Over recent weeks, Protagion has been engaging with a number of Chief Executive Officers and Managing Directors connected to the insurance industry, primarily as research for a future ‘Routes to the Top’ article. The conversations have been wide-ranging, and very much reinforced the first lesson we described in a previous article “Shadowing Executives: Top 10 Lessons”: Executives are people too.
One of the other things which struck me during these discussions was just how much change the CEOs/MDs have to manage on a regular basis, with some of them actively seeking out opportunities where change was a necessity and decisions needed to be made. One CEO told me how over his career he’s grown to appreciate more and more how people come from different points of view, sometimes driven by their personal priorities in life. Some people are by nature or circumstance more resistant to change, and we had a great conversation about a leader’s role being to support people through change.
My reflections on that conversation have inspired this post. In personality terms, it is those who are higher on ‘openness’ (and lower on conservatism) and more spontaneous than structured who thrive on change. And, key parts of being a leader are:
This balance of transforming yet preserving stability is incredibly difficult to achieve, and is related to what Jim Collins (of Good to Great* and Built to Last*) referred to as “preserve the core and stimulate progress”. Add to it the reality that different people in your organisation are at different levels of desire for change, and you conclude that the messaging and approach for different people needs to be different (while still retaining the core integrity of the communication). For example, some people respond better to emotional persuasion, while others insist on rational arguments and logic. Some like to see the change in context of the organisation’s history, while others prefer to focus on the new and exciting future. Often a leader is talking to all of these groups at the same time.
So much of this comes down to adjusting your own behaviour depending on who you’re trying to convince... I remember being adamant at university that ‘self-monitoring of behaviour’ was not a desirable activity, probably partly because the lecturer of the course and the tutors were so insistent that it was a good thing. As I’ve aged, I’ve realised that part of the reason I refused to drink the kool aid was that for me, continually adjusting who you purport to be so that others act the way you want was at odds with my strong views on trustworthiness and integrity i.e. stand firm in yourself.
Building a career in nursing
“In this story, I want to explain how my career towards my current senior role as a clinical nurse specialist in syncope developed. As I look back now on nearly 13 years of working as a nurse, I realise that in the first six years, I never considered building a career in nursing. It was only in 2011, during a six-month maternity cover position as an anticoagulation nurse practitioner, that I started seriously thinking about planning my nursing career over the long term. I wished to continue working autonomously but also wanted more variety with the scope to develop further. Therefore, I did not apply for the same role again and instead went back to the ward to develop further in cardiology and look out for a more suitable role over time, one that fit my career aspirations.
A step closer
I discovered that a role as a senior staff nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital (RBH) offered exactly what I was looking for at the time as it combined specialising in supporting patients with congenital heart disease and covered all necessary treatments within cardiology. This enabled me to gain experience as a senior staff nurse in a leadership role and explore the area in cardiology where I wanted to focus. My aim was to work towards roles such as a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse specialist in cardiology within the following 5 years.
After studying a mandatory university module on mentorship in 2012, I was encouraged by my RBH line manager to participate in the university leadership module. Knowledge of these leadership qualities was essential to my development. The following year, I recognised more and more my interest in arrhythmia as an area in cardiology I wanted to work towards. I researched this area and how I could work towards it but did not have much success on my own and furthermore could not find a suitable module at any university.
Pushing ahead, with support from independent specialists
In 2014, I enrolled to sit for an exam in pacing by the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA). This exam is mainly attended by physiologists and doctors specialising in arrhythmia. The support I received while preparing for this exam was from different physiologists and an arrhythmia nurse specialist who also encouraged me to sit for this exam. I received very little support from my place of work as my seniors there wanted me to develop further as a senior staff nurse. Additionally, the arrhythmia nurse specialists on site at the RBH were not aware of further academic training available to help me acquire the skills necessary for a job in my area of interest.
Building connections, and learning from disappointment
The extensive 3-month period of preparing and studying for this non-nursing exam in May 2014 helped me to get to know others in the field.
In June 2014, a role as a clinical nurse specialist with a focus on inherited heart disease became available and I was called in for an interview. After an unsuccessful interview however, I received feedback that another candidate with greater academic knowledge was chosen to fill the role. Following this feedback, the clinic lead recruiting for the position offered me the opportunity to meet again as a support.
After this unsuccessful interview, it was clear to me that I needed a defined plan on my path to reach a clinical nurse specialist in arrhythmia or onto a more senior position.
In the months that followed, I was on the lookout for further academic opportunities while also starting a Masters-level cardiac module at Southbank University in the autumn of 2014. I was informed by my nursing union about a Multi-Professional careers conference in September 2014 which included a 1:1 mentoring session on how to achieve my goals. I found this session very helpful and wished that I could have had this two years previously as it would have prevented me from setbacks. Following their advice, I began looking for an experienced nurse in arrhythmia who could mentor me.
Returning to my workplace, I decided to meet with the clinic lead who had offered me support after the unsuccessful interview. She agreed to mentor me regarding future decisions and her first advice was for me to consider working towards a Masters degree in Nursing. She explained this would be essential if I wanted to progress academically.
I enrolled in a full Masters of Nursing at Southbank University partly because I was competing for job positions against university graduates with Bachelors or Masters degrees. I continued over the next year working towards my degree with 2-3 modules a year alongside full time work. The modules I chose at university were adapted to my ambitions to further develop my academic knowledge and apply it to my role.
Part-time experience via a secondment
In August 2015, I was approached for a secondment two days a week in a syncope clinic. This was not an area I was familiar with, but by having conversations with senior nurses and after attending the career conference in 2014, I decided to be open minded about the opportunity. I researched the area and recognised its affiliation to my preferred area of arrhythmia. I agreed to the role and started working two days a week.
During the 15 months in this secondment role, I developed within my leadership skills and further academically. I tried to network socially on Linkedin and with other arrhythmia nurse specialists to keep in touch with trends in my desired working area.
A new role with room for growth & learning
In 2016, I was approached by another trust seeking to expand their syncope clinic with a research nurse and possible syncope clinical nurse specialist position (CNS). Following a very positive interview, I was offered the role. My role was a band 6, research nurse position in the syncope clinic. This was a position below the secondment position I had previously held, but I was encouraged to develop both academically and clinically to learn about arrhythmia. Five months later, a syncope CNS role came up in the same clinic which I successfully took on.
I am enjoying my current role very much but still have so much to learn in this great team in the syncope clinic. I work autonomously most of the time and get challenged regularly on a clinical level. I can reflect academically on how to improve the clinic needs and care I give. Since starting at the syncope clinic, I have been able to attend conferences and bring my skills into the team. I have also been fortunate enough to have support as I continue with my Masters and now work on my dissertation which will hopefully lead me to graduating with a Masters degree in Nursing after May 2018.
Actively managing my career
Looking back over the years since I started planning my career consciously, I would have found it extremely helpful to have independent mentor(s) helping me with decision-making and to help avoid setbacks over the years and reduce unnecessary time and effort spent investigating dead-ends.
To me, Protagion is an active career management service I would have used during the years I was considering my long-term plans and career in nursing, and while making the transition to my current area of specialism. I would recommend membership to anyone reflecting on your long-term future in your job.”
Below we share two complements to our Contracting series: