Be a Strong Leader

When I was a Staff Nurse in the 1990’s I did not want to be a strong leader. Strong leaders were everything that was wrong with the old ways of leadership. In my mind and in the mind of lots of people strong leadership meant command and control, it meant dominating, and leading with fear, but being fearless. I wanted to be a kind leader, that led from the front, but paid attention to the needs of the staff, I would be empathetic to their plight. I would pay attention to their needs. The opposite of a strong leader…oh no hang on not the opposite!

But if truth would have it, I was a weak leader. I did not set out being a weak leader, because being empathetic, and paying attention to the needs of the staff are key elements to strong effective leadership, and has been proved time and time again to be more effective than command and control. The problem with empathy and compassion in any part of life is that if a certain ingredient is missing then it is either not sustainable or worse can create division and incivility.

Lets start by looking at the definitions of empathy and compassion. I got these definitions from The Cambridge Dictionary via google today (03/05/21)

Empathy

The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences, by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

Compassion

A strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them.

To start with lets look at empathy. Empathy is an amazing tool to have in your toolbox, it is wonderful for building rapport and creating connections with people. The problem is, that it is very powerful so has to be handled with care and used sensitively. If you don’t it can cause you harm and harm others. Empathy if used unwisely causes division and polarisation. It is often used by the media, both social and journalistic media to encourage us to get behind a cause. Over recent years there have been a number of high profile cases where children with terminal conditions on ventilators have been caught up in legal battles between their parents, and the hospitals where they are being cared for. The legal battles were always a result of differing viewpoints on the baby’s prognosis, with the parents not being able to come to terms with the terrible reality of losing their child and the hospital wanting to withdraw treatment so as not to prolong the child’s suffering. These cases are always very distressing and create huge amounts of emotion no matter what your view of the situation is. The majority of us though have experience of loving children, whether they are our own children or the children of relatives or close friends, and conversely most of us are not clinicians faced with making terribly difficult decisions based on what the future outcomes of this baby are. So when we read about these stories in the paper and on Facebook, or we hear about them on the news, it is easy for us to feel empathy for the parents. We have felt the love they feel for their baby, and we can imagine what it feels like to have that loved one taken from you. Even imagining it causes pain, so what must it be like to live it? This can and does cause people to have very strong feelings against the clinical staff and the hospital caring for this baby. This level of empathy has lead to threats against medical and nursing staff, violent protests outside of hospitals and courts and ultimately leads to more pain and anger on both sides of the argument, and all the time there is still a baby that requires love, care and attention. If you about recent armed conflicts, many if not all of them have been fueled by empathy. Either as a result of protecting groups of people from a perceived oppression or to right a terrible wrong. During the conflict, the fighting is so sustained and aggressive because of empathy, most soldiers will explain that they do not fight for the flag or the nation, but for each other. So empathy adds fuel to the fighting.

That is what empathy can do on a collective level if care is not taken. On a personal level empathy can cause pain and exhaustion. Imagining peoples distress and putting yourself in their position is painful, it takes it’s toll, and in the end you wither become exhausted and unable to show empathy or you avoid it to protect yourself. When I think of my time as a new leader. I jumped into being empathetic and compassionate as a leader without any thought for my own safety. I never thought it would be detrimental to my health. No one told me that without the right precautions empathy was bad for you health and bad for the world.

Regulate Your Emotion

The good thing is that like many powerful tools if you are prepared and know how to use it, it is incredibly useful. All we have to do is learn how to regulate our emotions.

