Nikki Forsyth, Queen’s Nurse and Health Visitor in NHS Grampian, is currently acting up as Team Lead for Health Visiting and School Nursing. Nikki shares some of the challenges she has encountered in this role and explains why setting boundaries is an important part of leadership. This is the second in a three-part blog series about Nikki’s secondment, to read the first blog click here.
In my first blog, I wrote passionately about the power of positive praise. Whilst I would love to embody sunshine and spend my entire day lighting everyone up, the reality, I know, is that learning develops from errors, near misses and reflections on what could have gone better. Growth happens in these uncomfortable places and as a leader, it’s my responsibility to wade out of my comfort zone along with my team so that I can support them and learn alongside them.
For me, this acceptance of discomfort is a big challenge. I have realised that I am a people pleaser, and this trait stems from a perceived need to be perfect. As someone who wants to keep everyone happy, I will often offer to help pick something up for someone or say yes even when I am overwhelmed with other work. When I started on the Queen’s Nurse development programme, one of the tools we utilised was journaling. Through doing this I learned how much weight I had been giving to the voice of judgement in the past, not really the judgement of others but, how harshly I judged myself. I could also clearly see how much responsibility I was taking on to silence that critical voice. If I said no to something, I would spend the rest of the day worrying that the person I refused would talk about me, or think I was lazy. The reality, I have learned, is that I have a right to set boundaries and that saying no with kindness when I don’t have the capacity, is where my responsibility really lies. Likewise, remaining kind and considerate of other people and their feelings is so important when confronting uncomfortable situations. The need to give feedback is about learning and improving, an invaluable part of my role as a Team Lead.
I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned about in my Health Visiting role is mentalisation, which is the commitment to understanding my own mental state and the mental states of those around me. Someone’s internalised feelings may be behind the actions and behaviours they are being portrayed outwardly. I have attended some basic awareness training around this and found it to be incredibly valuable in all my professional roles. As a Team Lead, I really try to employ this learning by asking myself, where am I at and where might someone else be? I am committed to staying aware, especially of my own mental state, because I understand that any feeling of discomfort may be rooted in my desire to keep everyone happy and please them. I am learning to not be excessively helpful because this doesn’t serve anyone – nobody learns from the experience and I gain the reward of achievement instead of the person I’m helping. During my coaching sessions for the Queen’s Nurse development programme, my wonderful coach phrased it as ‘being a dopamine stealer’. The reward centres in our brains light up when we achieve something because dopamine is released. When I take over this goes to me instead of the other person. This has really stuck with me so as a leader I am taking a step back and trying to guide rather than doing things for someone so, at the end, the sense of achievement goes to person who deserves it the person who learned something and whose confidence has grown as a result. That doesn’t mean I’m not available to give more support, it’s more that I’m learning to build up support slowly rather than rushing in and getting things done myself. As I said, it’s a real challenge for someone who wants to keep everyone happy.
The other challenge I am finding is that I am someone who wants to be authentic, to lead by example and to motivate and bring people along with me. I find that this is sometimes a different approach for people and a change to what they are used to. Change is always an adjustment and isn’t straightforward, especially in the middle of a pandemic when change seems to be the only constant! We are all at different stages in our journeys and that means working out where everyone is starting from. Since we won’t all be starting from the same place my approach has to be adaptable so that I can support people from where they’re at, not where I want them to be. A great tool I learned about was the ladder or circle of inference, to help understand where perceptions lie.
By aiming to be perfect (impossible, by the way, nobody is) it makes me afraid to fail and that can make me feel the desire to be in control. By using the ladder of inference, I have realised that I am not working from facts but rather my own perception of being in control to ensure nothing fails. I have to remind myself that I have learned to put up boundaries for a reason. I only have control over my own actions and reactions and working from those concrete truths is a good leadership quality to model. Brene Brown states from all her research that, the most compassionate people are those who set boundaries and I can see now how this self-protection helps lead to more effective, compassionate leadership.