Recently several Generation X nurse leaders have told me that some Baby Boomer nurse leaders are having serious problems letting go in their leadership whether it be in the work setting or professional organizations.
In their international best selling book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner identify enabling others to act as one of the five key practices of exemplary leaders. Leaders they note can’t do it alone nor should they. Enabling others to act happens through building trust, fostering collaboration and strengthening others. Enabling others to act should be a very intentional part of leadership but often, it is not. Many leaders are too insecure to strengthen their teams members and worry that they could be displaced. I often hear nurse leaders say that there is no one to pass the torch to but I have not found that to be true. What I do see is many leaders who have the mistaken belief that there is only one torch and fail to light the torch of others. Kouzes and Posner offer the following suggestions to enable others to act:
1. Create a climate of trust and be the first to trust others
Mutual respect and trust is what leads to organizational achievement. Lighting the torch requires trust and a recognition that there are many different ways to accomplish goals.
2. Demonstrate genuine concern for the work of others
To enable others to act, you must recognize that work is all about relationships with others. You want to build supportive relationships and ask what support is needed.
3. Share your knowledge and information
Some leaders intentionally withhold important information from their team because they worry about losing power. To enable others, you must share what you know. To do otherwise is to sabotage and undermine team efforts. The interesting outcome is that the most powerful leaders are also often the most generous with their time and knowledge.
4. Structure projects to promote teamwork
Most leadership accomplishments are the outcome of a team effort. To enable others, you need to structure work so that it promotes teamwork and not team dysfunction. The ability to work effectively on teams is a skill that future leaders need and increasingly, these teams should be interdisciplinary.
5. Foster self-confidence
In my work with Generation Y nurses, I have found that there is a real fear of failure among this group. It is important for current leaders to promote realistic self-confidence with constructive feedback.
6. Build a culture of accountability
Despite whatever happens with health reform, one aspect of the leadership role will never change and that is the need to accept accountability. Harry Truman often said “the buck stops here”. Effective leaders don’t duck the accountability and responsibility even when the outcomes are not good.
7. Adopt the role of coach
Sports coaches know that they will not be out on the field playing the game – they need to light the torch of their team members so they can perform at their highest level. Ask two simple questions – What can I do to help you get the most out of this experience? and What can I do to help you to sharpen your talents and strengthen your skills?
8. Structure roles to allow latitude and growth
In every role, there should be an opportunity to grow one’s leadership skills. You need to identify for staff how they can do this within the context of their work. It might be participation on a unit council, task force or committee. It may be serving as a preceptor or chairing a community event.
So as leaders we need to ask whether we are lighting the torch of our future leaders or extinguishing the flame. Kouzes and Posner in their discussions about leadership legacy make a strong case for leaders to think beyond their own achievements and to appreciate that others will inherit what we leave behind. They recommend that we ask, “What can I do to ensure that their experience will be better than mine? It all begins with lighting the torch.
Read to Lead
Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2012 5th Edition). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kouzes PA. & Posner B. (2006). A leader’s legacy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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