Before you use empathy or compassion you have to do some work on yourself. The first step is to understand your emotions, and accept them. In other words stop denying them space in your mind. Stop labelling them good and bad emotions, just label them as your emotions. Emotions are sending you a message about something that is important to you. For instance the feelings of sadness and loss, when someone we love dies is because our relationship with them was important to us. It held high value, and not having that relationship causes us pain. That is the price of loving, however most of us agree that the emotion is love is far more valuable, so we are prepared to pay the price, so we can experience that feeling. Labelling our emotions and listening to what they have to tell us, helps us regulate the impact our emotions have on us. Recently I have been speaking to nurses who have been working on COVID wards during the pandemic, and hearing their stories have provoked some strong emotions for me, including sadness, and guilt. Sadness comes from imagining how they feel having cared for patients who have died and then multiplying the impact of that feeling, along with my own emotions regarding loss, and feeling guilty because I am an ex-nurse not physically nursing. Both emotions needed attention and understanding what messages they were telling me. I then was able to take some time out to attend to those messages to ensure I could continue to show empathy and be compassionate.

Once you you have started to label and understand your emotions, it is important as I did to attend to what is important to you, to replenish your batteries. This is something I have mentioned before but it is so important during times when our lives are stressful and we are being empathetic and compassionate to to those around us. That is allocate yourself and hour of happiness or contentment everyday. Something that brings you pleasure and a sense of calm. Something that reflects what you value will always create that feeling.

Regulating your emotions in this way allows you to continue to be empathetic and compassionate without burning out. It also alerts you to when you might be being sucked into a collective empathy that is divisive, as the stories that provoke this empathy stir up strong emotions, so spending a moment labelling and being curious about your emotion slows you thinking down and gives you chance to have a more considered view from both sides of the argument. When you understand your emotion you are much more likely to be able to hear what others are feeling.

Being a Strong Compassionate Leader

Being compassionate is not the opposite to being strong. Being a compassionate leader requires strength.

Being compassionate means that you want to help improve the situation for someone. Doing the right thing will often require difficult conversations, it is not just doing nice things to make people feel better, it is about improving outcomes for people and for teams.

As a result compassion is about being able to regulate your emotions, so you are able to make decisions and take actions that are in the best interest of the individual and ultimately the team. If you are reluctant to show empathy, for fear of either becoming emotional, or because you are just too tired, you will not be able to hear what the people in you team require for them to do their jobs effectively. By not regulating your emotions you are more likely to either try to please someone rather than do what is right, or dismiss their concerns so you can protect yourself from their emotion. Both responses are short-term self serving and ultimately weak leadership. If you have spent sometime labelling and understanding your emotions you are much more willing to hear what people are experiencing, show them empathy and be able to develop with them a compassionate response that supports the individual and the team.

Empathy and Compassion are only effective when accompanied with emotional regulation.

If you would like to explore more about you own emotional regulation and developing your leadership. Send me a message. (matt@mattycoach71.com)

Using a 3 Step Approach to Building and Maintaining Your New World

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Whether you like it or not our worlds are never going to be the same again. The way we shop, travel, socialise, and work have changed, and are unlikely to go back to exactly how they used to be. As people we have changed, we have all been exposed to traumatic events that will shape our mental models. That is not to say we have been traumatised, but we have all witnessed a trauma, either in our immediate lives or vicariously via mass media, and storytelling.

Now we have a choice to either keep attempting to live our lives the same way we always have or we can start to build and maintain a new life that is more responsive to the world around us.

With this is mind I have been thinking about my favourite resilience model by Diane Coutu. Now it is not that we are not resilient, it is more that we need to maintain agility and responsiveness. This model really resonates with me and I see it in so many other models. For instance I was reading about a team rebuilding model devised by Prof Michael West and Sarah Jane Dale from Affina OD. They suggest 7 steps of recovery that reflect Coutu’s 3 conditions of resilience; realism, purpose and creativity. They suggest; reunite behind a shared purpose, take time to reflect, value different experiences, accept uncertainty, promote belonging, celebrate success, and embrace new ways of working. As you can see these 7 steps are packed full of realism, purpose and creativity. For me these three conditions provide the basis of any agile, resilient, responsive approach to life. So if we build these into our recovery planning as we come out of this pandemic, we will ensure we are able to manage any set backs we may be faced with over the coming months and years.

