Becoming a ‘good leader’ isn’t always the path you expect

I started my health care career as a certified nursing assistant at Stonehill, led by a desire to help people and make a difference. While working at Stonehill, I continued my education and became a nurse.

After a year as a staff nurse, I became a part-time supervisor and within another year had become the assistant director of nursing. In this role, I transitioned to a different way of helping people with a greater focus on staff development, training and care planning. But I loved getting to interact more with the staff and having a broader impact on the organization.

Now, for the past seven years, I have been able to take that even further in my role as director of health services (director of nursing), seeing opportunities for change and driving change.

Early in my career, I believed that I had a vast understanding of what constituted a “good leader.” I believed that others wanted and needed me to be knowledgeable about every aspect of my role within the organization, possess the ability to successfully complete every project and enforce every policy to a T.

Little did I know that the foundational aspects of leadership were not exactly what I had envisioned.

A few years prior to the pandemic, our organization began focusing on our “culture” and “leadership development.” I place the quotes around these words because my work experiences up until then had not intentionally revolved around these concepts. I had failed to fully recognize how my interactions and decisions as a leader directly correlated with our organization’s ability to establish a culture of collaboration, leadership and quality service.

That culture has proved invaluable. Without the intentional efforts of having these vital discussions and team-building exercises, our team’s ability to manage the pandemic together would have been nearly impossible. The roller coaster of emotions and the need to respond to rapidly changing information was more than most people — including health care workers — were prepared to handle. Fortunately, I have the privilege to work alongside a team of professionals who face challenges with confidence, trust in each other’s strengths and recognize opportunities to achieve the greatest success together.

As I grew in my leadership role, I realized my team never needed me to know everything, to do everything and to rigidly interact with them. My team wanted me to be simply be myself — someone who strives to be fair (but understanding), communicates (but to the point), makes decisions (but seeks counsel from others) and is approachable (to be able to build upon personal relationships).

I have learned that being a “good leader” is someone who adapts and changes to the needs of those around us. It is sometimes being successful and sometimes failing and always learning from mistakes. It is understanding that I do not direct by making decisions, but by mobilizing and motivating the team to get them excited about their part in advancing our mission and providing the highest quality services.

Along my leadership journey I have had the benefit of leadership training that provided new insights and helped me benchmark my skills. But even more importantly, I have had leaders and mentors who encouraged me to think through and apply the concepts I learned in training, to try new approaches and to evaluate the results.

I now see my primary purpose in serving as a leader to others is to help cultivate an environment where my colleagues understand how their contributions toward the mission, vision and values of our organization drive the greatest results. Oftentimes it is not the big decisions, but the small ones, that get us there. By dedicating time to building relationships with the foundational components of trust, respect, support, collaboration and open communication we will see the effects of shared purpose, vision and loyalty ripple out into the workplace.

The leadership journey is not necessarily a clear or easy pathway to navigate, nor is there a true endpoint. Things are always changing and I will never know all the answers. But I know I can be effective as a leader as long as I continue seeking opportunities to understand what is important to others: Show kindness and grace and keep learning from the challenges, the successes and the people around me.