Yesterday I saw a LinkedIn update by Zubair Ahmed, who had just started a new job as Creative Director at Interventus. Zubair was part of the first group of trainees that went through the Foundation’s PR traineeship programme – and we also happened to grow up in the same town and went to the same school so I always felt an affinity with him.
That first group of trainees taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.
In week eight of the traineeship the graduates have to write appraisals of themselves and their colleagues. It’s possibly the hardest task they have to do in the entire ten weeks. As I was reading this group’s appraisals I realised that one of the trainees (not Zubair!) has plagiarised another’s work.
I went digging around on our network to look at his previous work and noticed that of the six trainees, he was the only one to save his work on the shared drive. The others all kept their documents on memory sticks.
I was really, really cross with him. It was the first time we’d ever run a programme. We’d been so lucky to get Brunswick on board to sponsor it and they had put so much time and effort into these young people. He had possibly jeopardised them ever wanting to be involved with us again, and robbed future graduates of the chance of a place on another programme.
We decided to speak to the other trainees to find out what they knew, and it turned out they had realised in about week 2 that he had been copying their work. When I asked them why they hadn’t brought it to our attention they said ‘because we wanted to be kind to him.’
We allowed him to finish the programme, and never told Brunswick (until now!) what had happened. He left the UK without a reference from us and we’ve never heard from him since, but I am convinced we did the right thing and he learned a very harsh lesson about honesty, authenticity, and the kindness of other people.
That act of generosity by the trainees – who we had expected to ask us to kick him off the programme – has stayed with me for the entire 11 years that I was at the Foundation.
I have learned many, many things from our graduate alumni over the years, but the gift of kindness is a precious thing indeed. If you can be kind, nothing else really matters.