As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Nicky Ingham and provide a space for Nicky to share her powerful story. The interview has lots of insights into how Nicky succeeds; about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.

CliftonStrengths (TM) Dominant Talent Themes: Positivity, WOO, Communication, Strategic, Adaptability, Achiever, Arranger, Maximiser, Futuristic, Relator

Transcript:

Before we get started on the podcast I wanted to alert you to the fact that we will be hearing from Nicky about her journey and that includes an incident which involves suicidal thoughts which I know is going to be really challenging for some people to listen to. We will be hearing from Nicky about what changed for her and particularly will be talking about the importance of talking, and this is just a reminder that if you’re struggling, please talk with someone.  It might be family, might be friends, might be your GP, it might be the Samaritans who you can contact in the UK on 116123 or you can also call the NHS on 111, but if you’re struggling please reach out to somebody.  As we are going to hear, it’s really important, and impactful.

Hi this is Ian Pettigrew and welcome to the Kingfisher Coaching True Strength Podcast, today featuring Nicky Ingham.  Hi Nicky! So, first question – what do you do, what’s your job?

Hi Ian – okay I’m currently Executive Director of a charity called Healthcare People Management Association which supports workforce professionals in healthcare to make sure they get the development that they need. I also run my own consultancy practice, mainly doing coaching, board developments, senior team development, mediation, that sort of thing.

Excellent.  What’s been your journey, how did you end up doing that?

That’s quite an interesting question – how long have you got! 

Go on, give us the short version and we’ll dive into some bits in a minute.

OK, so I worked for the NHS for 23 years, the last 15 of which were as Executive Director of HR level in 3 different organisations. I really enjoyed that job and the role and the influence it carried.  I had fantastic teams around me to help deliver some quite challenging areas of work.  So I went through some difficult organisations that had been through their own difficult journeys themselves and then helped turn them around in relation to their culture and what needed to happen for the staff to start believing again in their organisations which is what I like to do –  that cultural shift and making sure people are getting the best from themselves and others and giving their best to the patients that the NHS cares for.  So a couple of years ago I was going through quite a difficult time at home. My brother was going through a difficult divorce which meant his children, his three daughters who are my nieces obviously, and two of them, the eldest two, chose not to speak or see their dad and he obviously went through a difficult time of not seeing them for over a year. He ended up having to go and get access, supervised access, through that so that was really difficult for me because they were my kids because I don’t have kids of my own, but it was difficult on my Mum and Dad as well in terms of them understanding what was going on and obviously being there for my brother but also thinking about what’s happening to their granddaughters as well.  So I was a bit like piggy in the middle trying to be the value ham between the sandwich, trying to cushion everybody’s emotion, everything else. So that was going on and I was in a busy Executive Director role in an organisation that has amazing staff. I had an amazing team, went through some difficult changes with the team that I inherited, but it culminated in where I felt quite isolated, quite lonely, didn’t feel I was being heard within the top level of the organisation and felt at times that I was becoming part of the problem. I was getting to be like they were and I really felt for staff that work in that organisation – that work could be so much better.  So I got very very stressed, I became very depressed, I became very isolating as in my experience that people will be familiar with, I’m a strong extrovert, I like to be around people.  I isolated myself, I shut myself in my office, the blinds were closed and I just put my head down and tried to survive and it felt like a bit of a survival journey.  I used to get home from work and I just used to sit in a dark room and just literally, not quite rock like the scene in Blackadder, where he puts pencils up his nose, not quite like that, but in that dark place where I felt that things had got really really really dark and I wasn’t in a good place. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to turn and I just felt very very very depressed and down. 

So weeks went past, nothing improved. My husband is not the sort of person that knows what to say and when to say it.  He is quite introvert so I tried to muddle through being what I thought was the best to everybody else but forgetting about myself.  It culminated in a very difficult Sunday where I drove off in my car, my husband didn’t know where I was going and I just had to drive and I ended up stopping in the middle of a car park and the phone was constantly ringing and when I looked it was my husband, and he must have rung 40-50 times and I just did not have the energy or wherewithall to speak to him, I just needed time.  But something clicked in that I got out of the car and found that I was near a railway line and I got to such a dark place that I felt that the easiest thing for me and everybody else, because I was so draining for everybody, is how I felt, that I needed to end it all.  So I did get as far as the platform and I must have predetermined what I was going to do because I knew what time the trains were, because obviously they’re not that frequent on Sundays so I needed to make sure there was one coming, and in sort of a blink of an eye, a friend who died several years before appeared. I could vision, she wasn’t in front of me, she was on my shoulder, and she just said “What the hell are you doing? Look at me, I didn’t have a choice I died of cancer, I left two children behind. What do you think you’re doing?” and in that split second, it was like I was in a dream or a nightmare and I just woke up and felt ‘oh my God what am I doing’?  So I slowly walked away from the edge of the platform, sat down and again the person was still visible and I felt she was present and I just started to cry and thought ‘how have I let this get to me so much and to lose sight of what’s important for myself?’   At work I’m very much caring for other people, putting on self-compassion coaching to help people look at their self-care and what they needed to do for themselves to make sure that they look after themselves like you would on an aircraft put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, and I’d forgotten about me in this because I was trying to be everything to everybody else and just didn’t think about myself.  

