Why do we struggle so much to compartmentalise our lives? Why do we try to cultivate an ‘at work persona’ which bears little , if any, resemblance to who we really are? Is it possible to bring the real me to work and still to ‘succeed’? And how has this been impacted by the experience of working from home through the pandemic? These were the issues addressed by Romaine Thompson, former senior partner of Anthony Collins Solicitors, who spoke at our January City Women lunch on ”Bringing myself to work: is that a good idea?”.
Romaine worked as a lawyer in Birmingham city centre for 30 years until she retired from legal practice in 2016. Whilst she was a partner for the bulk of those years her biggest challenge (and her greatest reward) came as she served for almost 10 years as senior partner of Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP. She knows first-hand what it’s really like to be a leader both in the ordinary run of the mill routine and in extraordinarily challenging times. And throughout her working life she has grappled with the challenge of bringing herself to her work.
Romaine focused on authenticity. Authenticity demands that I am the same person all the time, with all my strengths and joys, all my weaknesses and flaws and all my struggles. It’s hard to be authentic – and all the harder when we’re in a work environment that demands us to be effective, efficient, competent and reliable. But it’s so important to engage with the struggle for authenticity at work and beyond because:
- Life is messy and to engage with it fully we have to grapple with tensions that it generates.
- If we’re not authentic, we compartmentalise – and, as a person of faith, Romaine recognises the risk that our faith then gets relegated to mere religious observance.
- Doing so allows space where we and others can flourish.
If I’m going to bring myself to work, that presupposes that I know something about myself. It takes effort and time to pay attention to who we are and who we are becoming.
Romaine shared her own story. When she qualified as a solicitor in the mid-80s, she was given a secretary and encouraged to grow a team working alongside her. At that stage she adopted an “expert commander” style of leadership, which she suspects did not bless her team.
When Romaine became a charity law partner at 29, she joined 6 or 7 male colleagues as an equal peer. It was important to be able to influence peers – and for a decade or more she observed partners doing leadership out of relationship, rather than power or position.
Romaine became senior partner reluctantly, when a vacancy arose because of the death of a very dear friend. At that time of life, she had responsibility for elderly dependents (including her parents) and realised that her caring responsibilities would only increase. When she questioned with a trusted friend how it could be right to be considered for the role of senior partner against this backdrop, the wise response was, “What if you can show that the senior partner role can be done differently, alongside these responsibilities?” She moved, in time, from being a reluctant/anxious senior partner, living with imposter syndrome, to enjoying the role and responsibility, learning to live a life that isn’t about compartments.
Romaine referred to The Message version of Romans 12:1: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” In Os Guinness’s book, “The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life”, we are encouraged to offer all of our life to God: “Responding to [Jesus’] call touches the world of fishing as well as preaching, the depths of the lake, not just the shore.” (p167).
Over the years, Romaine has worked hard to understand herself. She hated self-assessment tools initially, but has moved to taking every opportunity to work with a mentor or with tools like the Enneagram, working with others to interpret and understand more. This involves honouring and accepting our weakness and being willing to ask for help: together-ness is important on this journey. Simon Walker in his book “The Undefended Leader: Leading Out Of Who You Are – Discovering The Secret Of Undefended Leadership” urges us to overcome the desire, ”to manage what they [the audience] see of [us]” (p32). When we are open to our vulnerability, we give space for others to support us and we also give space for others to be real/vulnerable too.
Romaine finished by sharing Degas’ picture of David and Goliath. Theologian Jane Williams writes about the sketch in the following terms: “David does not try to use Goliath’s weapons. He is not overawed into believing that there is only one kind of strength. He brings what he is to the fight: he is a shepherd boy; he has spent years defending his sheep from the wild animals, never needing a sword or armour, and he does not lose confidence now, just because Goliath has more conventional weaponry………….. Degas’ sketch shows us the sheer exuberance and exhilaration of David’s trust in the unlikely weapon whirling above his head. This is the beginning of an adventure to discover what kind of might a shepherd has.” (From “The Art of Advent” by Jane Williams p86-9). David brings what he is to the fight – his own authenticity. Can we have the courage to bring our own selves, our own authenticity, to work?
Participants valued “Romaine’s thought-provoking contribution”: “Romaine’s story was inspiring and good to hear how her leading adapted at different stages, and how she grew and developed herself”.
Hear Romaine’s wisdom in the video below:
Our next City Women Virtual Lunch is on Monday 21 February from 1-2pm. Our City Women Virtual Lunches give an opportunity to listen to, support and encourage, one another – they provide an open discussion forum for all participants. We’ve listened to City Women feedback and you’ve said you’d value more time to discuss the issues we focus on for our City Women lunches. So for our February City Women Virtual Lunch, we’ll be using Romaine’s reflections as our springboard into conversation, “Bringing myself to work – is that a good idea?” If you’d like to join us, please book your place here: https://chaplaincyplus.org.uk/event/city-women-virtual-lunch-bringing-myself-to-work/
If you’d value the opportunity for a 1:1 discussion, exploring any connections you are making about being yourself at work, you are welcome to get in touch and we can arrange to meet: do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0798 224 8949.
City Women Leader