Growing shortage of nurses is a significant problem healthcare system has been experiencing in the recent years. However, another important deficiency should not be overlooked – that of nursing leaders. The scarcity of nursing leaders is undoubtedly detrimental to the healthcare system. In the environment where nurses are able to produce influence on the healthcare legislation, it is crucial that nursing leaders do exert this influence. Dedicated and enthusiastic leaders can make use of this advantage and bring about positive change, however at the moment such vibrant nursing leaders are few and far between. Such dearth can be explained by two factors: firstly, not many people currently enter the nursing profession and secondly, nurse training is concentrated on clinical skills to the detriment of leadership skills. Leadership used to be viewed as a domain of administrators. However, it is now clear that not only clinical, but also leadership skills should be nurtured in young nurses. Unfortunately, it is very common that much nurse training is dedicated to operating modern equipment and using complex technology, while nurses have absolutely no opportunity to develop and apply their leadership skills and principles. It is dictated by the government regulations that the clinical skills of nurses should be constantly improved by keeping up-to-date with education courses. But it is also crucial that nurses of any level should be trained to be competent and effective leaders.
According to the article by Horton-Deutch and Mohr, which described a BSN student’s clinical evaluations, the student’s negative opinion on the nursing profession was primarily caused by the “absence of nursing leadership” (Horton-Deutsch, S.L., & Mohr, W.K., 2001, 121). The authors believe that the chief task of nursing leaders is “develop one’s own leadership skills and those of one’s staff” (Horton-Deutsch, S.L., & Mohr, W.K., 2001, 60).
There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that Catherine Futch, AAACN (Ambulatory Nursing Academy) past president is an effective nursing leader. Her profound educational preparation (Catherine possesses a Master of Nursing Degree) enabled her to make a brilliant career in the field of healthcare. Catherine’s pathway to success as a nursing leader included a number of leadership positions at several hospitals, as well as faculty and committee appointments. While speaking about Catherine’s accomplishments as a professional mention must be made of her numerous awards and recognitions, among which is Jane Van de Verde Award, which acknowledged the invaluable contribution Catherine made to the health service for citizens of Georgia. An award, which deserves special mention, is the Mary N. Long Award. It was given to Catherine to acknowledge her innovative approach to the nursing practice. The last but not least is the 2003 Woman of the Year Award, granted to her as a most talented healthcare executive.
Catherine has worked at AAACN since 1995, when she joined Kaiser Permanente. The major contribution of AAACN to the public healthcare is providing resources and information dealing with a variety of health care institutions, among which are public health organizations, medical offices, health centers and others. AAACN also strives to promote professional medical practice as well as literacy of medical staff when it comes to health care legislation. The people of medical profession are also strongly encouraged to take active part in the legislative measures, which could influence health care.
Catherine, currently AAACN Past President, has been in her position for four years now. She is enjoying the opportunities this position gives her to make positive change. Having become AAACN president in 2003, Catherine searched for new strategies to emphasize the value of AAACN, maintain financial stability, create a strong connection between national and local healthcare.
However, it is quite remarkable that Catherine does not list her appointments and recognitions while describing an effective nursing leader. Catherine states that it is crucial for the nursing leader to possess certain usual skills, among which are organization, planning, decision-making, finance and change management. All of the abovementioned skills are essential, but they constitute the easier part of the nursing leader profession. It is clearly the interaction between the staff members, where the nursing leader has to apply her professional skills.
Speaking about the ways Catherine motivates others, mention must be made of the fact that throughout her professional career Catherine was guided by the principle “Nothing is impossible”. This unshakable confidence and unfailing enthusiasm helped her find effective solutions to all kinds of organizational needs. Catherine just constantly kept in mind the positive outcome and her determination to achieve even the most challenging goals proved to inspire and motivate others. Catherine is very keen on planning for the future. She takes her energy in hard tasks. She likes challenging herself, learning something new and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment.
While identifying the qualities, necessary for a successful leader Catherine pointed out the following: an effective leader should be able to inspire and motivate others, set an example worth following, guide individuals through tough times. A true leader should have the ability to manage individuals as well as groups in an efficient way. Catherine believes that the major ways to influence the staff are unquestionable authority and organizational hierarchy. For an effective nursing leader it is utterly important to facilitate the collaboration between individuals and groups. A successful and inspired nursing leader should always concentrate on the goal and the opportunities to achieve it and not on the barriers or obstacles. The effective nursing leader should have a strong belief that even the things that seem impossible can be done.