So you will be glad to know I did speak to my husband and said ‘I was fine, I was safe and I was okay and that I would be coming back home’.  So I did go home and I didn’t tell him what had happened and just said I needed to get away, I just needed to put a few thoughts together and then I self-referred to the GP on the Monday, got quite a quick appointment which is quite unusual in primary care, and I had an amazing amazing conversation with my GP.  He made me feel that it was normal, it was not unusual to feel the way you feel.  He asked why I had not sought support before and I felt, and probably still do feel until this day, which is why I’m wanting to share my story, it’s that stigma of not coping at a senior level in an organisation, people see you’re failing, they’ll isolate me even more is how I felt.  So I got put on anti-depressants which I am still on today, my happy pills as I call them, very low-dose, they made me see sense of life and put things in the perspective they are meant to be in. So as to why I’m doing what I’m doing now, I got to the point where I felt strong enough that enough was enough and something needed to give and I wasn’t prepared for that to be, so I quit. I resigned from my role, I had no job to go to, main breadwinner in the house, but for me I knew that I would be fine because my friends kept telling me “you’ll be absolutely fine”, well networked, you will get work and if the worst comes to the worst, you can always do an interim job and earn a packet at giving a very high day fee to an NHS trust for that.  

My husband was amazing and he said “if the worst comes to the worst we can sell up, we can move”.  We’ve got another property that we could move into.  So for me it didn’t feel it was a massive decision and even to this day I feel like someone’s going to tap me on the arm and say “Nicky wake up, it’s been a dream” because it’s felt so, not easy because it’s not easy, but so liberating.  So as soon as I resigned I felt completely better and I felt free for the first time in a long long time and that feeling it’s really difficult to describe, particularly when you’re free, because you’re free you don’t know what the hell you’re going to be doing.  Then, while I was doing my six months’ notice, which was quite difficult, the role at HPMA came up, it was part-time.  HPMA is an organisation, a charity that I worked with for a long time during my HR career in the NHS, I won awards with them, I’m very passionate about us developing people people because we’re cobbler’s children very busy developing everybody else. So it felt like it was meant to be. So I went through a competitive interview process, went on holiday, all the candidates were interviewed while I was on holiday and then I got an email to tell me I’d got the job, so I have reviewed recruitment practices since then because that’s not really a way to tell someone that they’ve got a job!

So that was amazing, so I finished work, I got this job, I knew that I would have three days a week of work doing something I really enjoyed, and I’d already set my consultancy business up and had a bit of work with that so knew that I would get work coming in and coming through, and so that was reassuring.  So that’s how I ended up being the exec director of HPMA and chief exec of my own consultancy.  So, difficult journey,  one which I think part of my healing process is to talk about it and it still feels quite raw when I talk about it but now I don’t cry when I talk about it, I just get red in the face and hot, because I can still feel how it felt being on the edge of that platform and you know, thinking that I might not be here today doing the job I do and helping other people be the best they can be, so I’m very lucky is how I’d put it.

And I’m incredibly grateful to you for sharing the story and one of the reasons for inviting you today was that we did a double act at CIPD Annual Conference and I heard your story or part of your story and it’s a story that needs to be told because it’s incredibly helpful to other people.  So what I want to do is work backwards and look a little bit at what could have made it different.  So you talked about the point of being in a dark place and isolating yourself as well and in a moment I want to explore what other people could have done to help you at that point but then I want to wind the clock back a bit further to the early days of this starting to come in, and you describe a situation which is so common, which is where we face challenges on the work front and we’re facing challenges on a personal front at the same time, and challenges.  I’ve got no evidence behind this statement whatsoever, but challenges often seem to be like buses, you know we don’t have any for a while and then suddenly three come along all at the same time, and it’s that kind of intersection of them.  So what I want to do is let’s start with a more recent thing.  When you were isolating yourself, you described the feeling as feeling dark. What could other people around you have done to help and to change the direction of this story?

