WOMEN IN HEALTH & SAFETY
Coaching and leadership: How to develop non-technical skills and overcoming a lack of confidence
Anna Keen, Founding Director at Acre Frameworks, provides guidance on learning the relevant skills to progress your career, delving into how to present yourself confidently and tips for leaders when dealing with imposter syndrome….
With over 12 years’ experience recruiting senior Health and Safety professionals across the globe, Anna Keen developed Acre Frameworks, to focus on the assessment and development of behavioural competencies in the profession. Anna and her team conducted a series of in-depth interviews with industry leaders to define the competencies critical for success to create the Acre Frameworks Competency Framework.
The framework is the foundation for a range of assessment and development offerings aimed at assisting individuals and teams to improve their performance. In addition to having extensive recruitment experience, Anna is also an accredited psychometric assessor and trained competency interviewer.
This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and Safety. As a member of the committee my goal is to amplify the voices of women in the profession. Some of the topics covered affect women more than men. Some are deeply personal. It’s my belief that we bring our whole selves to work and therefore should be able to talk about all sorts of issues that affect us, day-to-day, in a work setting.
Two things have struck me throughout this series. 1) We all have so much in common. 2) People are often very willing to open up, if they’re given a safe opportunity to do so with someone who is willing to listen without judgement. So, my hope is that issues discussed in this series resonate with readers, perhaps making some feel less alone, perhaps even giving some the confidence to share their own stories. I also hope readers will be encouraged to check in on colleagues, talk about the whole selves we bring to work and be there to listen.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to this interview in full.
What steps can you take to learn the relevant soft skills in order to progress your career?
“We don’t actually use the term soft skills, because I think it downplays them. I prefer leadership skills or non-technical skills and I think they are some of the hardest to develop. But the way we look at development in this area is not just about acquiring skills. In our methodology, step one is discovery, which means getting curious about your own behaviours, building self-awareness, understanding what your strengths are and how you can leverage them, and then uncovering what your limiting behaviours are. First and foremost, leverage your strengths. Develop your limitations to the point they don’t disable you. Understand the critical things you need to develop.
“For anyone in this profession, that’s the starting point – get really curious and vulnerable about where you need to develop. We use a psychometric tool, but we also encourage people to go out there and get feedback.
“It’s good to understand where your development needs are. But also remember, you don’t have to be all things to all people. Really focus on what you bring to the table. Focus on the things that actually add value around and things you enjoy doing. If you’re not a data person, don’t try and become a data person.
“Then the next bit we look at is often around coaching, and particularly with women, we find this is really effective. If I give you the example of someone who has to present at a senior level, and let’s say they’re not particularly effective in that. The standard development route will be to find them a presentation skills course. Actually, I think there’s a huge piece that we’re missing when we develop people, which is unlocking what is stopping them from presenting. So, with the women that I’ve worked with we look at their pattern of self-talk. We look at their saboteurs and the stories they tell themselves. We look at how they plan, how they build up to it and how they reflect post-event. Then the bit around actual presentation skills is almost secondary, after they’ve done that work on themselves. And I think that’s really important, especially when you bring in non-technical skills and confidence.
“The women who I work with are exceptionally capable. The one thing that limits them is the way they talk to themselves. There’s a lot of talk about glass ceilings, but I think we’ve got a huge problem with sticky floors. By that I mean women not giving themselves the structures to allow them to fulfil their potential. Or they’re not supported to become everything they can be.
“Once you can get people comfortable to step outside their comfort zone, to not fear failure, to be vulnerable, I think that then unlocks this huge amount of capability which helps him to acquire skills.
“I think the other thing that is often missing when we talk about non-technical development, is people often go on courses, but they don’t follow through with action. They might pick up one or two things but then get back to work, life continues and actually, nothing changes. So, we do a lot of work on habit formation.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve made sure that any development work we do as a team, gives the opportunity to learn and practice in a safe environment. Then you go out and give it a go. And then we encourage people to reflect on it – what went well, what didn’t go, what would you do differently. And we ask them to reflect back in the following session, because unless there’s insight into action, nothing changes.
“When we do ‘having difficult conversations’, we expect the first time you have a difficult conversation it won’t go perfectly. The same as when you do your first presentation in front of a group. But having the opportunity to reflect on what went well, what didn’t and what you’d do differently means that you’re going to positively reinforce that situation rather than avoid it.”
How can you present yourself as someone who is confident, even if you’re not feeling it?
“We encourage people to plan and practice, roleplay conversations and practice the presentations. Get feedback and take that feedback onboard.