So here is my 3 step approach to building and maintaining your new world:

  1. Be Realistic: What is happening in your world right now? What is your financial position like? What is your health like? What is likely to impact on you in the next few days and weeks? Reflect on your experiences over the last year. What has been helpful? What has been challenging? What strengths have you discovered that you have? What weaknesses have you discovered you have? Who is in your network? Who is important to you, and who is less important?
  2. Identify Your Purpose: What is your reason why? What do you value? Why do you do what you do? Is your purpose aligned to those around you? Are you always true to what you value? Do you need to re-examine what you value in light of your experiences? Do you sometimes compromise what you value to fit in? Make a promise to yourself that you will start to choose to live up to what you value in everything you do, even when that is socially difficult.
  3. Show Your Creativity: Embrace the discomfort of uncertainty. Allow yourself to consider possibilities no matter how outlandish they may seem. The more imaginative we are the more ideas we create, and the more likely it will be that we come up with something remarkable. Is there another way of looking at a problem? Who could possibly help you see solutions, if you can only see problems? What resources do you already have that you could use differently in your new world? What temporary solutions have used that could be made permanent?

It is a simple approach to examining your world and planning your future but an effective approach. I have offered questions for each condition, however there are many more questions you can ask yourself. If you want to explore further how this 3 step approach could help you or talk about how coaching could support this drop me an email, matt@mattycoach71.com.

References:

Coutu, D. (2002) How Resilience Works. Havard Business Review, May 2002

Dale, S-J & West, M. (2021) 7 Simple Tips For Rebuilding Your Team. https://www.affinaod.com/article/7-simple-tips-for-rebuilding-your-team/ (accessed 13/03/2021)

Tell your story of leading during the pandemic

Telling your story to someone can be so powerful, it enables you to hear and make sense of what has happened. However we don’t all feel comfortable doing that, so if you want to reflect on your leadership and take part in the project but do not want to talk why not write it?

So if you would rather write down your reflections and send them to me, below are the questions I ask during the interviews. When you have finished please send your reflections to matt@mattycoach71.com and I will include them in the anthology.

First up can I ask you, your job title, type of industry, how you identify (she/her, he/him) age range 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 65-74, etc.

First question: What has been challenging for you during the pandemic?

Second question: What could you possibly see as helpful during pandemic?

Third question: What could you possibly ask of others to support you in the coming months?

Fourth question: What could you possibly offer to others to support them in the coming months?

Then before you email the answers to me, let me know if you want to remain anonymous or whether you are happy to be acknowledged as a contributor?

Thank you.

I am ready for a rest

I have felt exhausted this week! It has not been exceptionally busy for me this week, I think it has just been a cumulative effect. Since Christmas it has felt a bit like a whirlwind. Planning and delivering bitesize leading through COVID training, running management clinics, providing staff support drop ins around the hospital for various teams, offering a lot of one to one coaching for people and learning about team coaching.

It has been amazing and I have learned so much about myself, the resilience of our amazing healthcare professionals and leadership. In fact I have I have been so inspired, that as mentioned in last weeks blog I have started a project collecting reflections of leadership through this crisis. If I had thought about embarking on this project carefully I would never have started it. The work involved makes me feel a little sick. But then the stories are so inspirational that they are worth the effort. After hearing one of them last night I felt energised, and so privileged to have heard it, and most importantly privileged to know the person sharing their story.

So I know I need the rest, and boy was I tired yesterday, by 2pm I was ready to go home, but I had a meeting to attend at 3. A really important that I was keen to be a part of, but it did tatie up a huge amount of energy to get through it. I so wanted to be enthusiastic but I felt so flat. I had nothing left to give. I was so pleased to get home, and have our Friday Takeaway treat, followed by that inspirational interview. Listening to her story recharged me, the words were washing over me, and inspiring me to keep my purpose clear. So thank you.

