Developing Leadership Skills

Barbara Brunt, MA, MN, RN-BC, NE-BC is an Education Consultant and past ANPD President.

 Leadership is not a title - anyone can be a leader.  All NPD specialists, regardless of our role, can continue to develop leadership skills.  I have used the letters of the word leadership to outline some of the characteristics of a leader.


          Learning is critical to leadership – learning and competence matter.  We need to be lifelong learners and constantly seek out new knowledge.  We learn by making mistakes – they help us grow and are NOT failures.  Thomas Edison said “I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that will not work”, and “our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”  There are multiple resources for your professional development, such as webinars, books, online courses, etc, available through ANPD.


          Empowering others is important.   Webster defines empowerment as “giving power or authority to or give ability to”.  We need to help our coworkers and others feel significant, showing concern and caring.  Pierre de Chardin said, “The most empowering relationships are those in which each partner lifts the other to a higher possession of their own being.”  We need to lift others up to fully develop our own leadership skills.


          Accountability and aspiring for excellence are other characteristics of leadership.  Leaders take accountability for their decisions, and constantly aspire to be the best they can be.  We need to continually strive for excellence, even though we realize we may not get there.


          Driving innovation is another component of leadership.  Webster defines innovation as introducing new methods or devices.  All of us need to question why – because we have always done it that way is not an acceptable answer.  There is an increasing amount of literature providing the best evidence for our care – leaders need to constantly look for better ways of doing things.  Consider applying for a research grant, if you want to validate an innovative approach to teaching or NPD practice.


          Embracing change is a critical skill in today’s ever-changing health care environment.  Change is a constant, and we need to accept that fact.   John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life.  And those who only look to the past or present are sure to miss the future.”  Not only do we need to accept change, but we need to serve as change agents to help others cope with change.  A few of my favorite quotes about change are:

Gandi – Be the change you wish to see in the world

Socrates – The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not into fighting the old but on building the new

Norm Brodsky (Entrepreneur) – Either you are an agent of change or you are destined to become a victim of change.  You simply can’t survive over the long haul by standing still. 

I think these quotes emphasize the importance of your reaction to change.


          Resolving conflicts is essential to success when applying leadership skills.  Conflict is inevitable and we need to deal with it rather than letting it fester.  Resolving conflicts is often not pleasant and we tend to procrastinate when there is something we don’t want to do; however, that will not make the conflicts go away.  The first step to conflict resolution is to recognize what factors contribute to conflict.  Some of these are:  differences in values, fear, miscommunication, treatment of others, honesty, and attitudes.  Four basic strategies for resolving conflicts are accommodation, assertion, avoidance, and negotiation. 


          Serving others and seeking out a mentor are two other leadership characteristics.  Servant leadership can be helpful in getting others to work towards a common goal.  Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.  People love to follow servant leaders


          A mentor can open doors and present opportunities for your personal and professional growth.  A mentor is different from a preceptor.  Mentors do not have to work in the same facility or even be in the same state.  Belinda Puetz is one of my mentors.  When I was actively involved in the National Nursing Staff Development Organization, she was the Executive Director of that group.  The American University of Beirut in Lebanon was looking for a staff development consultant to do an on-site visit, and she suggested they contact me.  I went there back in 1999 and helped them further develop their staff development program.  Gladys Mouro, who was the CNO at that time, became a board member of STTI later.  I believe her letter of support helped me receive one of the STTI Founders awards, because of the emphasis on global impact.


          Honing collaboration and teamwork skills are critical skills for leaders.  With the focus on interprofessional education and teamwork, we need to work closely with other members of the healthcare team.  With the complexity of health care today, it takes a village with multiple skill sets to most effectively care for our patients. Research has long suggested that interprofessional collaboration improves coordination, communication and, ultimately, the quality and safety of patient care. It utilizes both the individual and collective skills and experience of team members, allowing them to function more effectively and deliver a higher level of services than each would working alone.


          Inspiring others and getting involved is important.  Providing a clear vision can motivate others to become more involved.  Great leaders inspire others.  John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  ANPD has a lot of opportunities for you to get involved in whatever activities resonate with you.  You can become involved by being a part of a committee, or volunteering for a task force or specific task, such as reviewing chapters in ANPD publications.


          Providing feedback is the last leadership characteristic.  The important of clear and frequent communication, both written and verbal, can’t be overemphasized.  You need to let your coworkers know what they are doing well, or if there are things they could be doing better.  My background as an English teacher has served me well throughout my career – I love to write, and my initial education provided me with the tools to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing. 


          You never know what difference you will make in someone’s life. I challenge all of you to develop your leadership skills and make a difference.  


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