Kraemer (2015) says self-reflection is key to understanding oneself and to connecting with others. Leadership is the process of influencing others to achieve a goal (Northouse, 2015); therefore, effective leadership requires self-reflection. Understanding oneself is part of assessing one’s internal environment, which is the first step in the organization strategy process (Hughes, Beatty, & Dunwoodie, 2014), so self-reflection plays a vital role in implementing strategic leadership.
This chapter reviews my leadership journey through the personal and professional domains. I look at my present circumstances and evaluate my responses. I assess my ability to provide direction, facilitate alignment, and elicit commitment from others, and I examine strategic drivers to help me achieve my potential. I then look at ways of shifting my thinking from old economy values to new economy values. Finally, I outline my development plan to become an effective strategic leader.
Confidence and Trepidation: The Tightrope Walk
One question put forward during self-reflection is one’s general response to his or her present circumstances. There are undoubtedly some people who deem a particular approach fits all situations, whether that be constant bravado or frequent withdrawal. For many of us, the response to present circumstances depends on the details. There are times when I can confidently proceed with a course of action almost automatically. There are other times when the possibility of failure paralyzes me. Finally, there are times when something unexpected occurs, and I need to react even if I am not sure of the outcome.
One element affected my responses is my belief in the impostor phenomenon. According to Leonhardt, Bechtoldt, & Rohrmann (2017), these persons believe that they have successfully fooled other regarding their abilities and fear exposure, even if their skills and qualifications are externally validated. I have difficulty accepting my capability as a leader, let alone being an effective one. Further, I marvel at the trust others place in me, especially those persons with decades of front-line experience. Sometimes I asked myself, “who am I to tell them what to do?
Another element tempering my response is the fear of failure, especially if failure results in long-lasting damage to my family, friends, and community. Failure in itself is not frightening – I believe Kraemer (2015) when he says failures “are all part of the human experience.” I do not even fear the loss of personal reputation through failure. Instead, I fear the damage I cause others. This fear may be the primary reason I continue to run away from the ministry – I am not proud of past decisions and would be heartbroken if one turned away from God due to the actions of a religious leader.
Even with these reservations, I find myself emboldened in certain circumstances. Evidence-based practice, policies, or guidelines give me the confidence to carry out decisions. Support from close advisors such as family or direct supervisors helps me push through difficult times. Self-reflection, devotional reading, and prayer help me step back and consider the macroscopic view of my actions and point me to the right decision. I believe concentrating more on these strengths will help me become a better leader.
When Running Away Is An Option: Handling Stressors
Stressors are an inevitable part of leadership. Stressors may be internal, such as staff attitudes and resistance to change, or may be external, such as inspections from a licensing authority. Stressors may occur in both personal and professional dimensions; indeed, sometimes stressors from both these domains affect people simultaneously. Stressors induce physiological responses, including inflammation and cardiovascular responses, leading to wear-and-tear (Braveman & Gottlieb, 2014). Stressors trigger adrenaline, which plays a role in the body’s fight or flight response (Braveman & Gottlieb, 2014).
My strategy for handling stressors is not to resist the body’s natural responses but to control them. Sometimes I find the best answer to stressors is to run away – even temporarily. Retreating to a safe space allows me to think about the situation, to formulate possible action plans, and to choose the best course of action. I use this method for both domains – personal stressors often get resolved at work or on a short detour to the mall, while professional stressors get handled by offsite lunch breaks.
Other times, I modify the body’s desire to fight but focusing it towards the proper adversary. Usually, this is not the person associated with the problem, but it is a circumstance that affects both of us. Mitchell, Strong, Williaume, & Wu (2017) say the relationships and collaboration competency of transformation servant leadership includes the art of negotiation, where the leader aims for mutually beneficial solutions. When negotiation cannot occur, I instead seek to collaborate with my team to develop an appropriate response to the stressor. Similarly, personal stressors may also need collaboration and negotiation, especially in the context of the marriage relationship!
Stressors are inevitable in any relationship, be it personal or professional, but they do not need to cause significant harm to the persons involved. Using the abovementioned techniques has helped me navigate through these challenges.
The Ideal versus the Real: Mission, Vision, Values and My Current State
One author has neatly expressed my vision: to lead an army of servants that would restore wholeness to a broken world (Florendo, 2017). Similarly, this author’s life purpose reflects my own: to restore individuals to wholeness through hope, healing, and purpose (Florendo, 2017).