Myself and Lisa have been watching Homeland from the beginning on Netflix and we are now on to Season 8, so we sat down for the rest of the evening absorbed in the world of Carrie and Saul and all things espionage.

I slept really well last night, and have woken this morning rested, and looking forward to another 2 interviews. Then a week of interviews and birthday celebrations ahead, albeit in a lockdown. Yes it is my birthday this week, believe it or not I am 50, I know difficult to believe. I don’t mind being in lockdown, to be honest I am just looking forward to chilling out for the week.

Stay safe, and be kind to both yourself and others.

Surrender to Our Emotions and Start to Really See Our World

About 2 weeks ago now I was listening to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast (of course I was). She was talking to Sarah Lewis (a writer and academic) about her book “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery. I have not read it, but with that title it is certainly on my list. What grabbed my attention was their conversation about the chapter on surrendering. Surrendering!? It is one of those words like vulnerable that makes me stop and think. Hearing Sarah talk about surrendering had the exact same impact hearing Brene talk about vulnerability had on me. My mindset took me to surrendering is weakness, surrendering tells the world that you are not strong enough to do something. Just like vulnerability it made me stop and listen to what her take was on this, I was drawn to the discomfort I was feeling and the apparent contradiction that surrendering could be a good thing. Surrendering like being vulnerable is a strength, it’s an attribute, not a flaw or a weakness. Surrendering can make you vulnerable, for a moment, but allows you to concentrate on what is important and what you can control. Let me explain by telling you the story of my week.

Last week, was much like most weeks at the moment, I spend part of my time working from home and part of my time in the office. I juggle my time between, running the coaching and mentoring network, providing staff support (listening to people’s stories about what is challenging them, and giving them space), delivering leadership training, and planning for the future. So like all of us pretty full on. I am not doing any of this in a way that I would like, it is either via video meeting platforms, telephone, emails or socially distanced conversations wearing masks. My work seems to be full of problems and difficulties, many of the conversations I have with people are serious and purposeful, and are often interrupted with technical issues. On top of that I have not seen friends or family for months, like most of us. I miss human contact, I love shaking hands, giving people a hug, and generally being close to people. I am pretty certain most if not all of you will recognise my frustration, and sadness. These are all common themes, and no doubt there are many more problems you are encountering. They all add to reducing our bandwidth and colouring the view we have of our world. By Wednesday and Thursday I was feeling really quite low. Negative thoughts were flooding my brain, and making it almost impossible to see anything in a positive light. For those of you that know me you will remember Foggy (my name for my depression), well he was back and causing chaos. On Thursday morning I remembered listening to Sarah Lewis talk about surrender, and surrendering to parts of your life that you cannot control. Surrendering to the fact that you don’t have all the answers and and you cannot solve everything that is in your sphere. We have to surrender to the fact that sometimes life is shit, and things don’t always work out, and just because we cannot solve or influence things right now does not mean that we are less. Throwing our hands in the air and surrendering allows others to help, and allows you to concentrate on what you can do.

So that is what I did. I first surrendered to the fact that Foggy was in my head, and I felt sad, anxious, angry and irritated, for a number of different things that I can do little about at the moment. I allowed myself to feel those emotions. I recognised the route of these emotions and I was perfectly entitled to feel that way. Fighting the emotions and trying to deny them just made me worse. After a few hours of surrendering and wallowing I started to feel better. The strong emotions started to pass. I could then examine the route to these emotions, which was the effects of the pandemic on my working patterns and my social life. I could then start to look at what I could adjust and what I could not. It also gave me the time to explore the purpose for all of my activities and give them a rating of importance. Now this is all a work in progress, and I no doubt will be examining this for sometime. But what surrendering does is allow you to control what you can, and adjust your mindset towards stuff you cannot. I can now see my world how it really is. All our worlds are neither wholly wonderful or wholly terrible. Our world is a spectrum, and throughout our lives we will experience all aspects of it. We have to surrender to this and see that all of it is helpful even the most challenging aspects of it.