They could’ve noticed because people say I wear my heart on my sleeve, my face says 1000 things at any one time. My team saw it, my direct reports, that I wasn’t being myself but the people that I worked closely with they didn’t see, or my perception was they didn’t see me in that struggle, so if they’d have knocked on the door when they saw the door was closed, if they’d come in and said ‘do you fancy a coffee’,  ‘do you want to go to the restaurant have a bit of lunch’, just recognise I needed to talk or maybe I just needed to be with somebody else, not necessarily talking, but to feel that people cared, because I got to the point where I didn’t think anyone cared, so if people knocked on the door, ‘do you want a drink’,  ‘are you okay ‘, they could have asked if I was okay and I might have said “I’m fine”. If they’d asked it again, I might have opened up a bit more but people just left me and that I think then exacerbated that feeling of isolation and loneliness, but just talking.

That’s so interesting because I think the hesitancy people have sometimes is that they do spot something is wrong but they’re hesitancy for knocking on the door, is that people will say “I don’t know what to say” and my observation is that the reality is that it almost doesn’t matter what you say.  It could be virtually anything, it’s just say something and ask in some way and I often encourage people to ask the question “How are you today?”, it’s just a really simple question. 

It’s just somebody showing a bit of care and knocking on the door to break the silence that was the monotony in my office.

So if a few people had knocked on the door and taken you to lunch and taken you for coffee, what do you think would have happened?  What difference could that have made to the journey?

It would probably have got me to the point of seeking help quicker and maybe not that really dark place of wanting to end it all because I would’ve felt that people cared enough to want to show curiosity, show a sense of interest in Nicky for Nicky and what was going on.  People at work knew about what was happening with my brother as I was quite open about that because it was difficult, including my boss at the time, but in terms of me and what was happening for me I didn’t share that.  And to this day I’ve not shared it with the person that was my boss, who has now left, because I still felt that fear of being labelled, with being not coping, not delivering on what I needed to deliver, a failure so to speak, and all my life I’ve not been a failure, I’ve been a high achiever, a go-getter.  I just think it would have changed things just by being open and having that support and understanding about what I might have needed, time just to be. If I’d not slept very well because I wasn’t sleeping well, just to sort of come in a bit later maybe, whereas the pressure was on to be there five days a week, when you’re on call be in the organisation and it just felt like it was just overwhelming, suffocating is the word I’d use.  So yes I think if people had just knocked on the door, asked me for a coffee, I’d have been able to be more open quicker and probably seek help and not get to the darkest place that I got.  

It’s like the simplest intervention of all isn’t it and it almost brings me close to tears that we don’t do more of that because it’s just so simple and I think one of the greatest things you can do for somebody is just to be there for them and listen to them.

I think we’ve lost the art of conversation with the media, emails, worst thing ever invented, and I think for me in my day job I always talked about engaging in great conversation with your staff, get to know who they are rather than what job they do, what is it about them so you can notice more things when they’re perhaps not the person that you usually see, so you can ask if they’re okay.  We used to have a campaign called ‘Are you okay?’ which made people notice when people were not themselves to engage in a conversation just to say “I’m here if you need me”.  That’s all that people need you to say.  Whether I took them up on that offer is a different kettle of fish but just to know that I wasn’t alone and people did care would have been cathartic and reassuring.

So in those dark times if people had just knocked on the door and asked that simple question, as you said, maybe asked a couple of times because the first time you don’t always get the honest answer, so maybe push a little bit more, maybe just take you for lunch.

So even if they’d knocked on the door and I’d said I’m fine and I’d like to be left alone, is then to come back and say again “you don’t seem yourself, is everything okay, anything I can do”.  Just a simple offer of support through the power of words.

So thinking back to that same time, so one thing to ask you “how are you today?” – what else, was there anything else people could do?

It’s a good question, it’s quite interesting because sitting here today and reflecting on it I’m not sure what else, because I got into such a dark place it was something I felt I had to find the solution that worked for me.  So could they have done anything else?  I suppose they could have made me feel wanted because I’ve used the words quite a bit, isolated, lonely, and I felt that I was, as an experienced HR director working in a culture that was quite challenging, financial challenges and some quality issues, the normal day-to-day things you experience in the NHS, it’s just a tough gig and we need to support each other.  It’s a difficult one because I’m the sort of person who finds their own solution and finds their own way out and always know in my heart of hearts on a good day, when I’m not in a dark dark place, that fate will prevail and I’ll find a way out of this, but it’s very much resource intensive for me and I think that’s just the way I’m made up and how I am. I didn’t tell my closest friends, I didn’t tell my husband till probably about six months ago how close I was and he was quite upset and I said that you just have to understand that’s where I was and that’s what I’ve had to go through.  When I’ve told my story on stage several times, there’s been friends, colleagues in the audience who have been extremely shocked and said why didn’t you talk to me?  So I know in my heart of hearts people were there to listen but it’s difficult to say what else could they do because it’s a challenge that I had to get through myself, but I think the art of conversation would have opened up more opportunity to maybe not share with them what was going on in full detail but listening to myself, because I think the art of conversation when you hear something you think ‘gosh yeah I need to do something about it’.  So it’s difficult, I don’t know what else physically, maybe nice flowers, jewellery, no, just knowing that people cared that they were with me when I was ready to open up and talk about it if that ever came up.

