A Life Transformed

Carol Edwards joined Somerset Care at a difficult time in her life. Her mother had just died, leaving her bereft. The decision to relocate to Somerset had been prompted, in part, by the desire to be closer to her mum, who was terminally ill, and her dad who was caring for her. The job offer letter arrived on the same day her mother died.

Carol’s appointment as Assistant Director for Residential Services in early 2014 was a big step up the career ladder for her. However, this, in itself, brought pressures.

I felt that I had to behave in a certain way to prove that I was capable of doing the job,” explains Carol. “Reflecting on it now, I realise that I was too forceful, that I didn’t allow others to be part of the decision-making process. But, at the time, I thought this was the way a Director should behave.”

Carol Edwards

Struggling

Three months after joining the company, Carol was on the verge of leaving. “I was struggling with my team – I didn’t “get” them and they didn’t “get” me. I was also struggling with the pain of losing my mum. I didn’t share how was feeling with anyone, not even my husband because he’d been so proud of me when I got the job and I thought he might stop being proud of me if I told him how difficult I was finding things. I started having some counselling to help me to deal with the bereavement but it didn’t really help.”

 

The Transformational Leadership course started in October 2014. Prior to that, Carol also started having Narrative Coaching with InterBe’s Simon Daly to help her manage some of the problems she was experiencing. “At the start of the course, I was apprehensive,” said Carol. “I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with the group and, although I was used to talking about things, I rarely discussed my feelings and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to start doing that. But, by the end of the second day, there had been a huge shift for me and I chose to share with the group how lonely I had felt within the organisation since I joined. I told them that I’d heard people say: “Somerset Care is like one big family, we look after each other” but that wasn’t how it had felt to me. After I’d spoken up, people came up to me and praised me for my courage. Some people said they’d also felt that way since they joined the company.”

 

A complete turnaround

So, what was it that brought about such a shift for Carol?

 

“I bought into the programme right from the start. Everything that they were saying… about our stories, the way we communicate, who we are being… I really got it. When I reflected on my experiences since joining the company, I really saw how much of a role I had played in creating the sense of unease, ill-feeling and miscommunication among my team. I thought: “it’s not them who’s the problem, it’s me.” Seeing this brought about a complete turnaround for me.”

 

Even before she had left the training session, Carol acted to tackle one of the problems the team was facing: “It felt like there was an elephant in the room with us. People were expressing how frustrating it was that a regular, scheduled meeting always overran because a particular person arrived late each time. I decided to talk to that person in an entirely open and non-confrontational way and to discuss possibly changing the time of the meeting to a more convenient one. As it happened, this turned out to be perfect for everyone. We’ve now changed the time of the meeting. It starts and finishes on time and we’ve all gained at least half an hour as a result.”

 

Breaking down walls

Carol also realised early on how much her opinions about one of her team had been shaped by listening to gossip. “I had heard certain things about this person presented to me as fact and I’d bought into that story. A brick wall had formed between us as a result. The day after the training, I arranged for us to meet. I apologised for the way I had been behaving and acknowledged the contribution this person was making to our team. The brick wall came down and since that day our relationship has turned around.

 

“I won’t say there are never any issues to deal at work but I am now giving people the space and opportunity to be creative and to use their initiative in a way that I wouldn’t have done before. Sometimes, this does create extra work for me but it also gives people the chance to experience things that they hadn’t experienced before and to start to see how what they do fits into the organisation as a whole, so they get a sense of being part of the whole thing not just their bit of it.”

 

This desire to give her colleagues greater autonomy and responsibility led Carol to challenge a recent decision by her line manager that Carol should handle a particular piece of work rather than one of her team. “I thought about it overnight and decided that, actually, my colleague was more than capable of doing it and that it would belittle her if I did it in her place. So, I went back to my manager and argued my case. He agreed and I am now working to support the particular member of staff involved so she can do it herself, which is far better for her.”

When asked to reflect on how things have changed for her since the start of the programme, Carol says: “Well, I don’t want to leave the company anymore! I feel as though I have a lot to offer and we are now working much better as a team. In fact, we now have a completely different way of working and some people are even asking me to teach them how to have different kinds of conversations, which is amazing.”

 

Acknowledgement

In her personal life, the Narrative Coaching is helping Carol to come to terms with the loss of her mum. “Working with Simon has been great. He asked me to write two letters to my mum. The first one, which he asked me to write in the present tense as though she was still here, was really hard. It was full of expressions of loss and grief over the things I wished we’d done. I cried non-stop when I wrote it. The second letter I wrote to her in the past tense. In that one, I acknowledge her as a person and all the wonderful times we shared. I can’t really describe why, but doing this has made me feel so much better. I’ve talked to my dad about it and suggested that he might like to do the same. In fact, I’ve shared a lot with him about my whole experience of the programme. In the past I’d always have said that I had a special relationship with my mum, but now I am experiencing a really special relationship with him, too. I’ve also shared some of it with my daughter. ”

 

There have also been positive changes in Carol’s relationship with her husband. “I had never shared with him how unhappy I’d been since joining Somerset Care, or that I’d been having counselling to help me come to terms with losing mum. So, one evening, I sat down with him and said: “I want to tell you a story.” And, I told him honestly how it had been for me. This led him to share some things with me that he had never told me before. We really connected and, since then, we have been able to talk more honestly with each other about a number of things.”

 

Strength in vulnerability

Sharing her vulnerability is something that Carol would never have expected to be doing… particularly not with workplace colleagues with whom she felt so out of touch. Yet, in doing so, ironically she has discovered a huge amount of strength and connection.

 

“There have been tears for many of us on the programme. But, it has made the people I work with “real” in a way they weren’t before and this has been incredibly liberating. At work, I now stand for not gossiping about people and I ask my colleagues to hold me to account on this. Gossip is so destructive, it wrecked the relationship between me and one of my team when I first joined Somerset Care. And, you know, by not gossiping I reckon we save around half an hour per meeting we go to!”

 

A colleague commented to Carol recently “you eat, sleep and breathe the Transformational Leadership programme, don’t you?” “I don’t think I’d have put it quite like that,” she laughs, “but I won’t deny that I love what we’ve learned. It has made such a huge difference for me – it has changed my relationships with my family, my friends and my work colleagues. Why on earth would I not agitate for this work? It would be fantastic if everyone could do it, it would completely transform the organisation. I’ve said that to my line manager on a number of occasions. It is so important to connect with people in this way; I won’t let this disappear from my life.”

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