Support for professional development with ‘oxygen’ conversations

The Senior Interim’s story – “The longer I stay, the less effective I get.”

Declan is a senior interim professional, employed in short-term, high stress, outcome-focused assignments. Placed into organisations by agencies, he is expected to draw upon his skillset to hit the ground running and solve problems within each organisation from the start.

“I contacted Julia as I felt I’d been ‘bounced’ into my current role by my agency. I felt out of control and that the role really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing – it was grim with a very heavy workload and it didn’t match its advertisement. I had begun to lack confidence in my abilities.”

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The first conversation

During their first conversation Julia asked Declan what his situation might look like if the job he was in had been one that he wanted to be doing – and what that might look like.

Declan and Julia worked to explore the issues surrounding his professional development, with Julia providing a robust and supportive ‘oxygen conversation’ in a face-to-face setting.

She identified that Declan held what was effectively a self-limiting belief about his suitability for long-term substantive roles.

“I felt as though the longer I stayed where I was, the less effective I became. I worried I wasn’t going to be able to make an impact in the role.”

Was he going to be an interim – a temporary worker – for the rest of his career? Or was he going to choose a permanent role, with the positive belief that his impact could be long lasting?

When they first spoke Declan had been through a lot of change in a short period of time and had applied for a number of roles without following through to the interview stage.

“Interim staff like Declan are sometimes considered to merely ‘pass through’ the organisations they work in. One of the key challenges they can face is, with each new role they begin, they are effectively going in and starting from scratch as an outsider – and that’s a challenging and lonely place to be.”

Julia identified that the interim roles Declan fulfilled offered little or no opportunity for self-development or personal reflection. An additional layer to his complicated situation was a feeling of interview paralysis.

With an agency taking responsibility for Declan’s working placements, he hadn’t faced the stress of an interview for many years and was feeling stuck. He would apply for jobs, but be unable to progress beyond the application stage. When Julia and Declan met he was considering leaving his current position – but was worried about the impact that might have on his colleagues.

Julia worked with Declan to identify the areas of his situation that he had some control over – and together they looked at how he could change that situation to make it more positive. Declan wanted to bring people together and to use the organisation’s resources effectively and to leave on good terms.  At the same time they looked at and identified the areas that were out of his hands.

Make peace, move forward

The key takeaway from this first meeting was that Julia could see Declan carried with him a lot of heavy emotions and feelings from the last substantive role he’d been in. He’d been overlooked for a managerial position and had felt excluded from a position where he had felt happy and at home.

His leaving that position hadn’t gone well and he felt that he had let his colleagues down by moving on too soon, before his work had had time to take effect.

By looking at these difficult feelings in a supportive environment, Declan was able to see that he needed to forgive himself and to draw a line underneath the situation, so that he could move on. He was effectively sabotaging his future happiness.

“Declan was weighed down by anxiety about the role he’d left. It was as though he was laden with and surrounded by heavy bags. To manage the shift between roles, Declan needed to be able to move more freely and not to feel held back.

He needed to be able to ‘travel light’, not carry the weight of the world on his shoulders because of unresolved guilt and angst. We talked about staying in the moment and letting go of the past.”

Acknowledge positives, build esteem

Julia was able to sit with Declan and identify the positive work he had done in his past and current roles. One of his key targets had been to increase the number of foster parents in the region where he worked and he had succeeded. His staff was also working well under his guidance. Things were going well.

In an attempt to shed some of the emotional baggage he carried with him, Declan met up with his colleagues from his former role and talked through his feelings about the situation that had been left, in his mind at least, in such an uncomfortable state. This brave move was a great help as the feedback from his colleagues was that his work had been of value and been appreciated. It allowed Declan to shed some of the weighty baggage that had been burdening him.

Support and openness

Julia suggested that Declan refresh and renew his professional network as a layer of support as he moved forward. They also discussed the pros and cons of interim vs. substantive roles and worked through a supportive meditation exercise that Declan was able to take away with him.

“It was clear that one of Declan’s key drivers is to please people. And to be strong, especially in times of stress. He’s away from his home and family for the majority of the week and so these drivers are called into play on a regular basis. We looked at what might happen, what might he ‘lose’ if he changed these behaviours. What might be left?”

Julia identified that Declan’s people pleasing traits were affecting both him and the people he worked with. By exploring the root causes of the traits, Julia was able to allow Declan to understand what was going on – and to see what other traits he had that were underused and that could be useful and positive in his situation.

Clarity and courage

To be able to stay and finish the contact in the ‘grim’ job with its heavy workload, Julia and Declan identified that there was going to be some pushback. This was because what the organisation demanded, and what was feasible in the timescale, was unrealistic. Declan had a choice. To stay and fulfill the contract ­– and feel the discomfort of the pushback – or to leave and risk another unhappy ending.

The key takeaway from this conversation was that the feelings we have about ourselves are like a sense, a smell. They are a transient element that passes through us.

"Just because you sense a feeling, doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s important to know that you are not your thoughts.”

To build on this idea, Julia worked with Declan to call to mind and rediscover his past strengths and skills and in doing this, she gave him the confidence he needed to fulfill the contract.

Knowing self, moving forward

Declan wanted to explore the difference between an interim role and a substantive post and challenge his own self-limiting belief ‘that he became less effective, the longer he remained in a role.’ By looking at his emotions relating to a difficult period when he left a job before he felt it was finished, he was able to clear the feelings that were holding him back.

Result

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Declan was successful in his application for a substantive Director’s post.  His work with Julia is ongoing as he meets the challenges of his new role.

Working time

Two face to face meetings to begin the process, followed by monthly telephone conversations and occasional face to face meetings over a twelve month period. Ongoing monthly telephone calls.

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Each case study has been read, approved and verified by the client involved and is a true reflection of the work undertaken and situations addressed. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the topics discussed and the professional roles held by those interviewed, all names have been changed to protect client identity.