And you talked about needing to feel wanted as well and we might come back to this in a moment but in terms of people’s well-being, we know that there are three broad interventions that we can make – we can get the culture right, you know primary interventions, people’s managers have a massive impact on their well-being, their resilience. Second thing we can do is help them with the tools they need, resilience training and get them to the place where they’ve got those coping strategies and the mechanisms and that self-awareness and then the third thing is be there for people when they need help. Culturally, most cultures don’t appreciate people enough.  I’ve written in the past about Compassionate Truth.  It’s that people seem to think that we need to catch people doing things wrong all the time you know and that’s feedback, but there’s huge power in catching people doing things right.

Yeah, I think the culture of the NHS is challenging, it’s a great organisation, however I think there is a large disconnect with national policy drivers, the reality of what life is like.  Obviously funding makes it tighter for organisations therefore staff are doing more with less, and there is that added pressure which has become accepted as the way of the world, when actually eventually that will break and we are starting to see it break into the staff turnover significantly increasing and that’s not just clinical staff, it’s across the board, and when you talk to colleagues who may have gone through a similar journey, it’s all because of the culture. My job was to support the changing of the culture in the organisation ,HRD with responsibility for organisational development, yet I felt at a loss as to what I could do.  Not because I wasn’t able to do it but the culture of the organisation was so challenging I just felt like a lonely voice in sort of raising. We had good intentions, at board we talked about development, the intention was there but the want and the real need to do it wasn’t and it just felt, you’re not listening to the staff, it wasn’t me, I might have felt the same as the staff but it was what the staff were saying about the organisation, it felt very blame culture, it was looking for where things go wrong as opposed to looking where things go right.  There wasn’t really an approach to continuous improvement, discontinue learn and develop, it just felt very stale if that’s the right word, quite an interesting word? I’m somebody that if you were to ask me what my aspirations are a few years ago, it was to change the world because that’s what I’d like to do, however I know that’s not realistic and one person in an organisation of 6,500 is not going to change the culture.  They can make  a dent into if they’ve got the right support around them in terms of the top leadership of the organisation, and for whatever reason, and that’s not dissing the leadership, they weren’t in that place where I was to do it so that’s ultimately why I either stayed the course and accepted the culture or I deserted, that’s the word I’d use, deserted the organisation, which is sometimes how I feel that I’ve deserted it.  However I’m very friendly and I go back, I visit and people always say “my God look at you, you look amazing, you look 10 years younger” so it’s nice to go back and get compliments, even if I just come for that reason! I’m not sure if I answered the question there?

Yeah, culture’s really interesting as well isn’t it?  It’s a huge part of this and I think senior leaders of the exec, you tend to get the culture you deserve, may not be the culture that you want, and it is that thing that needs addressing but it’s challenging to do.  I’m going to move off culture or else I’ll go into a 20-minute rant about the importance of culture and well-being!  So let’s wind the clock even further back.  When you started to struggle, we’ve talked about what could have happened differently in those dark days when you were isolating yourself, let’s turn the clock back to when you started to struggle a bit and you talked about your brother and things like that.  How could people have recognised that you were struggling and what could people have done then?  What could have changed the journey even earlier on?

I think they could have got to know me as in the real Nicky because I came from an organisation that had been through a difficult time, had stayed the course through that organisation when there were other people who were  forced to leave, for want of a better phrase, and I had to support that exit to some degree. So I think I probably went into the organisation with what I would call my shield around me to protect myself and I remember we did a team development day and we talked about Myers Briggs profiles and when we were sharing our profiles people went, “that’s not you” because I’m an extrovert to the Nth degree, but what they saw was an introvert because I was trying to be protective.  I think it would be getting to know the real me and it felt there were ‘cliques’, is too strong a word, but relationships were already formed in the organisation. I was a newbie on the block, I was young, because I am relatively young still even though I’m not quite 50 (!) and it felt sometimes they didn’t take the newbie seriously.  The previous person in the role was a very jovial character but they struggled with it as well but it just felt that I didn’t feel like I was welcomed into the team. So had people welcomed me, got to know me, not just me the HR Director, but Nicky, what is she, who is she, what family has she got, who’s the real Nicky behind the name, the job title and the badge? Then I think I would have felt less isolated – there would’ve been still a bit of a shield because it was about protecting what I’d been through, protecting me to some degree and it’s only since I’ve left and spent quite a bit of time reflecting and having these types of conversations that I realise that I wasn’t really being me and me is a really nice person! I’m really easy to get on with, I’m fun, I like a laugh, I like to be sociable, I like to organise things, but I suppose I had allowed myself to become over-protective of the situation that I’d found myself in previously and so that meant that I wasn’t really me.  

