by Shanel Martens, BSN, RN-BC
Program Manager, Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

I recently found myself feeling incredibly energized and inspired. I had hung up the phone after having a consultative conversation with two nursing leaders about a charge nurse leadership program I developed and implemented. Rather than them thanking me for the advice and direction I had provided, I found myself thanking them. They helped me remember my overarching vision for how I hope the work I do, day in and day out, will someday impact the broader vision of developing emotionally healthy and effective leaders in health care. I closed the conversation with them by saying, “Wishing you all the best in your endeavor to develop front-line leaders who will become our future chief nurse executives!”

Many years ago, a mentor of mine encouraged me to write out five-, 10- and 20-year professional goals. I easily could do the five-year, but 10 was a stretch and 20 made me really search and come to a halt as I tried to bust out of the narrow view I found myself caught in. Twenty years! That was really far away—so far away I started calculating how old I would be then. Through the writing of those goals, I began to realize I needed a much wider lens to look at the impact I wanted my career to have on the world around me.

What that exercise taught me is that it’s easy for us as leaders to get caught seeing what’s right in front of us and fail to see the influence we have on those around us. That influence adds up over the course of a career, a lifetime and before you know it, you have developed a charge nurse into a chief nurse executive.

The health care industry is morphing and changing at what seems an exponential rate, making it difficult for many seasoned leaders to keep up and maintain relevance. However, the best leaders have a knack for thinking differently and approaching problems from a different angle. Looking at things from this new angle requires us to remove the “glasses” we have acquired through our upbringing, professional experiences and the sacred cows of the industry.

In developing charge nurses, I find myself regularly challenging experienced nurse leaders to take new kinds of risks. Rather than promoting the most seasoned clinical expert who does not have a lick of leadership skill, perhaps we could invest in a millennial nurse who has demonstrated incredible leadership potential. The leaders that inspire me the most are the ones that take risks, go against the flow of tradition, are unruffled by naysayers, and resist the need to please everyone.

The title of a recent editorial published in The New York Times on the topic of leadership caught my attention: “Go Ahead, Millennials, Destroy Us.” The author encouraged this new generation to destroy us in a good way. Flip it all upside down. Challenge the status quo. Think differently. It made me wonder what these millennials might teach me as an aging Gen X-er and how I might egg on the next generation to greatness! I find myself with a growing curiosity of how the next generation and beyond can mentor me as an emerging leader. As a member of one of the more seasoned generations, we have more to do in growing in our comfort levels of not always knowing the answers or the way forward when tackling the complex problems we are facing in health care. Maybe the next generation has something to teach us.

Each year the American Nurses Association celebrates National Nurses Week and they publish a theme to exhort the masses of close to 3 million registered nurses. This year the theme of Nurses Week is Inspire, Innovate and Influence. This call extends to all health care leaders and seeks to draw out the 20-year goals in all of us—what do you want your life to be about? When you have worked that final stretch of your career, what will the wide-lens picture of impact show?

Do not underestimate the little moments of your career for they stack up and have a domino effect all around you. Be faithful to growing in awareness of the small opportunities right before you. Think big, think differently, and egg on the next generation. And as we do so, we will ultimately inspire, innovate and influence the next generation of leaders.

About the author. In her role as program manager in the exceptional practice department at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, Shanel Martens uses her experience as a professional development practitioner to support nurses advancing into a variety of leadership roles. She serves as the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program Coordinator, having implemented the successful nurse residency program at Lake Forest. During her tenure, there has been significant improvement in retention of new graduate nurses, measurable changes in stronger employee engagement and evidence of clinical leadership at the sharp end of health care delivery.

Published: May 9, 2018