Dec. 2, 2020

Nurses champion resiliency, vulnerability and learning from failures at leadership conference

More than 200 attend UCalgary Nursing’s The Leader in All of Us which was aimed at encouraging next generation of young nurses and midwives to become leaders and health advocates
The Leader in All of Us Panelists
The Leader in All of Us Panelists

In early 2020, UCalgary Nursing accepted The Nightingale Challenge call-out by Nursing Now asking all nurses/nursing organizations globally to encourage the next generation of young nurses and midwives to become leaders and advocates for health.  A committee was pulled together to develop a Leadership Day virtual conference, “The Leader in All of Us.”

On Nov. 27, more than 200 health-care professionals, students and educators came together online to explore the concepts of leadership and how to enrich their own capacity to lead.

The day began with a keynote from Sean Chilton, Vice President People, Health Professions and Information Technology for Alberta Health Services (AHS).  His message of resiliency was a thread throughout all four leadership panels. He spoke of, how every day, especially in 2020, health-care staff and leadership have risen to enormous challenges and the importance of leaders building resiliency in staff.

“Collaboration is fundamental. Collaboration and communication go hand in hand,” he said, reminding participants of ‘shoshin,’ from Zen Buddhism, or the ‘beginner’s mind.’

“Start everything with an open mind: a leader needs to not ask ‘what’s the matter with you?’ but asking instead ‘what matters to you?’ It is not what I think is important; it’s about what is important to them. It’s ok to show vulnerability and emotion and be our true selves.”

Leadership in Practice: Leading at the bedside and beyond

The theme of vulnerability continued in the first panel of the day.  Tyler Burley, Provincial Senior Practice Lead for Nursing Professional Practice, AHS, talked about a professional responsibility to be “better tomorrow than today. “Be self-aware; recognize what you say and how you say it,” he said. “If you want to be a trusted leader, you have to give people a reason to trust you.”

Fadumo Robinson, Associate Chief Nursing Officer, AHS spoke about her own approach to leadership, but also what is needed in the profession as a whole. She raised the alarm about the role of nursing, how it is shifting fast and that nurses need to intentionally place themselves above the curve. “The biggest challenge we’re facing is not having direction and planning as a field around what the future can look like,” she explained, adding that nurses are going with the flow of health-care needs and it is time to influence change.

“We influence health care in a way that isn’t fully articulated. Understanding that and knowing the power of that, if we don’t take those opportunities, our roles can be diminished and that’s a serious risk. I would love to see more nurses in health-care quality improvement.”

 Like Robinson, Michelle Charlewsorth, Resident Experience Director - Covenant Care and Covenant Living in Calgary and Lethbridge Alberta, believes that quality improvement teams are an easy way to build collaboration in the profession and see problems as opportunities. Her words of advice: “Be flexible. Don’t think about title or roles but collaboration and teamwork. All boots on ground. Lead through your words, your attitudes and actions. Be open and ask for feedback. Be authentic and vulnerable.”

Leadership in Education: Leading beyond the books

Perspectives on leading in education came from a new graduate, a graduate student as well as an educator, yet a connected thread was a willingness to learn – from mistakes as well as accomplishments.

New UCalgary BN graduate, Candace Cho, spoke of how, as an undergraduate student leader she had “imposter syndrome,” but learned to approach her ideas and experiences with the same purpose as she did for her mentors. “When you increase your sharing and are always present, choosing when to actively participate and when to actively listen, you will find growth.”

Carla Ferreira, senior instructor at UCalgary Nursing, echoed that, saying, “When you come from that space of being a work-in-progress, you will always grow. I anchor my teaching approach to the best available evidence, integrating student experience and my own mine.”

Keith King, assistant teaching professor and PhD student at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, said he also struggled with imposter syndrome when he started in nursing. “As an Indigenous, masculine-presenting queer person from rural Alberta, I didn’t identify with Florence Nightingale.” His way forward was to collaborate and trust, acknowledging the “power dynamics” of the people he was learning from and also those he was teaching.

“Once I came out with my whole identity at work, I could lean in to help others,” he says. He advises students and young leaders to apply for jobs that may seem unattainable because the interview experience is valuable to understanding future direction and in finding a mentor. 

Leadership in Community and International Settings: Leading beyond borders

Resiliency was a key component of the leadership panel on leading beyond our borders – resiliency of communities and of individuals. Louise Baptiste, Director of Indigenous Initiatives, UCalgary Nursing discussed “communal” leadership - amplifying the needs of the community with the strengths of diverse ideas rather than of one individual. As an Indigenous person, Baptiste explained that Elders are the true leaders in her community, combining mental and spiritual strength as well as resiliency. “Don’t take no for an answer,” she cautioned, “rather, ask why: why barriers might be in place and how can we remove them.”

Cheedy Jaja, associate professor, College of Nursing, University of South Carolina in Columbia shared his experience providing care for patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone and how those learnings could be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen resolve and commitment. “Compassion and humanism are nursing values, of course, but nurses still need a lot of support,” Jaja says. “Conflicting ethical duties between nursing duty to care and nursing duty to self requires resilience and that resilience allows you to be innovative in whatever circumstances you find yourself in.”

Finding common shared values and vision and not going it alone is how UCalgary Nursing’s associate dean (undergraduate practice education) Zahra Shajani exercises her leadership. “Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle; together we make the whole picture,” she said. “Take people with you. One stick can be broken easily but many sticks together are harder to break.”

Leadership in Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Leading beyond the status quo

All four panelists, who founded their own organizations, spoke of their struggles and triumphs as well as how fear and failure were learning experiences for growth.

Julia Imanoff, UCalgary Nursing instructor and co-founder, COLO Families Inc., drew parallels between her work with families and being a leader.  Neither, she acknowledged, are easy

Carol Gray and Leah Wuitschik, partners in TallTrees Leadership, both talked about knowing your purpose and committing to it. “Fear limits our ability to collaborate; it stifles decisions and pushes down creativity,” remarked Gray. “The status quo may feel safe and more comfortable.” To get past the fear, Wuitschik reiterated, know what you want. “You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all. Challenge is one of the best teachers you can have.” 

Be purposeful and know your “why” is something Amy Deagle, Founder & Chief Nursing Officer of the International Network of Nurse Leaders, emphasized. Deagle prefaced her presentation with comments about taking a pause as she recently had to do. “Your career is an evolution. It’s important, especially this year, to take a rest and break. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re honouring yourself. Leaders persevere.”

UCalgary Nursing dean Sandra Davidson ended the day with a succinct summary of the major points of the conference.  She touched on imposter syndrome and its commonality, no matter what the leadership journey. She spoke of personal paths to meaning and to make choices informed by our values and our authenticity.

“We are the system and the system is us. Individual actions have a ripple effect. If we want to change the system barriers, it starts with us.”