Finding Your Inner Leader

Is it my imagination, or has there been a lot of discussion on leadership lately? In the past 3 years, all the meetings I have attended had at least 1 presentation on leadership or the traits of leaders. Sometimes—even in the oddest places—I have come across an article with “leadership” in the title. In fact, a serendipitous discovery of 2 publications is what inspired me to write this.

I spotted the first one in a reading basket when I was on vacation: It was an interview with Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.1 I was especially interested to read this because when I was in graduate school, Benjamin (the father of one of my classmates) visited our campus to give a presentation on talent and self-confidence. I can still hear him conducting us to emphatically believe in ourselves and others. This was echoed in his interview: “Never doubt the capacity of the people you lead to accomplish whatever you dream for them.” What a powerful concept: Believe in the possibilities of someone!

The second was an American Legion Auxiliary column, which emphasized that “leadership is not a title, but a responsibility.”2 This struck a chord with me because some prominent leaders don’t appear to ascribe to that assessment (although they should!).

After digesting these articles, I started thinking: What, exactly, is leadership? What do we even mean by leadership? How do we measure it? Is it measurable? How do we know when we see or experience good leadership? Can one learn to become a leader by simply reading a “how-to” article?

I think I can answer these questions with 2 principles that have guided me through my career as an NP: (1) Make use of another leader’s expertise to guide you, and (2) Continue to grow amid any setbacks.

For example, my transition from a full-time clinician to a Health Policy Coordinator or “policy wonk” did not have a distinct trajectory. Although my core set of clinical skills were essential, I knew early on that I had to expand by adapting specific organizational skills that would enable me to grow in my new role. But how was I to prioritize which skills to improve? More than a simple trial-and-error approach was required; I needed guidance. Fortunately, my new boss was willing to share her experience and the lessons she learned on the job. Key among them was to recognize the skills I already had—communicating and coordinating—and to develop those skills to be more effective in my new position.

Later in my career, I worked with colleagues to pursue legislation for NP prescriptive authority in Massachusetts. The political arena of Commonwealth’s health care laws was especially pivotal in changing how I saw setbacks. These weren’t to be accepted as a failure but as a challenge to figure out how to better succeed the next time. For several years, I was told “No” before we finally got a bill passed. But each round of my testimony was an opportunity to educate lawmakers and the public on the valuable role of NPs and the quality of care we provide. I try to share this story with new NPs as a good example of why they should persist through adversity.

Over the next several weeks we’ll continue share more posts from the discussion about what it means to be a leader—from the pitfalls to the victories. If you want to get a head start you read the second installment on the four part series on the Clinician Reviews web site HERE.