So had people taken time to welcome me, invite me to things, invite me to lunch, even if it was lunch in their office because people ate lunch together, but I never got an invite.  I knocked on the window, ‘can I join you?’ but it felt like I was interrupting something, but I still tried to do it to put myself out there, but then because of what was going on at home and yeah, I did share it with my boss because there were times when my brother would ring in a frantic panic about something because he didn’t cope very well with it at all, that I just needed to be there for him so I just needed that permission if you like that I might just leave a meeting to take a call or whatever it was.  Then I started to tell the other execs what was going on because if they saw me leaving a meeting.  They did ask other people, not me directly if I was okay.  So I think it’s just that embracing a new person on the block because even at director level it’s quite daunting to start a new organisation – simple things like how to use the phone, the computer all that sort of thing, can make you quite unnerved and then not feeling that you were welcomed in.  My office at that time was away from all the other execs which did not help.  Ultimately we did all move together but that was about 18 months after I’d started, so coming up and seeing me.  When I walked down their office doors were always closed, it was that sort of building that didn’t sort of lend itself to that, but I just think engaging in a conversation and getting to know me would have been helpful.

It’s that same theme again isn’t? Relationships of people and talking and conversation and getting to know and there’s another thing, I might ask you back to do another episode because I’m fascinated in what we learn from jobs and what we take forward, as often we move from job to job and we get all this powerful learning and we take it forward to the next job.  Sometimes we learn stuff that’s not helpful to us and we take forward a defence mechanism or a shield or a fear or a pattern and sometimes we pick up learning that we need to unlearn as well and I think that’s maybe the subject of a whole different podcast.  Let’s go to today.  How do you look after yourself today, what’s your strategy for looking after your well-being and resilience?

I don’t always get it right, I don’t think anyone does really, but it’s basic things like as you can see I have a Fit Bit on so it’s the 10,000 steps a day.  I’ve got a puppy who’s called Poppy who is a miniature poodle who is six months old soon. She is amazing, she is the light of my life and she gives me an excuse to go out and embrace fresh air every single day. There is nothing beats getting up early and going out when there’s nobody else around, it’s fresh, it’s that dawn breaking if you like, watching her off the lead just enjoying her little self and me embracing life and just thinking about how close I was to not seeing this life and what was there.  So it’s about self-care, so that’s looking after self, looking after what I eat, I don’t always do that very well, but it’s also about showing self-compassion.  So I’m a big believer in self-compassion – we are very good at showing compassion to everybody else, we’re very good at advising and supporting our friends, telling them how to perhaps approach a certain situation, but we never tend to listen to our own inner coach and noticing what’s going on and allowing that to happen.  The other big thing I’ve started to do is mindfulness and that was a big thing throughout my journey, which is that time to be in the present, to feel, to do sort of meditations, to have a few mantras that I used to get through the day and I still use some of them now to get in the zone when I’m doing big events.  But mindfulness for me is really powerful – it is about that time to notice and just be at one with self. So I do a lot of mindfulness when I’m cooking, when I’m driving, and just the power of noticing what’s going on around you is significant and actually seeing that there is so much in the world, and I think having made the leap of faith to do what I’ve done, I feel completely liberated and see a whole new world of opportunity that I never saw before because I was blinkered in the mindset of where I was. So it’s important to take time for self, family, family is a big factor in my life so my Mum and Dad.  My Mum’s just been diagnosed with dementia which is really really difficult but I’m seeing that’s a journey that her life is on but I can be there for her and support her through that transition and we’ll all be there for her.  If that had happened while I was going through what I was going through, God knows what would have happened but she’s ace my Mum, she’s one of my role models.  She is the complete opposite to me and really proud of what I have achieved and I love her to bits so I think spending time, which is a big factor of leaving a very busy job, to get that work-life balance back in some sort of balance.  So spending time with family, spending time with my hubby Richard who’s amazing, Poppy our new arrival who is even more amazing who gives me strength every day because she’s just 100% reliant on me but never answers back and is always happy to see me.  

That’s quite a comprehensive self-care strategy isn’t it, so knowing that self-care isn’t selfish, instead showing that self-compassion is really important.  You’ve talked about healthy physical habits including Poppy the puppy.  You’ve talked about healthy mindful habits with your mindfulness and you’ve talked about that social support and family and you’ve talked about the importance of work-life balance and making the most of time.  You’ve learned loads about resilience and the people who have gone through difficult times are the people that know most about resilience and they’ve developed that strategy.  I’ve asked you back in the darker times what other people could have done to help, if you were facing similar challenges now on every front, with all this learning that you’ve got about how to be resilient, forget what other people could do differently, what would you do differently now?

