Time to shift your thinking

The Assistant Director – Children’s Services’ story

Support to cope with major transitions at work

The Assistant Director - Children’s Services' story - “I was beginning to wonder if I wanted to work here.”

John is a newly appointed Assistant Director in a large and challenging Children and Families Directorate. His director contacted Julia and asked her to work with John, whose position had become highly stressful due to extraordinary external circumstances. John was experiencing high levels of anxiety, which was impacting on his leadership.

Julia worked with John on a monthly, then bi-monthly basis, to give the ideas and actions they discussed time to take effect in his working practices.

“When I first started to work with Julia, I was in a position with a high degree of scrutiny. I was working alongside highly experienced peers and would often feel inadequate or that I didn’t deserve to be in this position.”

When Julia first met John it became clear that he was unsure about how he had come to be in the senior position he found himself in. He spent much of the session talking about what ‘could have been,’ if things in his life had been different and how he had ‘nearly’ achieved a number of things that hadn’t quite come to pass.

Julia worked through a career timeline with John. This enabled him to start letting go of his thoughts about what had ‘nearly’ happened in his life and to remember and celebrate the positive aspects of his career to date.

“Looking back on and listing my achievements with Julia was the first step in my being able to see and accept that my success and my position at work was not due to mere luck or chance, but to my abilities and my professional skills.”

To help John to deal with his anxiety, Julia introduced him to a neuro-linguistic technique known as ‘anchoring.’ John was asked to remember, ­in as much detail as possible, a time when he had felt happy and in control of his life.

John worked to recall the feeling in detail. He remembered a time when he had felt successful and confident, and enjoyed the process of recollection. At the same time, Julia asked him to choose an action to associate with this positive recollection and John chose to spin his wedding ring on his finger. It was movement that felt both comfortable and natural to him and Julia explained that he could use this movement to act as a trigger, taking him back to his positive recollection.

Julia asked John to return to the trigger movement whenever he felt anxious, in order to generate the same feelings of calm confidence and control he had remembered. She explained that, with practice, this small trigger would enable John to relive the calm feelings in times of stress, much as a smell or a sound can whisk a person back to a happy childhood memory.

At the end of their first conversation Julia gave John two key takeaways. The first was to establish a ritual to mark the end of his working day, in order that he could leave the office and its stresses behind. The second was a three-minute mindfulness meditation that John could use to bring focus to his day and calm his head in times of stress.

At their next session Julia and John worked on the concept of how others perceive us, and how we might influence that. Julia adapted an idea, developed by Harvey Coleman in his book Empowering Yourself, based on the concept that:

  • 10% of a person’s opinion of us is based on the work we produce
  • 30% is based on our image, or what people say about our performance
  • 60% is based on who is exposed to the things that others say about our performance

Julia and John then looked at how to influence that exposure; by thinking about questions John would want key people across the partnership of organisations he works with to say “yes” to, when they thought about him. Julia outlined the importance of thinking about such questions and asked John to think which three or four questions he would want people to say yes to, within moments of their meeting him.

She explained, “Coming into a new and very senior role in this challenging authority, it was crucial that John quickly established a credible reputation. Thinking about these questions, and how to influence a positive response, helped John to decide how to formally introduce himself across the range of settings he would be leading.”

After working with Julia for a nine-month period, John has made huge progress in recognising his strengths and his abilities within the field of children’s services. 

“I’ve worked with Julia for a number of months now and I’m consistently able to draw upon a store of resilience I’d forgotten I had. By remembering and realising my strengths, I’ve found that I actually like myself again. There’s a new clarity in my approach to my work and I feel comfortable in my own skin.”

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