My values align well with the mission and vision. My values include service, grace, team, fidelity, friendship, toughness, humility, and influence. A healthcare leader needs all these values, as well as others, to have positive, long-lasting results. These values transcend my professional life into the personal, for values do not change when a person goes home from work.
To achieve the mission, vision, and values, I want to strengthen my ability to handle stressors. In my personal life, I want to be the husband, father, and spiritual leader God wants me to be. Professionally, I want to be the healthcare leader that enriches the lives of my employees, thereby empowering them to be the best for their clients. I have a clear picture of what I should look like should I achieve these ideals. My future personal ideal is to see me, my wife, and children in heavenly bliss while serving God. My future professional ideal is to lead an organization dedicated to changing the lives of the disadvantaged, whether they be resource-poor individuals, runaway youth, or vulnerable seniors.
Unfortunately, I look at my current status and sometimes despair, wondering if I will ever reach my ideal. I have the strengths of knowing where I should be, and I have examples of what I should be doing. However, another author knew my situation all too well: “For the good that I will to do,I do not do; but the evil I will not to do,that I practice.” (Romans 7:19) I often commiserate with Paul and wonder how I will ever escape being a “wretched man” – sometimes it’s just so easy to coast and to give up, considering personal and professional pressures, high expectations, and the inability to please everyone.
The greatest strength I have, then, is not my own. It is a reliance on the strength Paul discussed in Romans 7:25, where I can say with him, “I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Knowing, therefore, that Jesus does the heavy lifting, I can seek to work with Him, achieving the goal of bringing light to this world. White [ca. 1890] writes, “The Lord does not propose to do the work He has given man powers to do. Man’s part must be done.” Doing all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) changes my mindset and provides me the strength to use all my talents for Him.
Achieving My Full Potential: The Plan
Once, I believed an effective leader must be an expert in his or her field, because leaders must be better than their followers. After completing the course on Results-Based Leadership, I realize this idea referred to the “4T” role of the RBL career development model (Ulrich & Smallwood, 2013). The 4T role helps define best practice, but is not the best person to lead organizations. Therefore, I resolve to abandon developing my clinical expertise. I do not need to be the best person at assessments or clinical procedures to be an effective leader. Further, I do not need to be the person researching for evidence-based practice, nor do I need to be the person creating policies.
McChesney, Covey, & Huling (2012) say “human beings are genetically hardwired to do one thing at a time with excellence.” Similarly, Hughes et al. (2014) discuss strategic drivers, or the few focus areas for investment resulting in maximum impact. I will need to focus on these areas to achieve my best.
One key strategic driver is my quality of leadership. My current workplace has suffered from a lack of clarity with previous management, leading to a workforce bereft of critical thinking and confidence. I want to inspire and lead this workforce to achieve their potential, especially as many of them have decades of experience. I also want to increase my quality of leadership to use all my talents to their full potential.
Another strategic driver is the improvement of collaboration within the workforce. My workplace has a history of high overtime use, high sick call time, conflicts between management and unions, intra-employee unrest, and a lack of communication. I would invest in improving the relationships between employees, unions, and management with the goal of collaboration. Investing in this driver should result in favorable outcomes including decreased sick days, improved clinical outcomes, and increased employee and client satisfaction.
I believe focusing on these two key strategic drivers would go a long way in improving desired measures, including increased net operating income and favorable opinions of the organization.
Creating a New World: The Ideal Workplace Culture
Much of health care remains as a hierarchical structure. Falk (2015) notes a 2010 study stating “nurses are not viewed as important decision makers or revenue generators, particularly in comparison to physicians.” Despite the language of an interdisciplinary team, doctors still hold the title of the primary leaders of health care. Further, experienced nurses still exhibit some form of hostility and coercion towards newer nurses. Bartholomew (2014) says “new nurses are being assimilated into a culture that tolerates negative overt and covert behaviors and lack the interpersonal skill set to effectively end horizontal hostility.”
These qualities of hierarchy and coercion are part of what Ungerer, Ungerer, & Herholdt (2016) describe as “old-economy” values. Early in my career, I had many of these values, as this was the culture I learned. I found these values were able to achieve results, but at the cost of worker burnout and increased dissatisfaction. I also found this culture meant employees relied heavily on their leaders, leading to leader burnout and turnover.
