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Could you most challenging relationship secretly be your biggest advocate- Lessons from Strictly Come Dancing winners

Cara Macklin is a trained leadership coach and director of Macklin Care Homes, who launched Milesian Manor Lifestyle Care Home in Magherafelt- a first-of-its-kind in Northern Ireland.

In this article, Women in Business Outstanding Innovation award winner and IoD finalist Director of the Year for Innovation Cara, talks about her views …

You’re probably thinking to yourself, what have the winners of Strictly Come Dancing got to do with challenging people you work with in business?

Before I get to that, I want you to cast your memory back to think of a really difficult person. Or maybe it’s more than one! Is it a customer that you dread answering the call when their name appears on your phone?  No matter what you do for them, they’re not happy and want more. What’s worse, they’re not even one of your best customers. Or maybe it’s a team member, who disagrees with every idea you put forward and gives reasons why it won’t work. You know before you even mention it in a meeting, negative ned will be very vocal to challenge you.

Cara MacklinThat brings me to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing final last Saturday night. Winners, professional dancer Kevin Clifton and journalist Stacey Dooley were crowned Strictly Come Dancing champions despite receiving the lowest judges scores. But like every success in business, it wasn’t always plain sailing.  Stacey started as a complete beginner in week one being ranked 11th out of 15, moved up and down the leader board every week before being crowned the overall winner.

Sounds just like daily life in business. Even in the final, Stacey and Kevin had a few more storms to weather, namely dance expert and judge Craig Revel Horwood.  Despite receiving full marks for their dances from other judges, Craig scored them lower, and gave them critical feedback saying, “I wasn’t keen on the dance. For me it didn’t work.”

Like in business, experts have a huge influence and we assume people always listen and follow them.  But in this instance, the public disagreed, and voted Kevin and Stacey as the winners. Even the experts can get their predictions wrong, something I think we can lose sight of in business.

Although I agreed with some of Craig’s feedback, I was really surprised by his lower scores in their last dance, as it was brilliant. After the scores professional dancer Kevin was getting more frustrated with Craig, implying that it was personal to him saying, “I expect it from you Craig, every year it’s the same. One day I’ll impress you Craig. Every year!”

This had been Kevin’s fifth Strictly Come Dancing final, and he said no matter what he did he was never able to do enough to impress Craig. Does that remind you of that difficult customer, or negative ned on your team? You could see throughout the show in Kevin’s body language, he was resigned to the fact he wasn’t going to win.

But, roll forward to the end of the show, when Kevin and Stacey were announced as winners, he dropped to the floor totally emotional and couldn’t speak.  When the camera moved to show the judges reactions I noticed Craig was beaming with delight and I thought to myself “did he secretly really want Kevin and Stacey to win?”

Craig is the nasty judge on Strictly Come Dancing, and often gets booed by the public for his harsh criticism of the dancers. I have this theory, “did Craig give such harsh criticism so that the public would get angry, and fuel them to vote for Kevin and Stacey?” Hopefully one day if I met him I could ask.

So back to business and the lesson we can learn. People who know me, understand I find it difficult to work with negative people. Although I love working on teams where people challenge each other and ideas, I can’t stand negative neds who constantly complain saying, “that will never work around here.” Advice I was given early in my career from a very successful Managing Director, “the most awkward customers in the sales process have ended up my most difficult customers’ long term. Looking back now I’m not sure I would have taken on the business again.”

Having watched the Strictly Come Dancing final, there’s a small part of me will now consider maybe there secretly is a strong advocate in that really challenging person, an employee who tells outsiders what a great place this is to work.

Now don’t get me wrong, I won’t go full circle and enjoy the difficult employee or complaining customer, because there are times we just have to admit no matter how hard we try or what we do we won’t keep everyone happy. But maybe just sometimes there is a lesson to learn and a secret advocate hiding among those challenging people.

Maybe they know you are doing a great job, and want to keep pushing you to continue to deliver the best. What do you think?  Have you found any secret advocates, or turned a challenging relationship into one of your biggest supporters.

And finally remember, the next time a so called expert tells you something won’t work you don’t have to listen to them because they too can get it wrong and just when you’re about to give up you never know what success is about to happen.