One of the difficult things to deal with as an individual is when you have worked hard to build something up, and then it is taken away from you. Someone else gets to take your work onto the next stage. This can feel very unfair, and people are often makes people angry. What is going on in these situations and who is responsible?
Father Sam took a deep breath and entered the chamber. Pacing up and down, red eyed and steaming with anger, was Princess Sabina. She turned to Father Sam, looking at him across a table piled high with papers. “It has all been a total waste of time.” she shouted, sweeping a whole load of papers on the floor.
Then a pause. “It is so unfair.” she cried, her shoulders slumping, then shaking uncontrollably as she turned her face so Sam could not see the tears streaming down her cheeks.
The Friar stood quietly, calmly giving the Princess the space she needed to get composed. After while she nodded and he led her to a couple of chairs that were by a tall window.
He looked at her, and after a pause that seemed to hang in the air for minutes, though in reality it was just a few seconds, gently said, “So, why not tell me about it?”
It all came out, hesitantly at first but then like a waterfall that could not stop. Sam knew much of the story already, but Sabina needed to get it all out. She told about how, five years previously, she had gone to the King, her cousin, with an idea of setting up a gallery that would showcase art from Mantava.
This was a bold proposal, art was normally only seen in churches and palaces, or occasionally a painting on the wall of a rich merchant’s house. King Philip had been sceptical, but Sabina had been persistent, and he had let her have use of an old storehouse by the city gate. She had cajoled and persuaded a host of people to help her, first making some windows and then plastering and painting the rough walls. She had gone around all the noble families, convincing them to lend her art from their collections. She chose the works carefully, making sure that there were examples all the great artists of Mantava.
She also encouraged contemporary art. She persuaded Archbishop Anselm to commission a painting celebrating the life of St Bridgit. She got the sculptor, Anna Gerdes, to donate the preparatory sketches that she had done for her famous statue celebrating the legend of the foundation of Penza by the fugitive Prince Eneas.
Princess Sabina had slaved day and night on the project, and it had been a remarkable success. At first few people had visited; they did not know what to expect. But soon it was one of the most popular places to visit. People even travel to the city to visit it. They marvelled at the ability to look at the whole range of art, seeing how different styles are developed.
The Princess paused, took a deep breath and said, “I was so happy, but I wish now we had not been so successful.”
Sam looked at her, leaned across and put his hand on hers, “Tell me, why you say that?”
The next stage
Sabina took a deep gulp, “The King was so supportive. He would often come down to the gallery, he was pleased with what I had done. So, he asked me what I wanted to do next.”
“I said that most of the art we had was borrowed. We needed a fund so we could buy new art. I thought half of it could be used for new works and the rest to build up the historic collection.”
“The King was enthusiastic, and he wanted to endow the fund with 5000 crowns from the exchequer. He told me I could use it to develop the work of the gallery. But then that fat crook, the Chancellor, started to create problems.”
Sam raised an eyebrow, and Sabina ploughed on, “He told the King that it would look bad if he just gave money to me, his cousin. He worked on the King and told him that there should be an open competition for the fund, that a panel should decide on who could best use the money.”
“And what did the King say to you?” said Sam.
“He told me not to worry, he said no one else done what I had done and that there would be no competition. The Chancellor would chair the panel. I asked if he would be on it, and he said that might be difficult, as we are related. I trusted him.”
“But when Sir Percy Dewhurst showed interest in the job. I should have been worried. You know he is the youngest son of Baron Wakefield. They were one of the few families who did not lend us any art. I should have smelt a rat when the family suddenly agreed to loan us ‘the Martyrdom of St Priscilla’ which I had been badgering them for. Sir Percy had only ever visited the gallery once. While his family have a great collection, he showed no interest in art.”
“Suddenly Sir Percy was everywhere. He started going to the lectures on art history we have been running. He was going around all of the churches and manors talking about art.”
“And what did you do?” asked Sam.
“I was preparing a new exhibition of art from the monastery of Sion. I needed to concentrate on that, making sure it was good. To be honest I was not worried, the King told me that the job was mine.”
“And the interview?”
