Practice Plan meets Diane Youdale

Former Gladiator, turned business coach, talks leadership and managing change

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In the nineties, she was a star of Saturday night TV as Jet in The Gladiators. For the past 20 years Diane Youdale (AKA Jet) has been a coaching mentor to businesses and individuals, working with hundreds of people from a range of professions. Practice Plan was delighted to catch up with Diane to find out her advice on stress, change and people management…

Practice Plan (PP): Diane, thanks for chatting with us, can I start by asking what have you been up to since the days of Jet and The Gladiators?

Diane Youdale (DY): I’ve been doing some broadcasting and journalism work, but my real passion is the world of psychology. So, I did a four-year training course in psychotherapy, including a placement at the Royal Surrey Hospital where I ended up working for five years formulating and implementing a staff well-being programme. I also completed a Neuro-Linguistic Programming course, and continued to see private psychotherapy patients.

Combining all my experience, training and interests I created my Core Philosophy programme in 2000 and now offer coaching to businesses and individuals, as well as present seminars about how people can empower themselves, achieve their goals and make the right decisions for them.

PP: It sounds like a world away from Gladiators, did you have any worries about making such a big change?

DY: I knew it was a change I wanted to make, because I’d had this seed of passion for psychology since a young age. I think that word ‘passion’ is key, because what you are passionate about is what you value – and when you value something, you are truly motivated about it.

PP: We work with a lot of dentists who are making the move from NHS to private. Based on your experience of making a career shift, how can other people wanting to make a professional change go about taking that first step, which can sometimes feel really scary?

DY: You need to nurture the part of you that has that vision to achieve something different. Often, we have an urge inside of us for a long time, and we keep coming back to it again and again – you need to keep listening to that part of you, that gut instinct. I’m also a big believer in looking for models of excellence, either within your own field or in a related area, and finding out how they operate.

In terms of dental practices, if you were introducing a change like setting up your own private practice, you could ask others about the finer details, whatever you’re unsure of; for example, how they went about communicating the move to patients, whether they recruited any new staff or if they upgraded their premises or equipment. The key is research, pick people’s brains and then that vision you have will become more three-dimensional and all those unknown bits won’t be so daunting.

And have the confidence in yourself that you have done the leg-work; you have the knowledge to succeed.

PP: People who are making a big change like the one you mentioned are often in a position of control over a team, but leadership doesn’t always come naturally. How do they gain confidence in people management?

DY: People in management or leadership positions should have a good knowledge and experience of each and every role beneath them, whether that’s in a team of 20 or nine people. It used to be the case that managers just delegated, but we see through that these days. No one is saying a team leader should be able to do every single role in the team, however if you spend time understanding what each member of your team does, that higher level of knowledge will enable you to speak confidently about how you want that role executed.

It will also mean you can set realistic expectations and better support your staff in their development, which will help to avoid the separatism, and ‘them and us’ mentality that can sometimes arise in the workplace. If your team feel that everyone is on a level playing field, it will make leading them that little bit easier.

Having said that, if there are aspects of leading a team that you are not confident in, but you know one of your colleagues is – why not use them as a sub? Let them take the lead on certain things, and learn from how they do it,

I would also think back to people you have worked for in the past, and think about what it is that you liked about the way they managed you. You can use them as a role model, and emulate the elements of their style that you think worked well.

As a leader, there may well be times when you need to be direct and straightforward, and that can make some people really uncomfortable. To approach these situations with confidence, and avoid them becoming emotionally charged, I advise people to prepare and rehearse. By which I mean speak the words out loud, so when you need to do it for real you will have the skills available to do it in a well thought-out, considered way.

PP: Whatever your goals are, there will always be obstacles that get thrown up along the way, how can you stay motivated to achieve it?

DY: You have to find out what keeps that spring in your step, and then make sure that you indulge in that – whatever it is. You need to keep giving yourself little treats, for me, that’s a nice bath and a good book. I actually think of them as absolute necessities, because without them you can’t keep going and you will be pulled down.

You need to nurture yourself with positive rewards, which will help to quiet that inner voice we have that tries to tell us we’re not good enough. The mind and body are integrated, they work together so if mentally you are feeling de-motivated, a physical change can have a huge difference – doing a little bit of exercise and moving more, or making an effort to eat well can have a big impact.

PP: Whether you’re in a leadership position or not, balancing work and life can be challenging at times, and people often feel under immense pressure to meet demands placed on them by themselves or outside forces. What’s your advice for dealing with this type of stress?

DY: When we become stressed, we catastrophise and our bodies go into a cortisol cycle which effects your hormones and energy levels. That’s why when we’re stressed we don’t sleep as well and our appetite changes, because of shifts in our melatonin and adrenaline levels. Personally, if I get stressed I do some mindless exercise like running or HIT because it will burn off the adrenaline and cortisol induced by stress.

If you begin to see those signs of stress and you are aware that you are catastrophising – looking at the bigger picture too much – then you need to split that picture down. I get people to compartmentalise whatever it is they’re worried about with a visualisation exercise where they imagine putting aspects of whatever is stressing them out into boxes, shutting the lid and gently putting them back on the shelf.

This can help people to prioritise what they need to address now, placing the least important issues on the shelf for later. This makes the whole issue feel much more manageable and, whilst it may still exist, by picturing yourself closing the lid on smaller elements of it, your physical response will become much calmer.

Secondly, if you feel your health is affected then you may need to hand over some work or decisions to another person while you take some time out, for an hour, a day or a week if necessary.

PP: Thanks very much for speaking with us and sharing your advice, it’s given us plenty to think over.

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