I’d listen to what my body was telling me and notice and not just dismiss it but actually do something about it. It’s all about that mindfulness and being present in what you’re noticing – here and now into what you’re feeling, what’s in your mind, what you’re thinking about and definitely that work-life balance and not pushing people away because you’re too busy wanting to achieve and deliver something that you are very passionate about.  It’s noticing the cracks appearing, it’s noticing what your inner voice, your inner coach is saying, it’s behaving like a coach rather than a critic, it’s turning things on their head.  It’s being authentic and really giving yourself permission to be you. You is okay, you are actually great, don’t try and be something that somebody else or an institution is making you feel.  It’s actually be true to yourself and be you and be the authentic you because that’s who I am and ever since I’ve accepted that, my life has just become so much richer in terms of, not financially although that would be quite nice, but richer in terms of the relationships I develop, the conversations that I have.  It’s just completely liberating to have gone through this and learned so much and there is so much learning in it that I would behave very differently.  If you think about my Mum, that diagnosis is pretty raw but I’m noticing what I’m feeling about that and I could become a victim to it and I could become blaming , ‘why has it happened, why is it Mum?’ which is where my Mum is, she’s blaming “Why me, why not my sister, why not other people, why is it happening to me I don’t understand it”.  Whereas I’m reframing it and saying right this is what we’ve got, these are the cards we’ve been dealt with, we can either succumb to it or we can embrace it and enjoy it and live life to what we’re meant to live.  So it is that noticing, being true to self, noticing what’s going on in your body, in your mind, what things are being said in your head and listening to them.

That’s like a masterclass in resilience in about 2 minutes flat isn’t it – you have learned a lot! You’ve talked about self-compassion, you’ve talked about noticing and acting, you know responding, you’ve talked about being you and not letting any situations stop you being your authentic self and you’ve talked about effectively focus of control, knowing the difference between what you can control, what you can influence and what you just have to accept because it doesn’t matter how much you fight against it, it is what it is.  So thank you for our 2 minute resilience masterclass!  I want to move forward and talk about you, about being authentically you, talk about strengths, because we talked about your Clifton Strengths and about your dominant talents.  What’s most you?  Which in terms of your strongest strengths are you proudest of or is most Nicky?

All of them obviously! I would say, just thinking and hearing myself talking to you right now, it’s that Positivity and it’s the WOO, I love the WOO, winning others over, because it’s that connection with what I’ve just said.  Being Nicky is fabulous because I love being me and when you are forced culturally to be somebody else it hoovers every ounce of energy you have in your body.

So let me interrupt as I want to ask two questions.  The first question I want to ask you is what’s Nicky like when you unleash that Positivity and WOO and then I want to ask about where this causes a struggle for you, if you stop being them.  So go on, what’s Nicky like when you unleash them?

Very dangerous – in a positive way!  I’m warm, I give others energy, I just have that aura around me that people want to spend time with me.  I can see opportunities where people haven’t seen opportunities before. I can look at things through a half full lens rather than half empty  and it’s quite interesting because there’s lots things going on in my brain right now about things that have gone on in the last probably few months and they could’ve pushed me over the edge, but that positivity strength has allowed me to see it through and put a perspective around it rather than becoming succumbed to it. So when I’m showing my strengths of winning others over and positivity, I’m just a powerful force to be reckoned with!

Amen – I’m just saying one word to that!  So let’s ask the opposite.  When have you not been them, either intentionally or not, either consciously or unconsciously and what’s that been like?  When have you not been the real Nicky?

I suppose I said it earlier about the shield around me, and everything sounds very dramatic but it felt like everything was against me so it was very hard to stay positive, if at all, so I became negative Nelly which is my nickname, not negative but Nelly!  I became very negative, everything was too difficult. I became very tired, worn out, demotivated, lacked energy.  I wouldn’t have the answers, I’d probably just look for problems, so completely the opposite to what I’ve described as a force to be reckoned with.  I was probably a real pain because I’d be negative. I’d know that my team would be on a tiptoes around me for fear that I would snap and show very much a negative approach rather than want to embrace people, want to meet new people, want to network, want to be with others.  I remember going to an HRD’s network for the Northwest and an HR director that’s known me for a long time coming up to me saying ‘are you okay?  you don’t seem yourself’ because I would be very matter-of-fact, very business-like rather than an appropriate joke or appropriate humour. So I would just be completely opposite and quite draining for others to be around is how I would describe it, so I do fear for my hubby when I, less so now, but there are days when you do go through difficult times.  But interestingly, ever since I’ve left and I’ve done what I’ve done, my husband says he’s got his wife back which is the true Nicky, the positive, the really energised, good fun, power to be reckoned with. Yeah so, interesting.

