By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
How can I quickly gain leadership credibility? I was recently asked this question. My answer is that it won’t be an overnight process but can happen over time with the right behaviors. Leaders need to model behaviors that they seek in others by understanding their values, beliefs, and attitudes. In their book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner outline over 30 years of research with thousands of employees to study the expectations that followers have of their leaders. They asked for a ranking of 20 different characteristics. Over time, the results are remarkably stable globally. The top four characteristics that followers value most in leaders are:
- Honesty – the leader is principled, ethical and truthful.
- Competence – the leader has a track record and ability to get things done to meet the expectations of the position.
- Inspiring – the leader is excited, energetic and confident about the future. They give their followers hope.
- Forward-Looking – the ability to look ahead and have a sense of direction – a point of view about the future.
When present, these four qualities lead to a concept called “source credibility.” In their research, Kouzes and Posner found that source credibility matters in leadership. When nursing staff finds their leader to be highly credible, they are more likely to:
- Feel pride that they work on the unit.
- Feel a stronger sense of team spirit.
- See their own personal values as consistent with the organization
- Feel engaged with the work.
- Have a sense of ownership in the organization.
Leadership credibility is built over time. It also involves a focus on self-mastery. Focusing on self-mastery is often not a high priority when nurses begin in leadership roles. Instead, the majority of time is spent learning core business skills such as budgeting, staffing, and quality management. These skills are critical to effective leadership. However, we know from leadership research that when leaders fail, it is rarely because of a lack of knowledge about business skills. Most leadership performance can be attributed to emotional intelligence (EI) not intelligence quotient (IQ). Self-management is one of the four cornerstones of EI. The other three are self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management. Leadership is described as an inside-out process. You need to know and understand yourself to work on your source credibility – it is earned not given.
Read to Lead
Kouzes JM, Posner BZ. The Leadership Challenge 6th Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2017.
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