There's No Such Thing As a Perfect Leader
By Danika Meyer, Clinical Nurse Educator, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
I have shared before about the insurmountable insecurities that I experienced as a new clinical educator: I was only 25 years old when I first began (and something that I used to be apprehensive to share fearing that people would quickly calculate my lack of “traditional” experience in their head) and the learning curve was steep.
I was just about three and a half years out of college and clueless about a lot, mostly relying on my willingness to learn and my ability to take my time to learn those essential skills that I needed. But while I tried to climb and hoist myself up that steep leaving curve, I learned one thing almost immediately: I love what I do because I get to serve a purpose and a cause that I believe in. I learned that I love and serve our nurses and clinical staff by empowering them with knowledge to care for critically ill children in our community. I love my purpose because most of us, if not all of us, are eventually touched by medicine in ways that can be healing or devastating. Whether it is our loved ones or us that are affected, I would want to be within reach of a healthcare provider that was cared for by their leaders.
Whose leaders equipped them with the proper tools to serve with compassion, grace, and humility? Not just knowledge. Not just skill. But who encouraged them to listen by role modeling that concept? I would want to be within reach of staff whose leaders cared for them so that they could properly care for my loved one or for me.
However, I have come to understand that being a leader in health care isn’t easy and I feel obligated to tell you a secret: my confidence is sometimes clouded by self-doubt and there are times that my purpose gets lost in the noise of day to day distractions. Even coining myself as a “leader” is something I still struggle with on a day to day basis because I still equate this term with “expert,” and that’s not a title I confidently own. And you see, this can be quite an obstacle when you are trying to be an agency for change and a role model for good. But what I’ve learned from surrounding myself with compassionate, knowledgeable, confident, and empathetic leaders is this: there’s no such thing as a perfect leader and the best thing that a leader can do is to live in a space that forces growth, openness and commitment to the obligation you have to those that look to you for solutions. Here is what I want to share in the hopes of encouraging someone navigating this same space.
Don’t Sacrifice Outcome for the Sake of Your Insecurity
In my experience, any new start I’ve had in life came with a call to “prove” myself (whether it was self-inflicted or not). However, I’ve come to realize that as long as the patient or the staff member receives what they need, it doesn’t matter who was able to support them. I’ve learned that celebrating my colleagues’ or staff members’ talents are more important than feeding the need to prove something to myself or to others just because of my fears. Growth means knowing your resources and acknowledging that somebody else may be better suited to fulfill that job and celebrating their successes and positive outcomes that benefit the patient. In fact, the greatest joy I have found within my role is the growth that I am able to observe in others both clinically and professionally.
You Can’t Please Everyone
Eventually, whether it has happened for you already or not, someone is going to be unhappy with a decision you’ve made. The questions that I ask myself when this happens are usually the following:
- Did I make this decision to the best of my ability using the information I was provided?
- Did I ask the appropriate questions and do the proper research to arrive to this decision?
- Did I evaluate and analyze all possibilities?
- Did I arrive at this decision reflectively and not in a reactionary way?
- Did I objectively evaluate the information I was given?
- Am I functioning from my core values and does this decision reflect those values?
If I was able to answer yes to all these questions, then I have to have confidence that I did the best that I could to address the situation at hand. Of all these questions, the most important is the last. I highly value respect, collaboration, and caring. If any decision I consider acting upon doesn’t align with those values, I often need more time to evaluate or reflect or seek assistance to reach alternative solutions.
Conversely, you’re going to make mistakes. When this happens, own up to it. Apologize if you need to. Learn from it and remedy it if you can. Move on.
Nothing That Was Ever Worth it Started Out Comfortable
Many people that have met me in adulthood are surprised to learn that I was painfully shy and noncommunicative growing up, especially because I earn a living constantly communicating with others and where the level of my effectiveness highly depends on how well I communicate. But I didn’t wake up one day and decide “today, I’m not going to be shy anymore.” This took years of stepping into uncomfortable spaces that would traditionally terrify the type of introvert I am: speaking up in any classroom despite the fact that English was my second language, auditioning for the lead in the musical in 5th grade, singing in my middle school talent show in the 8th grade (by myself!), trying out for section leader in band in high school, starting a club in college that forced me to talk in front of 200 students each week, starting a job in a medical unit that terrified me, and becoming a clinical educator.
The decision to step into these uncomfortable spaces has forced me towards the most important concept in my growth as a leader: I need to ask for help. Because I love my job and respect the responsibility that it entails, I have sought out mentors and participated in professional coaching. I read books. I practice crucial conversations with someone better equipped to handle them than I am. I hope to maintain the level of humility and openness that I had when I began this journey. I recognize my weaknesses. I constantly remind myself to listen more, speak less. I remind myself that this type of learning will never be done—that in my heart I am glad to be this type of novice. And the reason for that is that people are dynamic. You can’t master people. You can learn and grow with people and that means that our leaders must be dynamic as well.
Give it Time
In this day and age we want to be the expert now. We want to be the best now. And no one knows this better than me (raise your hand if you’re a perfectionist, overbearing, overachieving millennial!). But what I’ve come to appreciate is to look back on my time since starting out as a clinical educator and valuing my trajectory. I value the times that I told myself “I’m not ready” and how I gave myself grace to grow during that period. I have appreciated the patience that I have given myself to do a serious job for our staff nurses and our patients. I appreciated the times that I fumbled the most because it gave me a chance to build my professional resilience and gave me an opportunity to rise to the occasion.
I want to state a disclaimer that the content of this article was just as much a reminder to myself as it was information sharing to an audience. This hasn’t been easy, but nothing that was worth it ever was. I want to be the type of leader that I often see: caring, committed, humble while simultaneously innovative, solution oriented, and creative. No, I don’t have to be perfect. But the people I serve deserve that type of ownership and commitment and so do our patients, families, and overarching community. I am so appreciative of this opportunity to serve and to grow. It’s the best challenge I’ve ever taken on.