Joey is a young nurse manager with great potential. She is ambitious, she learns quickly, and she is willing to work hard to succeed. She is a relatively recent hire in her organization, having moved from another state with glowing recommendations from her former supervisor.
However, after a year on the job, Joey was having problems. She saw her position as too big, her colleagues as too undisciplined, and her boss as a poor leader.At the same time, her boss and her colleagues experienced Joey as whiny, stubborn, and constantly blaming others. Her manager could see that Joey had the history and the talent to become an excellent nurse leader, but he was not able to confront her directly about what she needed to do to get there. He was hoping that Joey’s coaching would prompt her to change in positive ways.
At the outset of her coaching, Joey was eager to prove she was right about her super- visor’s meager leadership skills and her peers’ unproductive work routines. Joey needed to tell her story and to be heard. After a few sessions of being listened to and validated for her positive qualities, Joey settled into an almost-shy vulnerability and a tentative willingness to share at a deeper level. She revealed that she strongly disliked her new town, and she was having health problems and troubles in her personal relationships. Joey very much wanted to feel happier.
But how was Joey going to become happier? She was not interested in finding another job and moving, at least not yet. Eventually, as her coaching progressed, Joey started to look beyond her current conditions for the real issues that were creating her malaise. Down deep, she knew that her new circumstances were not perfect, but she had thrived in imperfect circumstances before. She could see that finding fault and trying to change other people, as well as working long hours to the detriment of her health and outside activities, were seductive habits. But they did not make her happier. In fact, they greatly contributed to her unhappy state.
The initial event that disrupted Joey’s negative spiral was a test. She took a highly validated and reliable emotional intelligence assessment that is constructed to elicit real answers versus the answers we think we “should” give. Consequently, Joey’s self-generated feedback offered her a brand new lens to see what was going on inside her. Revealing and surprising as this fresh information was for Joey, it still would have been easy for her to dismiss it by blaming the assessment or the coach for her outcomes. But she didn’t. Instead, she allowed the scores to resonate. She took them very seriously.
As profoundly impactful as her results were, it wasn’t the assessment that disrupted Joey’s unhealthy patterns. More important was the fact that she dropped her aggressive posture long enough to recognize the unvarnished truth. Much as it pained her, Joey admitted that the assessment reflections were accurate and that she was responsible for the deep unhappiness that she was experiencing in her life.
Shortly thereafter, Joey started a practice of self-reflection through journaling. She focused on being frank about what she was feeling and seeing in herself. She saw herself more clearly than she had for a very long time.
In choosing to be radically honest, Joey could understand how her behavior was harming herself and others. She made these admissions:
1. She felt lonely on the job (and in the rest of her life). This was causing her to lash out and blame. The consequences were that she alienated others, and then she felt even more alone.
2. She had refused to take any ownership for her part in the rifts she was having with her coworkers, her boss, and others in her life.
3. She had let languish her self-care practices, such as nurturing relationships with family and friends and getting enough sleep and exercise.
Joey also realized that she could have a big hand in creating her own future by continuing to be scrupulously honest with herself. She could:
1. Recognize that she always has a choice in how she shows up, no matter how perfect or imperfect other people may be.
2. Remember that she is in control of the stories she tells herself. She and only she has the power to stop self-talk such as “I am a better leader than he is” or “I work harder than they do.” Habits die hard, so when she unconsciously starts generating these tales again, she can train herself to notice what she’s doing. She can remind herself that recy- cling these stories is unproductive and harmful, and she alone has the power to stop generating them.
3. Focus on small but influential ways to self-regulate such as pausing and breathing instead of immediately reacting when something triggers her.
4. Rehearse by practicing new responses and behaviors in upcoming difficult situations before they happen.
5. Acknowledge and concentrate on others’ positive qualities and intentions.
6. In challenging circumstances, learn new ways of communicating thoughts and feelings clearly and directly, without blame and with kindness.
7. Find at least 1 trusted friend and/or colleague who can observe, give direct feedback, and help Joey remain truthful about herself.
Joey committed to being radically honest with herself. She also pledged to observe how she reacts when she is triggered. She will remember to breathe deeply, and if she forgets these things, she will keep practicing them until they become more routine.
She’ll also have a safety valve: if she doesn’t measure up to her new standards, she won’t beat herself up. Instead, she will forgive herself, be compassionate, and if appropriate, she will make amends to others. Most important, she will ask herself: what does this incident have to teach me?
Today, Joey says she is a work in progress. As she continues in this job and advances in her career in this or another organization, Joey knows that her efforts will never be perfect. But she also knows that her behavior and her feelings about herself will get better. She believes that eventually her relationships will improve and that others will notice that she is doing things differently, even if her progress is slow at first. She will remember that honesty and self-reflection are the keys to inspiring her will to change and to take action to make the change stick.
* This article was originally published in Nurse Leader.