How many times have you experienced the ramifications of this perceived axiom? The nursing profession is replete with casualties of this faulty premise. An excellent nurse/clinician is thrust into leadership with the rationale that "you are such a great nurse you'll be a great leader!"
They are then thrust into the arena with little or no preparation, training, or support. When the ill-prepared house of cards falls there is utter dismay because it fell and the "great nurse" may even lose that title as well. The whispering "maybe so and so wasn't such a good nurse after all" fills the atmosphere of the organization. The search for another "great nurse" begins as the cycle continues to wreak havoc on work teams and projects.
Contrary to what most people seem to believe, leadership skills are taught more than they are caught. Like most skills, there is careful study, intentional preparation, and practical application involved in the development of a leader. Let's take a look at these three ideas and how they can help to develop leadership skills.
For me, personally speaking, you cannot go wrong by employing Biblical principles to anything in life that you are doing. Having said that, just a couple of principles come to mind:
1) The Golden Rule:
Treat people as you would like to be treated (Luke 6:31).
This is a great place to start no matter where you are or what you are doing. An excellent foundation for interaction with all humans no matter when, where or in what context is wrapped up in this principle.
2) The Servant Leader:
"If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35).
So much could be said about this principle! History is filled with examples of "Servant Leaders." Gerard Thom (c. 1040-1120), the founder of the Hospitallers, male nurse, the servant leader is one such example. Others include; James Derham (c. 1757-1802), the first African-American to practice medicine in the US. He bought his freedom working as a nurse! Study leadership and study leaders, both good and bad.
Intentional preparation is linked to a careful study by self-reflection: what you hope to accomplish as you serve others. Set aside time to prepare for your leadership development and be intentional.
A great friend and mentor to me over the years has been Dr. George Manning, psychology professor and author of, The Art of Leadership (ISBN-13: 978-0078029080). I highly recommend this text for anyone with leadership aspirations. A character study of good leaders that are around you or leaders that you have had is an excellent source of intentional preparation too. Remember that there are lessons to be learned from bad leaders too. Learn from their mistakes, even if they are sure that they have never made any. I have been influenced by and learned much from several excellent leaders over the past 30 years, but I have also seen many fail and fall hard because of the application of the premise that titles this article. Much is learned from these leaders as well.
Practical application is simply putting into practice the things that you are studying, learning and teaching about leadership as you go. No matter where you are in life you are leading others in some way or another. The issue is: are you doing it intentionally because of your study and practice of leadership or is it unintentional, just because you are a great nurse?
I have personally seen this "great nurse =great leader" model many times over the years and it is a sad disservice to unprepared leaders being developed by unprepared leaders. Years ago, a great nurse friend of mine was hired by our company as a flight nurse. She was an "excellent" critical care nurse. Before she could get her bearings as a flight nurse and how that all worked, she was put in charge as the base supervisor; the leader of seven highly autonomous clinicians that were experienced in critical care flight operations. It was an extremely difficult time for her because no one prepared her for the leadership aspects of her non-clinical duties. With some mentoring and coaching by several seasoned veterans and a willingness to learn and study leadership she weathered the storm and became successful, but there were times when she was almost written off as a nurse failure. This phenomenon happens way too often in healthcare in general and nursing in particular. We need to break this pattern. Intentional action is required.
Finally, let me encourage the new and the old, the novice and the expert: Lead right where you are! People are looking for leadership everywhere. Remember to serve others and you will lead others. It is also extremely helpful to be a good follower, but that is another article for another day. What has your experience shown you in these matters? Please feel free to share your personal insights with others; ask questions, share knowledge! Nurse on!