Modeling the Way as a Leader in Healthcare

Leader Nothing frustrates staff more than nurse leaders who say one thing and then do something quite different.   When you think about leadership the words: trust, credibility, relationships, communication, and consistency come to mind to name a few. The importance of connecting your words with action is critical in developing into a true leader.  Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have researched the topic of leadership for over 30 years.  Their Leadership Challenge Model has been designed and based on findings from studies with thousands of leaders in a wide range of industries throughout the world.  A key takeaway is that followers want their leaders to be honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring.  One of 5 key exemplary leadership practices is Modeling the Way.

Modeling the way is a fundamental practice because it is how leaders earn, sustain and build credibility.  Effective leaders do what they say they will do.  Before leaders can model the way, they need to clarify their own values.  To do this, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What do I believe in and use to make my decisions?
  • What practices in my organization am I uncomfortable with – have I been able to resolve my inner conflicts?
  • What am passionate about in my work?
  • What is important to me when I recruit new team members?

The leader’s values can be personal but they need to congruent with those of the organization.  You also need to build a team with shared values.  If your values are in conflict with your organization, it is difficult to effectively model the way.  A second key component to modeling the way is making sure that your actions reflect your values.  This is sometimes referred to as “walking the talk”.

As a leader, you are expected to set the example through your daily actions.  It is difficult to counsel a staff member about tardiness if you are frequently late.  As a leader, you are always being watched for the signals that you send.  Some effective behaviors to adopt to model the way include:

  • Spend your time and job resources wisely.
  • Watch the language that you use as words have power – always talk about the “we versus I” —- avoid words like subordinates.
  • Ask purposeful questions.
  • Follow through on promises made.
  • Seek feedback about your leadership.
  • Confront critical incidents in a timely way.
  • Repeat phrases that reflect the values that you want to build on your team.
  • Use storytelling effectively to teach.
  • Reinforce behaviors that you want to see repeated.

Make sure when you DO make a promise, you do follow through.  I see too often in my role the fallout from nurse leaders who fail to write letters of reference for prospective students when they have promised to do so.  Their nurses are so disappointed in them.  There is no better way to hurt your credibility than to say one thing and do the opposite. There are times when you need to make unpopular decisions.  Don’t even try to be crowd pleaser in this situation.  You are the leader and this sometimes means standing alone and being unpopular.

Developing into a true leader takes a lot of effort and commitment.  Modeling the way is not easy – many leaders struggle with it but if you want to be an authentic leader, it is critical.


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