I started my leadership journey many years ago, maybe as many as 20 (gulp), when I realised to make a difference within healthcare I had to enthuse others, influence beyond my own boundaries and start to really challenge myself, my colleagues and other departments to work together to deliver better, more joined up care.

I recall attending my first NHS leadership course at the time and being introduced to Belbin profiles where I was tagged as a great inventor; a completer finisher with a flair for innovation and creativity. That makes me smile quite a bit as having recently revisited Belbin, the completer finisher of 'Me' has left the building! Over the years my self-awareness has improved, through exposing myself to the uncomfortable and recognising the step-change I have felt in my personal leadership when I do. Increasing my self-awareness has, without a doubt, increased my effectiveness and impact. As a result I have always taken up the numerous opportunities to take part in leadership development programmes that have come my way.

 So, I have felt very self aware and reasonably balanced, despite a challenging new role I took on nearly 2 years ago, leading my national team within the busy organisation I work in.

I have also been very comfortable in being my authentic self in work, which is important to me. I have carried out 2 resilience assessments in the last year and wasn't surprised to see I was pretty much alright! Secretly, I thought I was invincible!

However recently, quite unexpectedly, I found myself exhibiting behaviours and feelings which I now realise were stress related. I thought I knew what a 'me under stress' looked like. Obviously not! It went unnoticed by me for around 6 weeks and only became clear when I was flicking through the ‘in the grip’ Myers Briggs handbook trying to recognise if others in my team might be under stress!

Once I recognised the reason for my sleep problems, my lack of energy and focus, my emotional vulnerability, my jaw and throat aching as I talked, an increasing tendency for self criticism and an inability to bend with the wind I took corrective action.

Being an introvert, I had let my energy dissipate by having too many full on, large and often difficult meetings, during a period of substantial change. I had allowed no space for thought, reflection or recovery. My bounce back had bounced out the window!

I felt exhausted. Two weeks after this realisation, I began a course I was lucky enough to get a place on called ‘the challenger spirit’, about disruptive leadership. I had signed up knowing this course would take me to scary and uncomfortable places that'd do me good, but emotionally, I wasn't now so sure it was a great idea. Was I up to the challenge? I suspected it had come up just at the right time and I found myself clinging to the promise of rejuvenation.

Challenged yep!.... but also incredibly supportive. Personal insight and learning that surpassed any other course I'd been on. A mix of depth, space, exploration, experimentation, sensing, feeling, mixed emotions and also lots and lots of real deep laughter! The biggest challenge for me was stopping over-thinking things and being more compassionate to myself!

So much so, I know I am now truly much kinder to myself and have left feeling confident in being able to progress my work and the work of my team to a whole new level. I feel bolder and braver but also more sensitised to how I, and others, perceive the world; whilst conscious of how to sustain my own energy through change. I understand far more about myself and where my passion comes from. I understand how to utilise any anger or frustration in a far more positive way and I understand how to challenge the system in a far more compassionate way, whilst getting better results quicker. I tap into a much wider skill set which involves listening more deeply, seeing more clearly and trusting my intuition. The result is a far more energised me at work and a far more compassionate Me..... not least with myself!

There were many light bulb moments for me, but I will mention two in particular which have transformed my working life.

Changing my style of challenging has had a far greater effect, whilst making me more energetic and more fun to be around. Being open to doing this differently has taken me into contact with people who have helped me transform my language and my approach and only this week I saw the immense impact this has, on me and on the audience.

Previously I was very uncomfortable standing in front of a large audience but I can now tap into my reason for being there, the message I feel compelled to share and the passion I feel to make a difference, to more effectively move that audience to action.

The second light bulb moment is an even bigger surprise to me. One of the exercises we did demonstrated to me where, in my body, I hold my tension.  Heavens! - that one realisation is slowly but significantly changing my posture, how I hold myself mentally as well as physically. Being more aware of this has translated into releasing more optimism, positivity and a real confidence in the unfolding future. I feel resilient. 

I don’t want to say too much as it’d spoil the surprises but I would urge anyone who wants to make more than a step change in their leadership to do the challenger spirit course, and find your fully energetic and younger self.

Yep, at the dinner table on the last evening it was plain to see that everyone was at least 10 years younger! In touch with their much more youthful side. Since then the positive surprises continue to present.

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