In his children’s book Happy Birthday to You, Dr. Seuss eloquently wrote, “Today YOU are YOU, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than YOU.” The book was intended to encourage children to celebrate who they are and the ability they have to shape the course of their lives. Those same words can also be powerful in the life of a nurse leader. The long-term care environment is challenging, chaotic, and tumultuous, and that is on the good days. Changes in regulations, staff, processes, and census come fast. Nurse leaders need to celebrate who they are and their ability to shape the course of their lives. Nurse leaders need a little love!
“There is no one alive who is youer than YOU.” So what is your YOU and how can it be used to guide your leadership role? You can begin to identify your YOU by asking the following questions:
(1) What are my strengths?
(2) What do I do well?
(3) What energizes me? and
(4) How do people say I make them feel?
The answers to these questions can launch a discovery process for identifying your YOU—or, as I call it, your leadership DNA. We all have it, but your leadership DNA is unique to only YOU. Some have developed theirs through years of experience, education, or coaching by other leaders. If you are new in a leadership role, YOU may be just starting to figure yours out. Wherever you are in your leadership journey, identifying your YOU (your leadership DNA) is important.
So, why is discovering your leadership DNA so important? Because your leadership DNA is the unique combination of abilities, skill, talent, knowledge, and experience that YOU bring to a leadership role. Your best chance of success is identifying your leadership DNA and learning how to maximize it through the course of your leadership role. It will be what helps YOU get through the bad days and what energizes you on the good days. It will be the oxygen of your leadership role. Just as the flight attendant reminds passengers that in an emergency they should put on the oxygen mask before helping others, so it is with nurse leaders. Most nurse leaders have some version of a crisis or emergency YOU must put your oxygen mask on before YOU are able to lead others.
For example, how many muddle through the entire day and then, while traveling home, begin to list the things that they did not get done? I know many do, and I am often guilty of the same self-talk. What if you started with listing all the successes you had during the day? What did you get done? What were your accomplishments? What did YOU do that brought joy to a co-worker, resident, or family member? Isn’t that what leadership is about? Using our gifts, talent, and knowledge to make a difference in the world? And not beating ourselves up for not getting things done. Over my career in nursing I have learned that I will never get it all done. The expectations I have for myself are much greater and less achievable than those I would ever have for others. There is always something else to do. When I take the time for self-reflection and focus on what I did accomplish, it reenergizes me for the future instead of spiraling me into negative thinking and, on occasion, into the “I have to find another job” attitude. Our work is not a job. It is a call to caring for elders. It is about a passion for making a difference in the lives of others.
So, when you hear yourself thinking job instead of calling, it may be a sign of needing some oxygen. You need a little more love. You need to refocus on your leadership DNA—all the things YOU do well. All the things YOU have accomplished. Stop, and take a break to write yourself a love note. Yes, a love note, from yourself to yourself. We tend to think of February as the month of love. How about taking time during the month to focus on loving yourself? If we don’t learn to love and appreciate ourselves, how could we possibly love and appreciate those whom we lead? Write yourself a note about the gifts, talents, knowledge, and, most importantly, passion for caring that you share with others each day. Tell yourself thanks for all the things YOU have accomplished. Send yourself a Valentine’s Day card or even flowers. Nurses are amazing caregivers for others, but we are not so good at caring for ourselves. So, take the time to show yourself a little love!
What is your leadership DNA? What is your YOU? This may be a new perspective on leadership for YOU. Take some time to reflect on your strengths. Ask yourself the questions listed above. For some nurse leaders, it may have been a long time since you cared for yourselves, and you may have forgotten about the amazing nurse leader YOU truly are. If you have trouble identifying your leadership DNA, ask a trusted colleague or peer what positive attributes they see in YOU. How does that person see YOU living them out in your leadership role? To further explore your leadership DNA from a non-biased approach, consider taking the CliftonStrengths assessment (http://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com) or another leadership assessment, such as Myers-Briggs or DISC, all readily available at low cost online.
Dr. Seuss continues in his book with a line that has implications for the nurse leader. “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So … get on your way!” Today is your day to show yourself some love. There will be mountains to climb, but YOU can be prepared for them by identifying your leadership DNA and learning how to use it to bring the best of YOU to every challenge!
Linda Shell, DNP, MA, RN, DNS-CT is a nurse leader and consultant/educator with a passion for developing strong, resilient leaders, effective teams, and healthy work cultures in the field of aging services. She has inspired thousands of leaders to discover their Leadership DNA through her SurTHRIVELeadership platform. For more information on nurse leadership and other topics, visit lindashell.com.
For permission to use or reproduce this article in full or in part, please submit a permissions form.