Surrender to your world accept it for what it is and start embracing your journey rather than racing towards your destination and missing the views.

Be kind to yourself and others and stay safe.

Reflections on Leadership Through a Prolonged Crisis

I don’t think there has been such a widespread prolonged crisis in our lifetime, probably not since World War II. Reflecting and understanding the impact on our leadership is essential for the health, wealth and well-being of our populations. So that has got me thinking about a project.

As part of my work as Coaching and Mentoring Lead, I have been running fortnightly management clinics. During these clinics I ask 4 reflective questions, that the wonderful Janis (my friend and mentor) gave me. I have found these questions immensely helpful with managers working through their experience and helping them begin to make sense of what is happening to them. This sense making helps them make plans for the immediate future.

After yesterday’s clinic I started to consider what we could all learn collectively about our leadership experiences, and could this reflection change the way we see leadership and help us inform future strategies as our world shifts. So this morning I decided to put together a project based on those 4 simple questions.

The project will involve a semi-structured interview conducted via zoom. The 4 questions will provide the loose structure that leads to further discussion. The zoom interviews will be one to one and will be recorded to allow me to transcribe the content.

So I am looking for leaders from a variety of sectors and backgrounds and with a variety of experience.

If you are interested in taking part, no matter where you are in the world then please get in touch. My email is matt@mattycoach71.com

Talking About Difficult Conversations

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Over the past few weeks I have been talking to some of our amazing Senior Nurses where I work about having difficult conversations with colleagues, team members, relatives and patients.

Now Senior Nurses are no strangers to difficult conversations, and are very accomplished at delivering emotionally charged messages to staff, relatives and patients. So why spend time talking to them about this subject if they are so experienced? Well I suppose it is obvious if you think about it for a moment. For about a year now we have all been put under a lot of pressure. Our lives and in some cases our livelihoods have been impacted by COVID-19. Having difficult conversations are now more the norm than the exception. On top of that we all have worries about, health, wealth and well-being that narrow our bandwidth and reduce our capacity to have measured, compassionate, direct conversations effectively. So that is why we were having a conversation about difficult conversations, because we all need to pay more attention now on how we impact on others, for all the reasons highlighted above.

When I was reflected on my week this morning, I wondered how many other people might be struggling with this particular aspect of COVID life. So I thought I might share with you some of the strategies I shared with my colleagues. Now you want get the rich conversation and shared stories, but you will get the headlines that hopefully will promote rich conversations with your colleagues. If you work at Hull University Teaching Hospital, then book on my Having Difficult Conversations webinar via the usual route. If you don’t and want to know more, email me (matt@mattycoach71.com).

The first thing to do before starting a conversation that is important as well as potentially difficult is to prepare.

Preparation

Remember the old saying…”fail to prepare, then prepare to fail”. Or something like that, but you get the idea.

What is the purpose of the conversation

Be clear what you want from the conversation. This seems obvious but not always articulated. Sometimes a difficult conversation can be based on a visceral reaction (something we will cover later), so it is important to explicitly tell yourself what it is you want to achieve. Is it to raise the other person’s awareness, raise your own awareness, improve performance, or to promote action? If this conversation is particularly important it might be worth writing it down. If you write it down you can check if it actually makes sense and is really what you want to achieve. Getting your thoughts out of your head and on to paper, will help you make sense of what it is you want, and by reading it back to yourself you can check on how reasonable your thoughts are. Writing it out will help you refine your purpose and reduce the emotion that might be colouring your reasoning.

Gather all the information you need

Make sure you have all the information you need before starting the conversation. You might not be able to get all the information you will end up needing, but it is important to gather as much as you anticipate you will need. Be sure to separate facts from opinion. Be wary of taking opinion into the conversation, as this will encourage judgement and assessment, before the other party has had chance to hear the facts and add to them. It is important that we enter into any conversation in a position where we a able to listen to understand. Being armed with facts allows us to be more curious, and objective, and therefore encourages us to listen.

