The Public Health Professional’s story – “I didn’t understand what I had done wrong.”
Grace is a highly qualified and well-regarded public health professional. Her specialist experience has been gained working both in the UK and internationally. She works at senior consultant level within a local authority in England and is a confident leader within a complex multi-partnership environment. Grace is an ambitious and aspiring professional who wants to be employed in a director’s role within the next two years.
Grace came to Julia for help feeling unappreciated by her director after a complicated and political reshuffle at the top level at work. Grace hadn’t been asked her opinion on any of the changes and felt overlooked and discounted. She hadn’t been given an opportunity to apply for a role that she would have liked and worried that her new director was trying to get rid of her. Grace asked Julia for help to manage her relationship with her director in a more positive and less reactive way.
Due to the distances involved, and the frequency of their conversations, Julia and Grace had an initial face-to-face meeting and then Julia began to coach Grace over the phone. Their arrangement is ongoing.
“I first contacted Julia after a period of restructuring in the local authority I work for. I felt as though I’d been demoted and was feeling very low about my standing. I didn’t understand what I might have done wrong and I felt threatened.”
During their first conversation Julia talked to Grace about how she perceived herself and her standing within her workplace. Grace said that she believed the situation surrounding the restructuring in her organisation had resulted in her being demoted. The area that she had been in charge of had been ‘taken away’ from her and given to someone else with much less experience.
“It was as if I was a dentist and leading the entire dentistry team and then my director had said to me ‘Grace, we don’t need you to do that anymore, this person’s taking over. Go over there and work in nutrition, you’re not needed here.’ I felt lost, and confused by the move, which was to a completely new and unfamiliar department.”
Grace had begun to believe that her director had deliberately enacted this move to ‘keep her out of the way.’ Grace had always been ambitious and successful and was shocked at how quickly the restructuring had demolished her sense of self-esteem.
Julia asked Grace how she would like to be perceived at work and asked which three questions Grace would like people to say ‘yes’ to when they thought about her.
“I would like people to say yes to the fact that I’m a good person to work with, yes to the fact that I add value and yes to the fact that the way I challenge others and situations is robust and appropriate to the situation. Those things are very important to me at work.”
When asked, Grace said she suspected that – at that point in time – not everyone would answer ‘yes,’ if asked to answer those questions.
Julia and Grace talked about how Grace might be able to shift her thinking. Having established that Grace believed that she was not well liked within her team, Julia began to ask her how she might break the loop and challenge her own assumptions that she was unwanted.
The key takeaway from this meeting was that Grace was asked to consider what she could do differently to encourage people to say ‘yes’ to these key questions and how might she act and behave to garner a more positive response to her practices at work?
In the course of their next conversation, Julia and Grace discussed the idea of Grace’s self worth. Grace was in a more positive place after giving an important presentation that had been well received, and requesting a particular project manager to be a part of her team, which had been agreed upon.
“I saw that I needed to stop beating myself up. That my own self-belief was vital to how I felt about myself. Julia had asked me to think about what I could do differently at work and that had begun to shift my thinking. I started to look for ways I could help other people, not just focus on what I needed to take away from a situation.”
Grace was beginning to see that she didn’t have to rely on the point of view of one person: her director, to give her the assurance she needed that she was good at her job and that, by expanding her network and her professional audience, there were other people who appreciated her work.
With this new perspective Grace was able to see that she had been reacting in a negative way to a situation that she had only been looking at from one narrow angle. With Julia’s support, Grace learned that there was a different and more positive way to operate.
“I began to see that, because I was feeling threatened and under attack, I was swiping back challenges as they arose. Julia talked about the challenges I was given and compared them to balls in a game of tennis.
I was able to see how, in order to defend myself, I was smashing each ‘ball’ back across the net as soon as it arrived. Since working with Julia I am more consciously varying my game – and I’ve bought myself a tennis ball to sit on my desk to remind me that I have choices and I have a voice.
I now know I can take a moment to choose my return shot. I might even catch the balls as they arrive and sit with them for a while, to plan what I want to do with them. I’ve regained some control.”
In a later conversation Julia established Grace’s personality type as a ‘strong extrovert’ with the Myers and Briggs Type Indicator tool. Julia worked to help Grace to see herself through the eyes of her director who was an ‘introvert.’ Grace saw, to her surprise, that she could be seen to present quite a challenge to the director. This enabled Grace to feel a level of empathy for her and she and Julia talked about the need for Grace to ‘manage up’ to foster a good working relationship with her direction.
Julia worked with Grace around the idea that her happiness at work was her own responsibility and not just the responsibility of those she worked with. Grace was able to consider the impact she had on those around her, as well as her impact on them.
“Once I’d been able to see how she might perceive me, I was able to approach the director I was struggling with and asked her if I could offer any help. I also highlighted the parts of the role that I had found challenging, to establish a level of intimacy with her. This immediately felt more positive, the feeling that I was able to give support to others if it was needed – and it was well received.”
By looking at her situation from another angle, Grace was able to allow that the departmental move had actually been made to make the most of her skills. The truth was that Grace had had such a powerful effect on the department that she’d been in that it could now be run by a less experienced manager. And from her director’s point of view, Grace’s leadership skills were desperately needed elsewhere,working with and equally challenging but different portfolio.
Grace saw that the restructuring had been, in fact, an enormous testament to her professional and leadership skills. In recognition of this shift in her thinking about her position at work, Grace has begun to apply for director roles.
“I’ve applied for and interviewed for a director’s role but once I’d got through the interview, I realised that particular post wasn’t for me. It’s clarified my direction and, thanks to Julia, I have the self-confidence to try again to find my ideal role.”
Telephone coaching over an 18 month period, progressing from monthly to bi-monthly calls.
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.