In your top ten you’ve got two talent themes Relator and WOO, that are both about people, about relationships and sometimes they are opposites, it’s not quite that simple but often if people are higher in one, they are lower in the other, but you’ve got both. You’ve got this WOO, this winning others over, this energy to break the ice with new people and make connections and you’ve got this Relator, this desire to form good, deep, strong, working relationships and work with people that you trust.  What happened to those two talents after your challenging experience in a previous organisation?  You talk about your shield.

I suppose I got stronger on the smaller group of people that I trusted and formed much stronger relationships with them because they were with me through my journey of discovery or release whatever the words are. So people that had perhaps been on the periphery that had warmed to me because of my positivity and being me, and I felt that they were just wanting to connect. It was me, they wanted to use my name or use my strength or whatever it was, I just let them fall to the wayside and if they wanted a real connection then they knew where I was.  So I suppose it’s that.  I suppose real deepness of friendship has grown stronger and I’ve found out through this journey who my real true friends are.  It’s still really important for me to network and to have a large group of acquaintances, that’s who I am you know. I know a lot of people, not quite everyone but a lot of people and they know me, and who they see is what you see when I’m in my strengths, the positive.  So I would say that probably through this journey my WOO and my closeness of who is in my inner sanctum, for want of a better phrase, is stronger, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy, because I meet, it’s part of my role at HPMA and in my own  consultancy, I need to build relationships. I like building relationships, it’s where I get energy from in making those connections and also connecting other people that I know together.  But yes I suppose the deepness of that wouldn’t have been there and it’s become again. Nowadays I still do it but I’m more choosy, is that the right word, about who I trust.

Yeah, intentional choice. So what’s it like to have the super power of Futuristic and Strategic combined?

It’s amazing! I think being Strategic and Futuristic and with that the Positivity, the future, anything is possible and you can see quite quickly solutions, ways of being, how things could be in the long-term, looking through very longer term lenses and being I suppose not dragged down by facts It’s about thinking whatever is possible could be possible so again it drives that passion, that energy, that motivation with people around you who want to be on your bus, so to speak, if they want to be on your journey, they like where you’re going.  They may not be on the same page as you but they’re reading the contents of the book you’re on, chapter 5.  So it’s that enthusiasm, that motivation of others, motivation of self and I think it is about that anything is possible attitude.

It comes across loud and clear. What are your weaknesses, what do you struggle with?  We’ve talked about your strengths and we can see a really powerful set of strengths but what do you struggle with? 

Data to a degree, that analytical nitty-gritty nuances detail so if I’m given a form to fill in, don’t like it. I like to have the freedom to write what I want to write as opposed to filling boxes, so it’s that.  I can be analytical but I don’t enjoy it, getting into the nitty-gritty because I think it drags my motivation down thinking you’re putting problems  in my way, actually I don’t want to think about that I just want to think about what is possible, to create that innovation, that creativity for me and for people around me.  So yeah I think analytical. Sometimes I can, what’s the word, I know what I want and I can be stubborn.

Are you saying that is a strength or a weakness?

I think it’s a weakness because you can lose people.  So you’ve got the ideas, you’ve got the concepts, you know it’s the right thing to do and because I’m futuristic and strategic, my ideas maybe thought of by others as no way on earth will we get there and they can’t catch up, so I think sometimes I go off on one, not literally, but go off thinking about what is possible and potentially lose people behind me along the way because I’ve not communicated as effectively as I could or in their language. So what are the details that they need to know so they believe in where we’re going is possible.  Some people need the facts, the figures, the evidence base, the context so I think because I’m pages ahead, chapters ahead, sometimes I lose people along the way.

It’s a common challenge for people who have got a strengths profile similar to yours that sometimes you just have to slow down and show people the working out and take them on the journey.

I think there is that thing about slowing down.   In the last week or so I’ve just noticed that we’re always busy, always like rushing somewhere and we don’t get there any quicker and actually you feel that sense of angst because inside you want things done, and actually I’ve started to be, I suppose, be mindful about just stop, slow down and just do things at a pace that the normal human being would do them rather than trying to do everything.  So it’s yeah, it’s the mindfulness is pretty powerful and just remembering to notice is very powerful.

So let’s move on.  On a theme of mindfulness, talk about mindset. What’s it like to be Nicky Ingham, what’s it like to be in your head? 

Chaotic.  I bet it’s quite noisy because my brain is always thinking about the next thing to do.  With the HPMA charity, it’s like where can we go, what’s possible, what’s feasible? Not thinking about logistics of things but actually what could we do.  So I would imagine it’s creative, it’s colourful, it’s bright, it’s very visual.  There’s lots of things going on, lots of ideas, lots of passion and lots of empathy and, it doesn’t go with empathy, but being an agitator.  Really wanting to shift the stigma associated with mental health and that it happens to anybody, but feeling really passionate about not being afraid to say what I think, not anymore, because not doing that got me to a dark place.  So being Nicky is great!  As I say it’s colourful, it’s imaginative, it’s creative, it’s warm, it’s contagious, is the word I’d use.  So being Nicky is energising, absolutely energising and that is contagious and just somebody good to be with and be around.