Prepare your mindset

Start by shifting your view of the conversation from a hurdle to a resource. When setting out your purpose it is important to see this not as something to be endured but something that will add something to your experience. Remember that the feelings of discomfort you are experiencing have more to do with you worrying about your performance than the impact on the other person. It is also worth remembering that if you behave emotionally, then this is likely to be matched by the other person, resulting in an unpredictable outcome. Therefore recognising the need for emotional regulation is essential.

Skills and Behaviours

To increase the likelihood of a successful conversation it is important to adopt certain skills and behaviours. The most wonderful thing about these skills and behaviours is that they are incredibly useful for any conversation that has a purpose.

Listening

The best way to persuade others is with our ears. If we want to get the most out of this conversation and ensure there is a helpful outcome from it, it is essential to listen to what they say without judgement. To listen without judgement we must listen actively. Active listening encourages greater understanding and raised awareness for both parties. Here are just a few techniques that will enhance your listening:

  • Reflecting: This is when you repeat back to them exactly what they have said. This helps clarify what they mean and can be especially useful if they are using pressure words or being self critical. It is important to turn the statement into a question though. “You are rubbish at mathematics?”
  • Paraphrasing: Again used to clarify understanding, but can be used to create depth of understanding by using your own words to describe what they have said. They may have said…”I don’t seem to be able to build rapport with new people”. Your response might be… “So are you saying that you struggle starting new relationships?”
  • Summarising: When they have finished a section of their story it is often useful to summarise what they have said to stimulate more thought and to show that you are interested in what they are saying. I might use headlines such as…”so in summary building relationships has been hard, but you feel you are progressing well, you also tell me that some people are making life hard for you, is that right?”

At this point I just want to share with you a quote that I think will demonstrate the importance of hearing what the other person has to say.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable” David Augsberger

Empathy

Empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn’t require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through.” Brene Brown

Empathy is such an important skill to use when having a difficult conversation, and the most wonderful thing is, that it is a natural by-product of active listening. If you are really hearing what they are saying you will show empathy. When you are paraphrasing and summarising you will articulate what you understand to be their emotion. “You tell me that you struggle starting new relationships, that sounds like it would make you feel isolated?” Showing empathy allows you to get it wrong, the critical aspect of empathy is listening and trying to understand their emotion. So if you get it wrong the other person will pick up on your genuine interest to understand their emotion and correct you. Comfortable use of empathy creates such a strong connection that it is very hard not to have a helpful outcome from your conversation.

Regulate your emotion

The first thing to do is recognise when you enter into a stressful situation, you amygdala (the part of your brain that regulates your threat response) will hijack you. You will lose access to your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that controls reasoning). This is why it is vital to prepare for a difficult conversation, to be clear what the purpose is and that you have your facts straight. This will go some way to calm your amygdala.

If you are experiencing an acute stress response before or during the conversation, then square breathing can be really helpful. Or to be honest any kind of controlled breathing technique will be useful. I use square breathing. Which is; breath in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breath out for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. Repeat until you start to notice your heart rate drop. Breathing techniques work by bringing you into the present, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.

When you are preparing for the conversations notice if you have cast yourself as the victim in this situation and cast them as the villain. Are you making statements like: “I have been supportive and kind there is nothing else I can do.” “They had every opportunity to make it right, they just don’t care enough.” If you do then try seeing yourself as an actor and them as humans in this situation. Ask yourself; “What am I pretending not to know about my role in this?” “Why would a reasonable , rational, decent person do what they are doing?”

When regulating our emotions it is important to label thoughts as thoughts and emotions as emotions. If you remember when preparing for conversations I suggested that you are clear what is fact and what is opinion this strategy can be very useful. Instead of saying, they are always resistant to change, they are so irritating, say I think they are resistant to change and that makes me feel irritated.

