I have witnessed people's expectations of life and career change significantly over the last 20 years, especially for women. Today, when young people choose a career, there's a high expectation to move quickly and progress. If talent isn't recognised early, then these people can quickly become frustrated and demotivated.
I believe there are basically two different types of characters: 1) those who have potential but don't realise it and 2) those who think they have more talent than they really have. Of course, both must be managed.
W/466847 Maam! A number embedded forever?
My belief in the importance of recognising potential comes from leaving home at 16. I left Suffolk for the first time to join the Army and begin my new life.
I admit it was tough, and I felt scared to begin with. I was the soldier that took hours trying to polish my boots and iron perfect creases into my shirt. Others found it easy and went off out to enjoy themselves, but I was always the one left behind.
Despite my continual efforts during basic training, I was constantly picked on by my Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM); nothing was good enough. My Stepfather's parting words as I left home rang in my ears, "You'll be back, you'll never stick at it". I was determined not to prove him right, and I kept on polishing those boots. However, in my passing-out parade amongst hundreds of others, I received the 'Best Recruit' Award. I was both shocked and delighted. The RSM said that I was selected because I was the one that had worked the hardest to get it right.
The two other girls that the RSM had also picked on hadn't done so well. One left the Army after six weeks, and the other became demotivated and simply stopped trying to do better. This early recognition of character and achievement really stuck with me - I look for the person who tries the hardest, even if it doesn't come naturally to them.
Thanks to the early positive influence (even though it felt negative at the time) from my RSM I went on to win further awards and was offered a commission to train at Sandhurst as an Army Officer. I refused because I wanted to be just like my RSM, my role model. I wanted to gain respect and work my way up, and I certainly wanted to achieve and did not want to be just another number. People are not a number, and should never be treated like one.
That simple act of recognition made me realise that you can stand out from the crowd and do better. It gives you the confidence to work hard and push yourself. It teaches you to push others to succeed, too.
It's not just about sending people on training courses
There's less money available now for training. Gone are the days when companies simply packed their staff off on training courses and hoped they'd come back more capable managers and leaders. Managers today have more responsibility to nurture in-house talent, and to take ownership of motivating and empowering their teams.
If you have a company with a strong values-based culture, as at Adnams, by nurturing your staff you will end up with leaders of people that will not only do things right, but also do the right things.
Training helps you make sound decisions, but it can't necessarily tell you how to do things the right way. This is where a company's culture and values are important. At Adnams, we aim to ensure that no manager asks their staff to do something that they wouldn't be prepared to do themselves, or haven't done themselves. This not only helps gain mutual respect between managers and staff, but also means that they can advise on the right cultural and ethical way to do that task. Constructive criticism is just as important as praise. If you can thank people on the same day that you're disciplining them, then you know you're doing a good job in leadership.
All awards recognise success in various formats, and the First Women Awards, in association with the Lloyds Banking Group, recognises women with a passion and determination to do things right, and to do it their way. There are so many inspirational people out there - they deserve to be publicised. After all, they are the next generation of role models that will go on to inspire hundreds, possibly thousands, of others to reach their potential - just like my Regimental Sergeant Major.
Karen Hester is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.