Leadership is not being in charge on an organization chart. That’s management, and very few managers ever bother with leadership. It’s risky and not what they’re hired to do.
Managers manage: they keep things as they are, do everything they can to prevent change. Change is risk: managers are hired and trained to hate and destroy risk, regardless of the merit of a proposal. If managers had always ran the world, we’d all still live naked in cold, dark caves, safe from any risk of improvement.
Leaders lead people forward, they embrace change, seek change, demand change, create change. Clearly, leaders cannot be managers: they’re managers’ worst enemies.
When we think of nursing leadership, forget about most managers. They are a different breed entirely: anti-leaders. Only the few willing to do exactly the opposite of everything they’re hired and trained and told to do can possibly become leaders. Nursing leaders take risks to improve the world: they’re heroes, not managers.
So, nurses out there, what do you strive for in your career?
Management roles offer comfy hours, respectability, and a safe routine. You can look forward to a life of as little real accomplishment as possible, comfortably achieved. You will attend meetings, read and write memos, serve the company first like any good worker ant, and prevent others from making any real progress. You will do whatever it takes to hold nurses back and suppress innovation, while creating an image of excellence on paper. You’ll cut your own personal risk, which will become the only real purpose of your existence, until finally you retire, leaving nothing useful or interesting behind. You will be rapidly and totally forgotten, except perhaps for an obscure photo on a wall somewhere.
Some managers escape this pattern and find a way to matter. Most do not. Read Dilbert: that’s management, faking your way to nowhere and nothing, comfortably and uselessly.
Nurses, we have another option. We can LEAD instead. It’s the only way to get anything useful done, the only way to make progress for nursing and patients and humanity. Managers will mostly hate and despise and suppress such efforts as best they can: such is their role and their chosen identity in life. They’re authorized and required to stop leaders from leading: such is what institutions pay nursing managers to do. Managers are paid to suppress nurses, keep them down, keep them quiet and obedient and afraid. Leaders do the exact opposite: empower, build confidence and help ideas come to fruition. Without leaders like Florence Nightingale and others, there would be no nursing today. Managers try to stop time, stop progress. Leaders take Nightingale’s torch and strive forward.
We have plenty of nurse managers today.
Nursing desperately needs more leaders.