Using these techniques to regulate your emotion will help you prevent the amygdala hijack and reduce the risk of the conversation degenerating into an unhelpful argument.

Tell it how it is, with compassion

Don’t go around the houses. Be clear what it is want to say, then say it. Leave opinion, and conclusions out. Use active listening and empathy to understand their view and emotion. Articulate your emotion, allow them to listen and show empathy to you.

Being clear is being kind, we also must allow them to do the same, there is then a much greater chance of getting your message heard and creating a helpful outcome.

Remember we are all human

The other person :

  • has beliefs, perspectives and opinions just like you
  • has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities just like you
  • has friends and family just like you
  • wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent just like you
  • wishes for peace, joy and happiness just like you

Stay safe everyone and be kind to yourself and others.

Listening to Others and Being Heard Ourselves

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Well January is not quite finished but it feels 2021 is going to be even more challenging than 2020.

We are all so tired! We are tired of restrictions, tired of mixed messages, tired of bad news, tired of having our hopes for a brighter future dashed.

The other week I was talking to a young apprentice, as he was relaying his story to me I started to feel hopeful. He told me a story of extraordinary maturity, and selflessness, and kindness and determination, tinged with sadness and anxiousness. I will admit I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. On the face of it his story seemed extraordinary, but in reality it wasn’t. I am sure if we bothered to listen to all the young people around us we would hear similar stories, and not just from people working in healthcare. I was hopeful because his story is a common story, it means our future is in safe hands the people charged with all our futures (the young) are wonderful, the people delivering our care, providing transport, delivering our goods, and those working in our shops are all incredible. Collectively we are amazing.

What was distressing about this young man’s story was that he felt isolated and ignored, his elders were not hearing and understanding his concerns and uncertainty. He was beginning to feel disillusioned. He felt unloved, and that if I am honest that broke my heart. This young man is not quite an adult, he like the vast majority of his generation and to be honest most of the rest of us (including those that are not hearing him) are doing their best. It made me wonder how many of us are feeling like this. After speaking to a variety of people across the hospital, my feeling is that everyone is so busy trying to do the best they can in such a busy, uncertain world, that our bandwidth has dramatically reduced. As a result of that we have less time for people around us especially colleagues and loved ones. I am seeing this especially acutely amongst leaders who are finding it increasingly challenging to provide their staff with that listening ear. They are reporting they have nothing else to give, their buckets of compassion are running empty.

I spent an hour yesterday listening to two wonderful colleagues that felt just like that. They had nothing else to give. Both of them would never normally seek support in this way, but something told them that they needed to see what was out there for them to continue to be the compassionate leaders they were. So they joined me on a call having never met each other before, after an hour thy both felt restored. They had shared stories, and heard each other’s concerns, and challenges. Despite them doing very different jobs they were surprised how much they had in common. They both noted that hearing other people talk about worries they shared with them was really helpful. The biggest impact on them was being heard. No solutions were offered, no advice was shared, all he did was listen and understand each other.

Going back to the young apprentice, when we were talking I never offered any advice, I never suggested a course of action, all I did was listen to him, and asked questions to understand what was happening to him. In the end I validated his experience, by sharing my view of the world at the moment. It is not a controversial view, far from it. I suggested that we are all experiencing the most challenging time any of us have ever experienced, and I invited him to appreciate how he is performing during this time, and how everyone is performing, after all no one has ever experienced anything like this. By hearing him and helping him provide context to his experience, I could hear him shift in his mood.

We all need to be heard, we need to feel appreciated and understood, it connects us to our community. We are the most social species, not sharing experiences and learning from each other is detrimental for our health. Make time for each other in your circles, at home and at work. Listen to each other, listen to understand their experience, and find people that will do the same for you. If you lead people make sure you have time a space to be heard, to talk through what is happening to you, to help you make sense. Employing a coach or using someone in your organisation with coaching skills is vital to maintain your leadership skills and ultimately attend to your teams effectively so they feel heard.