“I certainly know from my experiences; I would harvest negative feedback rather than positive feedback. And, sometimes we need to be kinder to ourselves in most situations and go looking for the good stuff as well. We tend to mark ourselves out of 10, where 10 is the ultimate aim. If you give yourself a seven, in academia that’s a first. The concept of being kinder to yourself and speaking to yourself the same way you would speak to a friend is really important.
“When we look at presentation skills there’s a lot about how you stand and how you hold yourself physically. When I present, I can’t hold paper because I shake. So, I don’t ever carry notes. I just practice and understand my key messages.
“I think it’s ok to be a bit vulnerable too, and say ‘presenting is not my strong suit. It’s something I’m working on or it’s the development area’. Or if you’re having a difficult conversation, say if it doesn’t fit well with you. I think that’s become much more acceptable.
“Surround yourself with good people you trust will give you the constructive feedback.
“We do an exercise in coaching where we reflect on difficult conversations, presentations or a situation you feel unconfident in. We ask people to reflect on that situation. And then we reflect on their reflections and check the language they’re using. And quite often, it will be incredibly negative. We have to pull them up on the fact they’d never speak to someone else in the way they would speak to themselves. And I think that the power of looking at how you talk to yourself, and reframing it is really important.”
What are your personal experiences with Imposter Syndrome?
“One of the lines I live by, is ‘if you please everyone, you are not making enough progress’. It’s a Sheryl Sandberg line. For the first two years that I set Frameworks up, I was being asked to attend talks and speak to clients, and I felt like I was winging it completely. It made me feel really vulnerable, all the time.
“In some ways, it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. Because now, reflecting back, I can see I survived all those situations and I’m completely confident in what I’m doing.
“To me, imposter syndrome is about feeling like someone’s going to catch you out and recognise that you just haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. My comfort in the last five years has come from meeting, coaching and working with numerous people who I always thought had it covered and finding out they all feel the same.
“Now, my whole view on Imposter Syndrome is, if I feel like I’m outside of my comfort zone, if I feel like I am winging it, I own it and I know I’m growing and I’m learning. And if I’m not there often enough, then I’m probably getting a little bit complacent. We see Imposter Syndrome as a negative, but actually over the last five years, it’s probably driven me more. I’ve worked harder. I’ve studied harder. I’ve planned and prepped harder. It’s just trying to keep it constructive rather than destructive. And getting comfortable with failure.
“I’ve done a lot of work reframing what imposters means to me. I’m hugely sensitive to criticism, but that drives me. It makes me do more.
“Some of our biggest learnings come from those moments when things go wrong. And actually, when I work with people who are insensitive, tough-minded, they’re harder to develop because they don’t feel as much. So, when they fail, it’s like water off a duck’s back. If you don’t feel uncomfortable, nothing changes.”
Have you got any advice for anybody who’s in a position of leadership to help people within their own teams, when it comes to lack of confidence or imposter syndrome?
“Create an environment where people feel that they can speak up and share their opinions. And create an environment where sharing feedback, positive and negative, is the norm.
“Often when we talk about feedback we go to the negative, and actually it’s so important to positively feedback to people too. If you can give a balance of both, it kills the paranoia because you know where you stand.
“Imposters can give people the feeling they’re going to be caught out. But if you create an environment where someone can openly say, ‘this is the first time I’ve done this’, or ‘I’m learning, I would like your feedback’, that normalises it.
“Also, talk to people about their growth trajectory. Not everyone wants to grow at a rapid pace. Some people grow slowly over time. But I think when someone gets a promotion or goes through periods of change, people can feel imposter syndrome. So, talk, ask: ‘How do you feel it’s going in terms of your performance? How are you coping with the change? What are you working on?’ As well as talking about the task you’re doing, talk about how you’re talking about the task.
“Normalise that it’s okay to feel imposter syndrome, it means you’re growing.
“Leaders should also talk about their own experiences. Act as a role model. If you’re a leader and you’ve experienced imposter syndrome, by talking about it you will normalise it within you team. Anytime I’m vulnerable about how I’m feeling in front of my team, at least one of them drops me a message and says, ‘thanks for being vulnerable is giving us permission to be vulnerable too’.
“I’ve learned over the last five years, personally, but also professionally, is how we view the world is very much our choice. The way you view the world is completely within your control. So, with imposter syndrome, you can either pick to have it as your nemesis or you can pick to leverage it. It’s about how you frame it.”
Imposter syndrome: 4 health & safety professionals on how it’s affected them
5 Different Types of Imposter Syndrome (and 5 Ways to Battle Each One) – The Muse
Imposter Syndrome Prevalence In Professional Women and How To Overcome It – Forbes
Why imposter syndrome hits women and women of colour harder – BBC
How to Overcome ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – The New York Times
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