like that of many others I speak to in our sector, seems to be one of not really believing, deep down, that I am good enough. Praise propels me upwards - but not for long.

The past year has made me realise that my search for praise has probably been a bigger personal driver than I had ever admitted, and that my desire to achieve social good on a substantial scale is linked not only to my core social values but also to my own psychological needs.

Where does this leave me? A touch less personally ambitious, perhaps. Recognition is like a large Walnut Whip: immediately gratifying but not particularly nourishing. Indeed, the thought of focusing on myself a little less brings with it a sense of relief.

The only fear I now have is that, without my demons pushing me quite so hard, I may actually be less driven to make good things happen. Which is something I may just decide to live with.

- Craig Dearden-Phillips is founder and chief executive of Speaking Up.

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