“It was yesterday, and it seemed to go well. I told them about the plans for next year, to rehang the pictures on the top floor and to find some sculptures for the courtyard.”
“The King came to see me this morning. He was really upset, but he said the panel had picked Percy. It is so unfair! I built this, I nearly killed myself to make it a success, and they have given to that halfwit. I cannot believe it!” Sabina railed.
“Did he say why?”
“Apparently, Sir Percy has a strategic vision. Apparently, Sir Percy has got a whole load of people to promise to donate their paintings. Apparently, Sir Percy is going to take some of the exhibition to other countries to promote Mantava. Apparently, I have done a fantastic job building the gallery, but it is time for a new person to take the project to the next phase.” She said bitterly.
“Sir Percy even had the cheek to write to me this afternoon.” she exclaimed, pulling a letter from her pocket and waving it under Sam’s nose. “He commiserated with me and then went on to offer me the role of curator of the gallery. He clearly expects me to do all the work while he swans around and gets all the glory.”
What went wrong?
“Tell me, what you feel?”
“I feel so angry, I feel betrayed.”
“It is what the King did. He should have overruled the Chancellor. He could have overruled the panel. He should have supported me. It is just not fair.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
Sabina responded quickly, “He was afraid of the Chancellor's disapproval. He did not want to confront him. I am not important enough for him to fight the Chancellor over.”
Sam listened, and then let a silence hang between them for a moment. Finally, he asked, “Does that fit in with how the King normally behaves to you?”
A long pause, and then Sabina shook her head, “No, it does not. He had gone out of his way to support me in the past – a lot of people thought he should not have allowed me to have the storehouse, and he had to insist that some of the paintings from the Palace could be shown there.”
“So, can you think of any other reasons why he stood back?”
There was a long silence, as Sabina looked out of the window and beyond the trees in the field, her eyes still full of tears. “Maybe,” she tentatively suggested, “Maybe he was standing back to let me have the opportunity to do it on my own. So that people would not think that any success was because the King was my cousin?”
There was a pause. Sam said, “You need more time to think through all this, but what have you learned from this so far?”
Sabina thought for a moment. “It is that I should not have relied on others, like the King. I should have taken more responsibility for my appointment.”
“I also need to tell people what I have done. I think people should recognise and see what I did in setting up the gallery, but they clearly did not.”
“Maybe I did not think enough about the future. I was so busy running it I did not think the opportunities that extra money offers.”
Sam nodded, “You have done a lot today. Let’s stop there. Can I come and see you in a few days and we can talk some more?”
“Yes,” she said, rising. “and I now need to go and write a letter to Sir Percy about where he can stuff his curatorship.”
This story is unresolved. We do not know if the panel made the right decision. Maybe it was time for a new vision. Maybe Princess Sabina was a victim of discrimination. Maybe Percy is a smooth-talking opportunist.
We do not know, and even with hindsight - unless things at the gallery go badly wrong - we will not be able to tell if the right decision was made because we cannot know what would have happened if Sabina had been appointed.
But we can see Sabina’s righteous anger. With hindsight the situation could have been better handled by the King and by the appointments panel. However, what could Sabina have done differently? While you can blame others for what they have done, you only have control over your own actions.
Father Sam helps Sabina move towards a more constructive understanding of the situation. Most people would need much more time to make such progress. Sam allowed himself to be the cathartic focus of Sabina’s anger and hurt. People need to be able to tell their story. He also uses a cognitive behavioural coaching approach to help the Princess, getting her to analyse what she is feeling, what was the trigger for that, and what the beliefs she had about that. That gives a framework to dispute those beliefs.
Leaders often find themselves in the position of King Philip, of Princess Sabina, of the Chancellor. There always seem to be too many people like Sir Percy in organisations! But to be fair to him, we only have Sabina’s perspective on events.
Time will tell whether it was a wise appointment.
The Lonely King
Other posts in the Lonely King series available here
An executive coach and consultant. Andrew has been held senior roles in universities. His interests include medical research and innovation, education, leadership and research ethics.
Web page: ajtg.co.uk
Blog page: andrewgeorgeblog.com
© 2019, Andrew George, all rights reserved
Published 25 November 2019