The Importance of Second Chances

The Importance of Second Chances

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”   George Bernard Shaw

“Will you take another chance on me? “ This was a question that one of my former students who had failed out the graduate program asked me.  She had begun her graduate work when she was young, immature and lacking focus.  Five years later, she was in my office and appeared to be a much wiser and mature.  I was impressed with how much reflection she had done on her past performance, and her willingness to accept responsibility for what had happened.  “So what will your expectations be if I am allowed back”, she asked.  I thought about the question before I responded.  I told her that I would be going out on a limb to recommend her readmission, and she needed to prove that my confidence in her is well placed.   I wanted to know what she would do differently.

This conversation reminded me of the importance of second chances.  Nurse leaders throughout their careers are periodically asked by staff to take a leap of faith, and give them a second chance.  Making these decisions is not always easy.  Here are some questions to consider as you individually evaluate each situation:

1.  How serious were the problems that led to failure?

There are some problems that led to failure that may be too serious to consider giving the individual a second chance.  Most nurse leaders are reluctant to give a second chance to a nurse who has diverted drugs, even when the individual goes through rehabilitation.  A time and attendance issue might be a very different situation if trust was not fractured, and there were extenuating circumstances.  Organizational human resource policies often play a big role in whether a leader can even consider a second chance in certain situations.

2.  Where are they in their professional development?

In the case situation above, the nurse involved was very young when the failure occurred.  Although we all make mistakes, younger staff often lack the judgement that evolves with more life experience and career development.  Traumatic life experiences can also drive behavioral changes that lead to failure, and these also need to be considered.

3.  Have they learned from the failure?

This is an important question to consider.  When the staff member does not take full accountability for what happened, it is unlikely that they have learned what they need to know to be successful.

4.  What we will they do differently if given a second chance?

When I give staff a second chance, I expect to hear what behaviors will change to create success a second time around.

5.  Is the environment conducive to helping them succeed?

The culture of a unit or organization needs to be considered when giving staff a second chance.  Will they be supported by those they work with, or is the trust irrevocably fractured.  As well intentioned as you might be, you could be setting the individual up for a second failure if the culture is not supportive.

6.  Are you prepared to extend the same opportunity to others if the situation presents itself?

Fairness is important in leadership.  I remember as a young leader often being told by my director that decisions I made about staff requests would be closely monitored by other staff members.  I needed to be certain that whatever special considerations I gave staff, I was prepared to extend to every other staff member.  This was good advice that I used throughout my career.

As nurse leaders, second chances are among the valuable gifts that we can extend to others.  It is a decision that requires thoughtful consideration.  Sometimes, you give a second chance, and find that your confidence has been misplaced.  But sometimes, you can be very surprised at what happens when you do.  There is nothing that is more gratifying in leadership than watching a staff member make an incredible comeback from a failure.

© 2013