My new title, A Path to Nursing Excellence: The Columbia Experience, is about leadership. The challenges I faced and the successes we achieved in rescuing our school from its broadly expected demise, and bringing about a radical new clinical doctorate in nursing, were not because of a set of visionary goals. Rather, I was observing and acting on a set of constantly changing context and circumstance on a day-to-day basis. We took advantage of the opportunities, and saw setbacks as the opening of a new and better (or better informed) path. Strange as it may seem, accomplishing as much as we did was due to the unstable situation we were in for so many years. In a solidified structure, where faculty are happy and secure, radical change is not possible and new and brave goals appear unnecessary. Leadership thrives in uncertain times, and followers are more likely to try new things if their base is crumbling. This is a story of how we did that, and how I used every bit of my non-administrative experiences to shape and enrich my role as Dean.
Nurses tend to look to other nurses for approval and for acceptance. This is a mistake. If one looks carefully at leaders in other fields it is apparent that they tend to build a coalition of friends and supportive colleagues from a broad base, and then use that depth to inform and to improve their own discipline or business. Especially when change is necessary, leaders need to look far afield to build their inner circle of advisors who can provide the support to overcome a strong status quo. When you break out of a comfort zone of peers, there is less limitation in terms of what might be tried, but one also learns how adversity is overcome in a variety of situations. My own early experience working in the dorm kitchen at college and as a labor and delivery room nurse when I graduated, informed much of what I could do as a dean 25 years later. Participating in a corporate board gave me another slice of wisdom in how to move my own small but brilliant faculty into the big time.
Leadership is necessarily a lonely venture. It isn’t a team effort, although you almost always need a team to make it happen. And individuals are drawn to a courageous individual with ideas and spunk and sustained optimism. Management is the obverse; take something and keep it going. Remember the difference.