When I was asked to write about how I got a distinction in my apprenticeship, my immediate reaction was.. "Errr, I dunno, I just did!” In hindsight, I’ve realised that my initial alarm was because I struggled to talk openly about my achievements, and the idea of writing a blog for the community felt braggy, arrogant and not very ‘me’ at all.
I’ve since come to realise that unless we have confidence and pride in our achievements, how can we expect others to recognise them? With this in mind, I’d like to share my experience, my learnings, and some words of advice for how to achieve a distinction; and beyond that, demonstrate that claiming your achievements and feeling proud of yourself isn’t something to be ashamed of.
Let me start by saying that I’m very much an “all or nothing” kind of girl. As a child, my mum described me as “never knowing the meaning of no”. As an adult, I like to reframe it as being “driven” and “tenacious”. Needless to say, when I enrolled as a People Leadership Programme apprentice I had no intention of graduating with anything less than a distinction. My goal was set.
Those of you that have read my previous post My Apprenticeship Journey, know that I had a difficult year at work while on the course. I was incredibly challenged and admittedly very stressed out by events that were outside of my control, from the destructive behaviors of the team around me to my redundancy. I believe that it’s not what happens, but how you react that matters and so I put my energy into what I could control; my actions and turning the difficult situations which could have proven to blockers, into development opportunities, all of which kept my “on the job” hours way over 100%!
So, how did I do it...
Hard work. It sounds pretty basic but I purposefully invested a lot of time and energy into the apprenticeship because it meant a lot to me to do my best. I know time is an issue for a lot of people, and juggling my demanding management role alongside my commitment to the programme wasn’t easy, but it was worth it!
Attending all the MindGyms sessions. Honestly, if you can attend them all, make the effort to. I found that many of my lightbulb moments happened during the group exercises, which made writing the reflective journals much easier and authentic. Which is a nice segway into...
Be authentic. Writing your reflective journals and completing the assignments shouldn’t be taxing and they won’t be if you’re basing them on your reality. Use your assignments to reflect on what’s happening in real-time, or what has happened in the recent past. My journals were not glossy. They were not just about wins. They were about the challenges I faced in my management role and getting them down on paper helped me to tackle them and instigate change.
Embracing 360 feedback, no matter how revealing! Regularly reaching out for feedback and keeping an open mind about what comes back is a big part of the apprenticeship and ongoing self-awareness. I certainly had some uncomfortable moments reading about my blind spots, however reframing negative feedback as an opportunity to improve kept me grounded and accountable for what I needed to work on to become a better manager.
Make the most of the WhiteHat events. Hearing real stories of management struggles and meeting apprentices from a variety of industries, helped me to put my own challenges into context and feel more equipped to tackle them. After every event, I left feeling empowered, with a notebook full of notes and a few LinkedIn connections.
Support from my therapists, sorry, I meant coaches. I cannot sing the praises of @Luke Scott and @Katie Davis enough. They were always willing to lend an ear when I needed it, with an abundance of reassurance and encouragement.
Safety in numbers. Having open conversations with my cohort made me realise I wasn’t alone in my management struggles, so if you haven’t already, why not start a WhatsApp group with your fellow apprentices? There will be days when you’ve missed a MindGym, need a hand navigating ‘Applied’, or unsure what to do in the latest assignment. Group support will be integral to your success!
What did I learn about myself along the way?
I am a perfectionist. Realising this in the early days of the course, along with my tendency to be a “busy bug” and think “yes is best”, helped me be more self aware throughout my apprenticeship. Once I was aware of these unhelpful behaviours I could call myself out when I was spending too long on a task, labouring over emails or over committing myself. Although it’s great to have high standards, it can be counterproductive when your efforts are misplaced. Understanding this helped me to free up the time I needed to prioritise the course and meet my assignment deadlines.
I am not perfect. And that’s ok because managers don't have to be. It's human and admirable to own your flaws and vulnerabilities, it’s all part of being authentic, self-aware and developing as a people manager.
I have integrity. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing and certainly not the path of least resistance! Be open to the ups and downs the apprenticeship brings. They don’t call it “On the job learning” for no reason!
I am resilient. I was made redundant of the same day that I had my gateway meeting, marking the completion of my apprenticeship. Needless to say, it was a bittersweet day but I was grateful for the distraction and I felt a sense of achievement.
My most important piece of advice would be to make the most of the support WhiteHat offers along the way. You are on a unique development path and you’ll all learn something different from the experience. Good luck with your apprenticeships and feel free to comment or DM me if you’d like to discuss any challenges you might be facing on your journey.