If you are interested in being coached or want to learn more about understanding the listening skills that underpin coaching, for you to use with your teams get in touch via email matt@mattycoach71.com and we can arrange a solution that meets your needs.

Develop a Connected Mindset Webinar

I am hosting a webinar to explore how to shift your mindset to create a more flexible approach to life and business that will help you build resilience, agility and innovation in a volatile world. Click on the link below to book yourself a place.

A Christmas Blog

I doubt if many of us have had a Christmas quite like this. I suppose most of us have had difficult times during Christmas, to varying degrees, but this year feels different. There is a collective difficulty this year, so even if we are not directly affected, we are still surrounded by news of the pandemic and its effects.

Normally during this time of year I would be starting to feel excited about Christmas, there would normally be a buzz in the air. This year it feels a little flat. A few weeks ago there was an air of optimism in the country, the vaccine was being rolled out, Christmas as coming and we were being told we could have a few days to see family if we wanted to and just catch up and recharge, with the prospect of this beginning to come to an end during 2021. Last weekend the mood shifted, parts of the south went into further restrictions, we were told that there was a new variant of the virus that appeared to spread more easily, our chances to meet our families of Christmas was drastically reduced. Then over the past few days we hear that most of the world is imposing travel bans and we saw pictures of lorry drivers in Dover waiting to hear if they could get home to see their loved ones for Christmas. On top of that we see the numbers of infections start to rise again, and the number of patients in our hospitals start to go up. Our hope and optimism dashed, and the buzz for Christmas fades.

Now as with most of my blogs I generally write them to help me work through my emotions. So I am feeling fed up, and sad about Christmas for all those people who are sick or stuck in the cab of a lorry, or sat at home by themselves, even for those of us that would normally be out down the pub, or in a restaurant spending time with our friends. How can I view this differently how can I shift some of the hindering thoughts about this Christmas into helpful thoughts that will shift my response to what is going on around me and give me a better outcome?

When I was coming home from work yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, and they had a Behavioural Psychologist on talking about this very thing, and she made a point that reminded me of something I had read a year or so ago on Acceptance Commitment Therapy by Russell Harris. In a nutshell they both said allow yourself to be upset, frustrated, sad, or angry about the fact that Christmas is not want you wanted it to be. I don’t know about you but I seem to have a default setting that says I have to be happy, I have to be pain free, and this is especially acute round Christmas time. Christmas is a time of joy! That is what we are told from a very young age. Therefore, if you are feeling miserable at Christmas it can come with a degree of guilt. As I am writing this I have just thought of a name for this guilt, the “A Christmas Carol Complex”. So it is all Dickens’ fault. Christmas day after all is just a day as like any other, only us in modern (post 1840s) western society that have turned it into such a big event, that lasts for over a month.

Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas, I love getting presents, I love eating and drinking and spending time with friends and family as we all do. But should we feel that we have to be happy every year? This year I am going to allow myself to be sad, to feel deflated if that is how I feel. Right now that is how I feel. But then again even when I am feeling sad, there are often points in the day when I feel happy, when something makes me smile. Russell Harris suggests that we make room in our minds for what makes us sad, give it space, hear what it has to say. Sadness, anger and frustration are normal useful, functional emotions and deserve our attention. So we shouldn’t push these emotions away, we should acknowledge them. On the flipside that means we should do the same for joy, happiness, love, and contentment.

Every day I look for what gives me joy, I note it, and I am grateful for it. So Christmas will not be as it always is. Christmas will have moments of sadness, maybe anger, but it will have moments of joy, laughter, and love. Seek those moments out, and cherish them. Make the most of opportunities you have, whether that is a time for quiet, restful reflection, time with family, going for a walk, or exercise, volunteering, working, whatever it is seek out those moments that make your heart sing, even if it is short lived.

We can all feel happy and sad, interchangeably throughout a day so let yourself off the hook, sit with your emotions and have the best possible Christmas you can have.

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