How Did You Become the Leader?

I have always had this inquisitive and curious mind about ‘how can we do things better?’. It was this question that guided my early work in leadership during my nursing education.

Many years ago, asking the question ‘how can we do things better’ led me to look at the formal leaders within nursing – from nursing education, across all areas of nursing care and institutions and governing organizations. Stephen Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ greatly impacted my thinking.

Habit #2 is ‘begin with the end in mind’. I wanted to know if formal leaders fix their sights on ‘becoming’ the Chief Nursing Officer, the Director of Nursing, the Dean of Nursing, the President of CAN (Canadian Nursing Association) just to name a few. Did the ‘corporate ladder’ and the striving for higher and higher education and status that I saw all around in business and growing organizations exist the same way in healthcare, health education and our public health care system?

I was persistent and determined to meet with the list of leaders I had compiled. These were busy nurses, but something in my request must have touched their own reflection on how they got to be where they were – their story – and they saw value in sharing it with a young inquisitive nurse.

What I learned impacted my nursing career and continues even to this day.

The conversations all began with ‘Did you always want to be the Dean, Director, President?’. Here is what they shared.
None of them ever had their eyes set on a specific role or job. They told stories of challenge or crisis that emerged in each of their areas of practice that led them to take a chance, to speak up and articulate a new way of doing things, or a new perspective to address a challenge, or a completely radical change that should be considered.

They believed in themselves, they were passionate about nursing and in the role of nursing in healthcare. They learned how to lead along the way and did not do this alone. They all had their own story of those that supported them, listened to their ideas, and encouraged them along the journey.

Looking ahead to the emerging future out of the current pandemic, I am once again thinking about the opportunity nurses will have to lead and bring transformation to healthcare. Will we do it?

Typically, in healthcare the same pattern is seen as in business and corporate organizations. Those that are ‘best’ in their field are elevated to the next level of manager or leader. If fact, it is part of my career story.

Those nurses that are ‘the best’ in their role at the bedside, or point of care in their field are encouraged to move forward, move up the ladder, take the next level of nursing role, fill a void because they are good at what we see them currently doing and how well they are doing it. But then that nurse isn’t given the tools, training, mentoring, coaching or support that they need to succeed, to thrive, to build the skill sets and leadership they need. We have learned that the best and most successful formal leaders have mentors, role models and support along their journey. Something that every generation of nurses needs.

These are lessons we have learned, and if we apply new thinking moving forward, we CAN affect transformational change. We need to invest in leadership of all nurses, not just executives. Leadership starts with personal development, so IMAGINE if every nurse had the opportunity to be coached and mentored to reach their leadership potential. IMAGINE what this would be like for them, their peers, their patients, and their employers. PRICELESS!

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