Good to hear!  We talk a lot about self-care, not being selfish and it’s really challenging sometimes to get people who care for others to see that. I’ve been working with healthcare chaplains, mental health chaplains in the NHS recently, helping them with their resilience and their self-care and it really worries me what we do about people who are always there serving other people.  So what do you think we can do to help people in caring professions who are always there for other people, to see that self-care is not selfish?

Well the first thing I’d say to you Ian is that the word selfish is not a word I use.  I like to reframe it to be more ‘self-full’ – whether that word exists in the dictionary or not but somebody once said to me when I used the words “I’m being selfish by spending too much time investing in myself”, it’s about being self-full.  Because at the end of the day, we all are human beings, we all have lives beyond the job title, and what’s on the badge, and actually resilient, to be the best you can be.  If you are on an aircraft they always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping other people.  So it’s not about being selfish, it’s being self-full and actually topping your energy levels up.  So if you were a car you’d put diesel or petrol in it, it’s topping your engines up to be the best you can be so that you can be there for other people and you can do your best in whatever role that you’re in.  In future, reframe it to being self-full.

So self-care is not selfish, rather self-care is self-full.  Love that!

I am a different person because of the experience though.  I think life throws you things for a reason and if I hadn’t had gone to the organisation I went to, if I hadn’t gone through the experience I’ve gone through, if I hadn’t got the balance of life and work out of kilter in both parties, I wouldn’t have been able to escape the world I was in and to embrace the opportunities I’ve got now.  My life is so different now and yes, sometimes I think someone’s going to wake me up and say it’s all been a dream, because every day I get to do work I love without the bureaucracy of infrastructure, organisational design, whatever it might be, and I get to be 100% authentically me and that’s just amazing!

And we’ve talked about impact and changing the world and things like that and then maybe being less ambitious and making a change on a bit of it.  What dint do you want to leave on this world?  What impact do you want to make?

I think it’s the legacy around the authentic you and it’s okay to be you and the sooner you realise that the more enjoyable life becomes.  So you’re not trying to be somebody that you’re not.  It’s about the role that my profession, so HR and OD, so the role we take. We shouldn’t be at the table, we should be moving the table, we should be the architect of change.  We’re all too polite within the profession in my view and we put up with a lot and it’s about time that we were a force to be reckoned with, that people really felt that they couldn’t do without us and that you don’t have to justify why you need to be at the table, you’re automatically there.  So it’s that legacy of good HR/OD practice. The importance of the people dynamic in any organisation and how quickly that can become toxic if you don’t support the right culture, the right behaviours and challenge poor behaviour but also support and celebrate good behaviour in an organisation, and with that is that authenticity.   Because you’re told on your checklist of things a manager must do, to say thank you, do this, do the other, it’s that genuine authentic that you care for your team and you care about what you do and you make a huge huge difference to your staff and obviously within the health field for me, the patient, which is what we’re all here for.  So be authentic, be yourself, be you because everyone is amazing.

So, there’s the dint you want to leave, the legacy, let’s go further back.  You can answer these one or two questions?  What do you wish you’d known when you were younger or what would you say to your younger self?  What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s a great question Ian that! I would say to my younger self, you should’ve listened to what other people were saying about your ability, who Nicky was, that actually being around Nicky was good, and not listening to the inner critic and turning it around to be listening because it’s there to notice.  It’s either there to be noticed to do something with or there to notice to park it and move on from.  Don’t wallow, don’t be a hippo as the Sumo guy would say.  Embrace life for what it gives you, it’s very short and it can be taken away in a blink of an eye.  Don’t spend too much time over-thinking, listen because those around you and those that are close to you know you and sometimes you don’t listen to them because you want that recognition.  Because recognition is a big thing for me and it’s the right people giving me that recognition.  That may never happen if you are always constantly looking for it, and it’s completely draining and demotivating, so actually listen to those that know you best which are your closest friends and family, and stay true to self and be you. Don’t try and be something that you’re not or somebody that you’re not, be yourself and accept that being you is fab!

Be yourself sounds like a really great summary of the advice on which to end so just to say, Nicky Ingham, thank you so so much for sharing your story with us.  Thank you.

Thank you very much for the opportunity.  It’s been really cathartic the experience to be honest and actually being able to listen to myself verbalise the journey is, what’s the word, liberating I suppose.  I like that word!

You can find Nicky Ingham on Twitter – @nickyinghamICTP & @nellymcginty and on LinkedIn

(Music licensed from the very talented Isaac Indiana)