Servant leadership

Servant leadership- it seems like a paradox, yet I believe that this model of leadership is widely applicable and appropriate in nursing, and throughout healthcare. While a great deal has been written about the need for nurses in leadership, the need for nurses continues.

To address the need for nurses to lead in healthcare, I recently wrote an article for Nursing 2016, with my colleague Robert Toomey. He teaches the Servant Leadership programs at UW-Madison Continuing Studies, where I teach about Palliative Care, and have integrated servant leadership theory into my programs.

We each brought our expertise to the writing, and together we were able to identify ways that nurses can use the servant leadership model to become leaders themselves. Some of the characteristics of servant leaders include:

Listening, Empathy, Vision, Self-awareness, and a Commitment to Others’ Growth.

Not your typical leadership characteristics, but the make sense. AND they fit nurses. We can relate to these characteristics, because this is how we try to interact with our patients.

I always learn something in writing, and these are a few lessons I learned through writing about and reflecting on this topic:

  1. Servant leadership is an attitude and mindset.
  2. Servant leadership is a conscious decision.
  3. Servant leadership is a way of interacting with others.
  4. Servant leadership is a process of becoming over time.

In other words, it takes work, and it’s an ongoing process. And if you do it right, rather than becoming more self-important over time, you will become more humble, even as your influence grows.

As nurses, we are often more comfortable in the background supporting others rather than being at the head of the table and having power. However, I believe that if we consciously decide to lead, guided by a servant leadership model, and receiving and giving mentorship over time, we will become the leaders that we believe are needed, and we will have influence in the areas where we recognize a need for change.


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