My Mary Seacole colleagues have inspired me to develop my full potential. A blog by Jo Elvey, Senior Sister

Jo Evley, Senior Sister at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, is currently on our Mary Seacole programme. Here, Jo reflects on her evolving leadership style and why she is learning to be vulnerable…

Sitting on the train on the way back from an inspirational RADA session in London as part of the FNF Mary Seacole Trust Leadership Development programme, I am feeling motivated to explore my leadership style and potential. I begin reading FNF Director Gemma Stacey’s blog ‘The Imperfect Quest of an Authentic Leader’ and find that I am drawn into the concept. Gemma writes that the popularity of the authentic leadership approach is a relief to her as she doesn’t feel she has an alternative option. To me, although it excites and inspires, it also presents a challenge that puts me outside my comfort zone. None the less, it’s a challenge that I am keen to embark on.

Gemma talks about incongruence which, although unintentional, at times I can recognise in myself. This is possibly a result of the difficulties I face when a situation ideally requires me to blur my personal and professional life. My natural leadership style has always been firm but fair, ensuring equity and integrity but also maintaining a reserved and measured approach which involves keeping my personal life far away from my professional one.

I believe part of my leadership style originates from my life experiences. My dad passed away; shortly after, my husband left me. My daughters were three years old and nine months old. I developed the fear that others may think I would be unable to commit to my role or would lack the enthusiasm or time to progress the service I ran due to the change in my personal circumstances. I was a relatively new Band 7 senior sister at the time, responsible for a rapidly developing emergency assessment unit for surgical patients. My defence mechanism was to keep my private life very private so that others wouldn’t consider it having an impact on my performance at work. On reflection, I potentially missed out on workplace support that may have made my journey easier. The self-preservation tactics I subconsciously employed meant that I was shaping a leadership style which my inner critic is now challenging. In continuing to not allow my whole self to be exposed, I realise that I may appear incongruent at times and create unnecessary barriers which may be detrimental to the wellbeing of my team.

“The research professor Brené Brown talks about ‘armoured versus daring leadership’. I can see that I have armoured up in an attempt to not be judged or seen as weak”

Over the years I have developed my unit from four assessment trolleys offering a five-day, 9am – 5pm service to a 54-bed assessment unit providing 24/7 care. Due to the size of the unit, I’ve been working alongside a Band 7 colleague, who previously had been one of my Band 6 sisters, and who has a very different leadership style to me. This collaboration has made me appreciate the value of different approaches and the resulting benefits to the staff and patients. Although I’m confident that my leadership has been effective, honest and supportive, I feel that my existing style has been enhanced by the way our two approaches complement each other. I am keen to build on this and to challenge myself to share my vulnerabilities with my team. On the rare occasion that I have taken the risk and allowed members of my team to see my vulnerabilities, I have received empathy, support and understanding. It is my responsibility to change my thought process and not consider any transient vulnerability as a weakness.

The research professor, writer and lecturer Brené Brown talks about ‘armoured versus daring leadership’ in her Dare to Lead podcast. I can see that I have at times armoured up in an attempt to protect my worth and not be judged or seen as weak – something that can resonate with us all. I am also relieved to discover that I can relate to some of the characteristics of a daring leader: being prepared to have difficult conversations (in a supportive and empathetic manner) that others may avoid, and being prepared to ask for help if I am out of my depth, which I believe as a nurse is ingrained in us during our training. I can also recognise the challenges of daring leadership as taking a risk. Failure and asking pertinent questions in pressured environments take courage and self-confidence. My commitment to developing my leadership style is providing me with the curiosity to do this and to realise that vulnerability is not a liability.

When I look at the list of qualities that characterise authentic leadership, I am pleased to see that I already possess some of them. My greatest challenge will be allowing the exposure of myself to achieve the transparency I wish to share with my team. Although authentic leadership should not be expected to provide personal rewards, it would be naïve to say that enhancing the emotional wellbeing and loyalty of a team would not be rewarding to a leader. This is particularly relevant considering the global pandemic that we are still currently dealing with and the increased sense of camaraderie that it has reignited.

“I know that allowing my team to see my vulnerabilities will take courage and perseverance”

I am conscious that in order for this concept to be effective it will require a significant shift in my mindset, and that my team may experience a communication style from me that they aren’t expecting. I do not undertake this lightly as I know that allowing my team to see my vulnerabilities will take courage and perseverance. I am also aware that by creating this safe space I may find my colleagues feel more comfortable to expose their own vulnerabilities, creating an environment of support that I may not previously have identified as being required. The King’s Fund also advocates that authenticity implies consistency, with values of providing high-quality and compassionate patient care, which as nurses we constantly strive to offer.

My experiences of being managed by different matrons has contributed to shaping my views on the qualities I respect in a leader and has led me to the conclusion that emotional intelligence is paramount. The psychologist Daniel Goleman writes about emotional intelligence, stating that in order to successfully manage others you first need to successfully manage yourself. From my own observations it seems to be evident when a leader lacks self-awareness and is not achieving this. I believe that my natural ability to reflect and my desire to achieve transparency and authenticity indicate that I have the required self-awareness and maturity of emotional intelligence to successfully manage myself. I hope in turn this means that my team feel they are successfully managed by me.

“I have met an incredible group of colleagues who have inspired and motivated me to develop my full potential”

I have always been someone who reflects before responding or acting and I value the insight that this provides me with, both in my personal and professional life. It is through this reflection that I applied for the FNF Mary Seacole leadership programme, hoping to enhance and refresh my leadership skills, and I have not been disappointed. I have met an incredible group of colleagues who, through their authenticity and the safe space we created, have inspired and motivated me to develop my full potential.

My conclusion is that although I possess some of the core qualities of an authentic leader, I need to be mindful of the implications of appearing incongruent. In order to try and achieve authentic leadership I need to face my fears and open up to my team. These steps I am taking to examine and enhance my leadership style are born from a desire and a passion to be the best I can be. I am at a time in my life where I can invest in myself, which in turn will assist me to invest more in my staff and patients. I feel that this is the beginning of a meaningful and authentic journey into senior leadership.

Find out more about the Mary Seacole Leadership Development Programme





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