To help or hinder?

We work with incredible people. Brilliant people. People who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others overcome the kind of health emergencies we dread for ourselves and those we hold dearest. We hold these people in the highest esteem, and trust them when they say ‘Everything will be alright’. It is a mantra that they also share with those they manage, the staff who look to their leaders for support and reassurance in the most difficult of times.

But what if these same people – senior NHS leaders, team managers and clinicians – are starting to question whether they truly believe themselves when they say those four magic words of reassurance? What if doubt and anxiety have begun to creep in, as the NHS prepares not just for the inevitable onslaught of winter illnesses and injuries, but also as the harsh scrutiny and criticism of A&E waiting times, delayed elective surgery lists and staffing shortages in general practise continues unabated? It is what we are starting to hear from some of the senior healthcare professionals we coach. They are stretching themselves to the limit in order to be ‘present’ for their staff – to lead from the front and demonstrate solidarity and empathy, in addition to coping with the complex challenges of management and leadership in the NHS’s darkest hours.

This leads me to question whether, at this stage of the pandemic and with the pressures of winter almost upon us, we as coaches have the right to be asking them to set aside time for self-reflection and personal development? Should we respect the fact that their priorities (for now) must be towards their Trusts, their departments, their staff and patients, rather than themselves? Are we a help or a hindrance?

We coach leaders and leadership teams in many large and complex NHS Trusts. Central to our coaching technique is encouraging the individual to take time out to pause, to breathe and to reflect on their situation and the challenges they might be facing; to explore and enhance the tools they possess to tackle those challenges, and, most importantly, to be kind to themselves. We provide a safe space in which they can think the unthinkable, and say the unsayable.

My feeling is that as long as that safe space continues to exist, that there’s a platform for our clients to use as and when they need it, to express their doubts and anxieties openly but confidentially, then we still matter – we can still help. Providing coaching online also helps – it enables busy people the flexibility to build a coaching session into their schedule, amongst the multitude of other meeting they might have in a week. And whether they want to talk or listen, we’re there for them. We might not be able to say ‘Everything will be alright’ but we’ll help to remind them that they have the inner strength, and the intellectual, emotional and social tools, to persevere. After all, as the American politician and author Newt Gingrich once said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

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