MALEAD has shown me a better way of leading. “New economy” values of collaboration and co-creation counteract the effects of burnout with shared responsibilities and increased communication. Ungerer et al. (2016) say “power is not used in a self-centric way by leaders, but to empower others to do great things.” Using “new economy” values creates a new world of shared leadership, a culture where everyone works together to create something greater than themselves.
The greatest obstacle to employing “new economy” thinking is the deep-seated values of the “old economy.” Experienced staff members tend to be the ones most resistant to culture change, as that is all they have ever known. Hughes et al. (2016) concur, saying “culture represents ‘how things are around here.’” I plan to shift the values from the “old economy” to the “new economy” by example, recognizing the glacial pace of change. I will need to push through the resistance and continue to invite employees to the “new world”, promising an eventual liberation from old practice.
Part of this culture change will require a shift away from a dependent leadership culture towards an interdependent one. The current leadership structure, aside from the formal organizational chart, is one of individual “heroic” employees that act as the mouthpieces of their contemporaries, even if that message is not entirely accurate. I plan to have nurses’ meetings to develop their leadership competencies as they should be the leaders for their respective units. Meanwhile, I would have care staff meetings to encourage teamwork and collaboration.
Conclusion: I’m a Strategic Leader, I think…
Hughes et al. (2016) pose an important question for would-be strategic leaders:
How do I, as a leader of this organization and in this ecosystem, approach my leadership interactions with others to engage their hearts and minds in this work?
It is a difficult question to answer, but it is one that I have been doing since accepting my new position. The “common” way of commanding staff to do my bidding might have worked for the first three months but would have ultimately led to employees leaving through resignation or retirement. I believe my way of seeking to use influence instead of power has resulted in increased morale and reduced turnover. Further, having like-minded members of the management team has reduced the difficulty in implementing culture change.
However, much work remains undone. The Strategic Leadership Model of Hughes et al. (2016) says leaders must address the challenges of polarities, boundaries, change, and culture. When I assess my capabilities, I see the need to work on all four of these challenges. It is difficult for me to hold two types of thought that seem to be opposites, such as being both the leader and a learner. I still have work to do on breaking down the “silo” culture of health care and working towards a true interdisciplinary team. I must learn to work with staff members who are set in their ways and have difficulty fathoming the need for culture change.
Despite these challenges, I believe I have the confidence to provide the right direction for the organization. I know given time I can align the talents of each employee towards the direction of the organization. Finally, I believe that transformational servant leadership will be able to win the hearts and minds of many staff, leading to their commitment towards the strategic plan.
I look forward to developing my leadership. Hughes et al. (2016) say there is no such thing as a status quo strategy. In a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) (Ungerer et al, 2016), change is the only constant. I know I will need to consistently learn and develop as time passes. The adage of “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” is of added importance for leaders.
Bartholomew, K. (2014). Ending Nurse-to-nurse Hostility: Why Nurses Eat Their Young and Each Other. (2nd edition). Danvers, Massachusetts: HCPro, a division of BLR. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.student.twu.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e680sww&AN=782700&site=eds-live
Braveman, P., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The social determinants of health: It’s time to consider the causes of the causes. Public Health Reports, 129 (Suppl 2), 19–31.
Falk, N. L. (2015). Strategic Planning and Doctor Of Nursing Practice Education: Developing Today’s and Tomorrow’s Leaders. Nursing Economic$, 33(5), 246–254. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.student.twu.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=110306184&site=eds-live
Florendo, P. (2017, November 28). Life engagement series. Unpublished manuscript. Master of Arts in Leadership. Trinity Western University: Langley, Canada.
Hughes, R., Beatty, K. & Dinwoodie, D. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: your role in your organization’s enduring success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kraemer, H. M. (2015). Becoming the best: Build a world-class organization through values-based leadership. Hoboken: Wiley.
Leonhardt, M., Bechtoldt, M., & Rohrmann, S. (2017). All impostors aren’t alike – Differentiating the impostor phenomenon. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1505. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01505
McChesney, C., Covey, S. & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.
Mitchell, K., Strong, H., Williaume, D. & Wu, T. (2017).Leadership competency framework. Unpublished manuscript. Master of Arts in Leadership. Trinity Western University: Langley, Canada.
Northouse, P. (2015). Leadership: theory and practice. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Ulrich, D., & Smallwood, W. N. (2013). Leadership sustainability: Seven disciplines to achieve the changes great leaders know they must make. London: McGraw-Hill.
White, E. G. [ca. 1890]. Message of the Month. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from http://www.whiteestate.org/message/through_faith_alone2.asp