Among the challenges that Catherine faced being a nursing leader, she mentioned the fact that it is not a rare occurrence that people of several difference generations work together simultaneously. Quite understandably, they all have different expectations and they view being a professional employee differently. Catherine states that unfortunately it is no longer common for medical workers to enter organizations, despite their tremendous value. As a result of multiple discussions on what the healthcare organization of tomorrow should be like, Catherine decided to implement the innovative idea of audio conference. The essence of this quite reasonably priced option lies in the following: interested groups or individuals can receive all the recent content on healthcare at the comfort of their own homes or workplaces. This innovation proved extremely successful and evoked much positive feedback.
Another important and at the same time challenging area, in which a substantial impact on the part of the nursing leader is required, is the orientation of young nurses. Catherine believes that in order to secure their efficient performance, profound academic background has to be supplemented with mentoring and guiding by experienced nurses. It is crucial that the atmosphere at the hospital is welcoming and the staff supportive. At the initial stages of their work the young nurses have to be given an opportunity to learn, gain experience and practice their newly gained skills.
Among the most gratifying aspects of the leadership position is the ability to make a difference, change things for the better. Catherine is convinced that it is of vital importance for any nurse, whatever the age or experience, to be knowledgeable about the local and national regulations dealing with health care. It is also essential to be up-to-date with the most recent changes in this sphere and also possess the confidence that one can make a difference.
As regards the diversity of workers and patients, it is much appreciated by Catherine. Diversity of workers provides them with an invaluable opportunity to share their professional experience and enrich their professional knowledge. However, being a leader, Catherine has to find an individual approach to every worker to secure his or her efficient performance. As regards the diversity of patients, the same individual approach is required in dealing with them, while the variety of medical cases enables the doctors to create precedents and define the best treatments for a particular case.
At this stage it appears opportune to briefly analyze the main leadership styles. This will provide us with a well-informed perspective necessary to define Catherine’s leadership style correctly. Among the major leadership theories the following should be mentioned: dynamic leader-follower model, quantum leadership, leadership trait theory, interactional leadership theory, transformational theory and management theory, situational leadership.
Speaking about the quantum leadership, credit must be given to Porter-O’Grady, who observed that the leadership hierarchy was directly influenced by the knowledge, primarily that of technology. A shift has occurred in the relationship between leadership and knowledge. Staff nurses, who are given relative autonomy, participate in the decision-making process and influence the outcome. According to Porter-O’Grady, bottom-up leadership can be motivated by encouraging self-direction instead of giving direction (Porter-O’Grady, T., 1999, 41).
The next nursing leadership theory to be touched upon is called dynamic leader-follower model. The theory was proposed by Laurent. Both the leader and the follower are vital for the success of the leadership style. The leader should provide the employee with direction, but should not exercise stringent control, thus allowing for a dynamic relationship (Laurent, C.L. 2000, 83-87). As a result of resorting to this leadership type, commitment and motivation are instilled in the worker.
Speaking about the trait theory, it must be mentioned that one of the basic principles of this theory is the belief that leaders are born with definite leader characteristics. Such leadership traits as intelligence, ambition, decisiveness, self-confidence, enthusiasm and mastery are identified. Other leadership situations components are neglected.
Interactional theory implies strong organizational culture, influence and authority of the leader, common system of values of the leader and followers, work, which has to be done.
Situational leadership theory recognizes the impact produced on the leader by the situation, states that situation can cause a leadership shift.
Transformational leadership holds as its goal the union of manager and employee, where anyone is encouraged to take the lead. Transformational leadership is undoubtedly empowering and it is therefore favored. This leadership style promotes innovation and change, which is most suited for a dynamic healthcare setting. As a result of evaluating old and new policies, encouraging feedback from the employees, the best procedures and policies are implemented. The nursing leader, who follows this leadership style, facilitates active participation of the employees in the decision-making process within their powers. Transformational leader is committed to the goals of the organization, possesses the ability to empower and inspire others, is able to achieve high employee satisfaction and effective group performance.
Taking into the consideration all the information mentioned above a fully justified conclusion can be drawn, which goes as follows: Catherine Futch successfully uses interactional leadership style. In the interview she stressed the importance of the strong authority of the leader, built on experience and determination. Catherine stated in the interview that organization, planning, decision-making, finance and change management are among the responsibilities of the nursing leader and they should be performed efficiently. She also believes that the importance of the organizational hierarchy should not be underestimated. Excessive emphasis of the hierarchy however fails to empower workers, which can be a serious disadvantage of the leadership strategy. Catherine strives to manage both individuals and groups on the basis of a common system of values, inspiring them with a common cause, which is definitely an advantage of her style. Catherine also mentioned her desire to perform the tasks, seemingly impossible. Such elements as strong organizational culture, authority and influence of the leader and orientation on the work to be done clearly testify about the interactional leadership style being used.
Mention must also be made of the fact that Catherine resorts to a few elements of the transformational leadership style. She does encourage feedback from the employees and makes nurses of any level believe that they can make a difference. Innovation is also a major part of her activity as a nursing leader.