Taming the voice within

Kirstie Stott, an NHS Graduate Management Trainee, starts 2014 by examining why there are not more women in senior leadership positions:

I have to admit that I am not a New Year fan; in fact I would rather be in bed reading a good book than singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

However, seeing as it’s a new year I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on the last year, and what I realised is that I have come a long way but have so much further to go on my journey.

I’m glad to say that I have grown as a person, personally and professionally. One particular attribute is confidence and being at peace with myself. I recently and rather timely came across a web site called Action for Happiness which is a movement of people who are committed to building a happier society.

One of their top ten keys to happier living is acceptance and not comparing your insides with other people’s outsides. Which, when I really thought about it, is something I do.

Image showing the saying 'Don't compare your insides with other people's outsides'

Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know that my passion is about diversity and equality and, in particular, gender equality and gaining a diverse senior workforce in the NHS. I believe that by having a diverse and equal representative senior leadership we will benefit patients by representing them more fairly and by challenging the status quo, after all Albert Einstein defines insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we have a different and diverse senior leadership in the NHS I strongly believe this would be an enabler to us getting better results for our patients.

I try and stay active in women in leadership discussions and events and did recently attend a very good conference but was disappointed and frustrated that yet again the barriers and statistics were discussed with no real progression on how we tackle the issues or barriers which we believe hold women back – if indeed they do.

I wrote earlier in 2013 about women in leadership in the NHS and don’t want to repeat myself, what I would like to add and what wasn’t covered in this blog was women’s own confidence. There is much written to suggest that, as Sheryl Sandburg puts it:  women don’t always “lean in” meaning they have been held back by their body language, voice, and tendency to shy away from speaking out because of lack of self-confidence.

I am not saying that all women lack confidence or that men don’t either, however if it is an emerging theme as a barrier to women gaining more senior level positions then it needs addressing.

So as for my journey, in 2010 I was really challenged to step out of my comfort zone as a nurse; it was as part of a leadership development programme called Accelerate. I had been working as a senior nurse for some time and was relatively clinically competent and confident in my ability. However as part of the programme I was challenged to shadow my then Chief Executive. This was something I had never even considered before, the CEO, me, my initial thoughts…

Image showing a piece of note paper with the writtens words 'you are not good enough!'Being someone who at that stage would (if I am being honest) shy away from anything hierarchical or that would put me out of my comfort zone, I felt very uneasy about the whole thing, What if he realised I wasn’t a good nurse?  What if he uncovered the truth that I was actually incompetent in my abilities? And worst of all, what if he discovered I had got to where I was by luck…and I get the sack…and I get struck off from the NMC… and so it goes on?

I can recall sitting outside his office actually considering running away. Luckily for me, he was lovely, welcoming and very down to earth. The truth is, I like many others suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, and a nice article about this that was in the Guardian.

Imposter syndrome is just a part of it for me. When I undertook the development programme in 2010 I can say for sure I had no confidence in myself, I wasn’t happy in my job and always had this niggling voice in my head that told me how rubbish I was. What I learnt on that Neuro Linguistic Programming course was that this internal dialogue I had running in my head was common, that it was unhelpful and that I could silence it if I wanted to.

An image showing hand drwan person saying ' You drew me all worng' and the title 'My inner critic'Many people have written about having an inner dialogue, one of those being Eckhart Tolle who was said to at the age of 29, after having suffered from long periods of suicidal depression, experienced an “inner transformation”. One night he woke from his sleep, suffering from feelings of depression that were “almost unbearable,” but then experienced a life-changing epiphany which he recalls as: “I couldn’t live with myself any longer”.

And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed.

This is exactly what I learnt on the development programme that the internal critic or dialogue is made by self, exacerbated by self and also controlled by self.

I think that we as humans often hide away our true selves and become overruled by our inner voices, the ones that tell us to be quiet, not to speak out because we may sound silly or be found out. Subsequently I fear we hide what makes us brilliant – our true selves, being authentic and saying what we mean and feel.

An image showing some written tex 'But some days, when no one's around to hear, you let out your real voices to see if it's still there'I worry further that if this is a contributing factor to the low numbers of women in senior leadership positions (because statistics show us that imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women) then what are we doing to really help combat this?

I feel privileged to have undertaken the development course and become an NLP practitioner as I feel it gave me a great insight into myself, and how I can become more confident and resourceful as a person. Also how I can understand others and how we interact together, all important and relevant in my leadership journey.

So as organisations and as individuals what can we do to help make some better progression into having a more diverse and equal senior workforce? What organisational development programmes could we offer? Are we doing enough to help tame our inner voices and those of our workforce?

NHS England’s Blogs Editor Murray Morse said: “One of Kirstie’s blogs has been entered for the National UK Blog Awards 2014.  These awards recognise the multitude of writing talent that exists across the UK. They also provide a unique opportunity for individual professionals from their various sectors and organisations to be recognised for their social media achievements, with the chance to network and be inspired by other industry bloggers.  It would be fantastic to see one of NHS England’s talented guest bloggers recognised in these awards. You can vote for her here  – the public vote closes Monday 13th January 2014.”

Kirstie Stott

Kirstie Stott is an NHS Graduate Management Trainee (GMTS) 2012 Cohort. She originally trained as a registered nurse in 1998 and worked in a nursing capacity for 14 years.

She started NHS life as an Accident and Emergency nurse in 2001 and went on to be the youngest national Emergency Care Practitioner for Yorkshire Ambulance Service working to a senior clinical level.

She is a certified Neuro Linguistic Practitioner after successfully gaining a place on the INNOV8 Accelerate Programme.

In 2011 she beat off 12,350 applicants to gain a place on the prestigious NHS GMTS. Her first placement was at Sheffield Teaching Hospital as an Assistant General Manager working on the integration of two directorates. She then spent 9 weeks working at The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management developing business cases and strategy planning where she is now regional lead for the FMLM steering group in the north.

Her final placement is at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS FT as a strategic planner leading on the Integrated Business Plan.

Her passions are in equality and diversity in the NHS and understanding and working towards removing the barriers that stop women and BME staff achieving senior leadership positions.

She also is currently regional lead for NHS Change Day 2014 Yorkshire and Humber.

She lives in Sheffield with her partner and 2 children. Outside of work she enjoys music, and being the best mum and having fun with her 2 boys.