A Guiding Path Through Experience and Positive Change

Dawn Huggins is a nursing leader who is very connected to her cause. It takes a steady and dedicated leader to navigate the changes that arise in healthcare, especially with the challenges of recent times. We hope her insights from before, during and after the pandemic can bring some inspiration and encouragement to you on your healthcare leadership journey.

Lead from your core values.

As a leader, you must know your core values and guiding principles. Knowing and believing your intrinsic values ensure that you will be able to respond appropriately and comfortably in any situation. Dawn shared, “the mentors I gravitate toward are those that are able to see the big picture and negotiate solutions that serve the overall majority. Their decisions are confidently made and rooted in their core values. This inspires me.”

Take breaks in your year to do personal planning. Make one of your exercises a core values reflection.

  1. What are your core values?
  2. Why are these values most important to you?
  3. What are examples of how you are living out these values now?
  4. Think about ways to better incorporate your values into your goals and leadership behaviors.
Healthy Environments Enable Meaningful Work 

Meaningful work and a healthy work environment feed off of each other. Over the years, I have learned a lot as I’ve grown in the healthcare industry, especially when it comes to leading a healthy work environment. Here are my top three priorities to propel health and wellbeing on my team:

  • Healthy conflict can lead to positive change. It’s up to us to learn how to handle conflict to be able to have productive conversations that build us. Conflict can be hard, but the more we practice our healthy communication skills, the better the relationship-building experience and the better the outcomes. When done correctly, conflict can help bonding and set the tone for better future collaboration.
  • Respect is appreciated universally. Whether it is your listening skills or how you respond in challenging conversations, respectful behaviors are ones that we should proactively practice. Great leaders are respectful and people want to work for and do great work when they have a respectful leader versus the opposite.
  • People have to feel safe before they can hear anything you are saying. We must build relationships and trust before people will really believe, listen or follow. Be proactive about building psychological safety.
Change for the Better

Multiple crises have led to a perfect storm in healthcare, be it economic changes, aging of the workforce, changing reimbursements, political discord, or generational gaps, but they have given us opportunities for improvement in healthcare. It’s time to do things differently. We have a huge opportunity here and if we cannot stabilize the nursing population, healthcare will implode. We must rethink our current ideas on what is required for a fully functioning nursing team. There are many opportunities for improvement, but I believe our first priority should be stabilizing the nursing staff.

Take a step back, slow down, and actively listen. 

Exhausted and disenchanted workers are not capable of enthusiasm. The best they can give is task-centered work. Hence, when we ask for critical thinking, compassion, and excitement, we are draining a well that isn’t full. Empathize and meet your people where they are and build from there.

Choose a positive attitude and goodness.

Go back to the basics by bringing back the small moments of joy that remind us of our “why”.  We have to start refilling the wells of our teams. Happy nurses equal happy patients. Make sure the healthcare team feels valued and appreciated. For example; make sure they take lunch breaks, debrief after mistakes/codes/errors, talk slower and spend time with them one-on-one.

As a leader, you are being watched, and people model or replicate your behaviors. Be intentional about a positive attitude and watch the ripple effect of your comments and smiles across your team. 


Finding Joy and Inspiration Through Meaningful Work

Angela Belmont has been a nurse for 39 years. She believes that nursing is a calling to those who work in the healthcare field and feels privileged to do its sacred work. She finds meaning through her work as a nurse leader and continues to find joy and inspiration in each and every day. Angela shared a few of her key learnings throughout her career below. We hope you find some inspiration here.

Opportunity Abounds.

Today, in the nursing industry, the opportunities are so much greater than they were back in the 80s when I graduated from nursing school. Normally, you had two options, you either worked in a hospital or you worked in a doctor’s office but today there is so much opportunity to do so much more than that. As the profession has grown, I think we have really begun to show our value to the medical healthcare team which allows us the opportunity to have so many different niches, if you will. I always strive to inspire young nurses coming out of school to try everything that they can. You’ll know when you’ve found the place that you belong and the place you will continue to work in the years to come. 

Surrounded By Strong Leadership.

I believe that surrounding yourself with strong leadership and folks that really know how to do their job is very, very important. When you can build a team of people who have the same vision and the same outlook in terms of what they want out of their career, you have hit the jackpot. Concentrating more on those around you, those who you bring onto your teams, and really spending time investing in them as individuals, making sure that they know how valuable they are to the team and the mission is so important.

Fill Your Cup.

I believe nursing is a calling and it is sacred work. If you can do meaningful work on a daily basis, you continue to be inspired to find more ways to continue that work. It is so very important to make sure your cup gets filled by what you do each and every day.


Leading Well-Being by Example

Dawn Alexander has been a nurse since 1987, in leadership roles for more than 30 years, the last 15 of which were spent in a Chief Nursing Officer role. Dawn grew up with parents who were in leadership positions, which inspired her career aspirations in healthcare leadership. They led by example and it has always anchored and guided her career. 

Dawn has some core leadership learnings that have helped her and may inspire you to take action today:

Embrace all of your experiences and learn from them.

Challenges and failures make us better when we apply the learnings and of course, cherish all the great experiences you get and replicate what you can to help others have a great experience too. I’ve been really blessed with some great opportunities. They weren’t always the most positive, which I believe has made me a better leader. Actually, I’ve had poor leaders be some of my greatest teachers.

I have learned to prioritize and really focus on self-care.

Nurses who are passionate about what they do tend to ignore their own self-care. They push themselves to burn out too often. I’ve done this. I knew better, but I know that I have not always acted on my knowledge. I remember expecting self care from my team, yet I did not prioritize it. I remember some of my direct reports coming saying, “You know, we see where you park every morning. And we know what time you come in and we know what time you leave. You keep telling us that we need to take care of ourselves and be healthy emotionally and physically, but we don’t see you doing the same.” Hearing this really resonated with me and made me more conscious of leading by example.

I’ve learned that if I don’t make myself a priority, nobody else will. And, here’s some ideas of how to incorporate self care more often. Spend time in reflection and maybe even journal your thoughts around things like: what brings you joy or what makes you happy outside of work? For me, it’s getting massages, going shopping, not necessarily buying, but just being in and around that kind of energy. I’ve always been a believer in living a healthy lifestyle, whether it’s eating healthy or doing some kind of aerobic activity. Lately, I’ve started yoga. I think that I am horrible at it, but every time I do it, I feel a little bit better. Doing things that keep your mind and your body healthy is really important. Find the things that bring you joy and commit to scheduling them into your life, regularly. And, work to remove any guilt you experience from the time and resources that you spend on your self care.

I have to be mindful every day of how much time I actually spend working. I confess that I can be a workaholic.12 or 14 hour work days, on a regular basis, can really take its toll. My employees notice and say, “We see you here, 12, 13 hours a day. It’s difficult for us to leave at four o’clock or five o’clock if we still see your car in the parking lot at six and seven o’clock at night.” Be mindful of those hours, the work is still going to be there and it can often be done another day.