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How to maintain enthusiasm and demonstrate values-driven leadership in challenging times

Values-based leadership in difficult times is beneficial in delivering compassionate care

Adhering to values-based nursing leadership in these difficult times, far from being controlling, is beneficial in delivering compassionate care

Picture: Annette Taylor-Anderson

Having had little time to recover and recuperate from the pandemic, nurse leaders now face an arguably greater challenge with a resurgence of COVID-19, a looming flu season and the usual NHS seasonal challenges.

Nursing has run the gamut of opinion over the past few months from enthusiastic weekly applause for NHS staff to accusations of a lack of professionalism, kindness and compassion documented in the national press.

Indeed, at times it feels paradoxical.

Maintaining professional values is central to quality nursing practice

Nurses are expected to lead complex reconfigurations of services while

...

Adhering to values-based nursing leadership in these difficult times, far from being controlling, is beneficial in delivering compassionate care

Illustration shows four nurses being addressed by a nurse leader
Picture: Annette Taylor-Anderson

Having had little time to recover and recuperate from the pandemic, nurse leaders now face an arguably greater challenge with a resurgence of COVID-19, a looming flu season and the usual NHS seasonal challenges.

Nursing has run the gamut of opinion over the past few months – from enthusiastic weekly applause for NHS staff to accusations of a lack of professionalism, kindness and compassion documented in the national press.

Indeed, at times it feels paradoxical.

Maintaining professional values is central to quality nursing practice

Nurses are expected to lead complex reconfigurations of services while also being expected to comply and carry on with the front line of COVID-19 care.

How do we keep our enthusiasm for the day-to-day aspects of nursing while demonstrating clear leadership and professional values in these challenging times?

We know maintaining professional values is central to quality nursing practice and we believe a values-driven leadership approach is vital when facing these challenges.

Healthcare charity the King’s Fund has highlighted the view that the nursing profession now faces intensified pressure and requires compassionate adjustment to the inadequate working conditions, excessive work pressures and inequalities which had already blighted it.

‘Leadership in times of crisis requires strength and energy, and nurses are already weary’

We also know from previous cases that care and compassion can easily be undermined by a lack of values-driven leadership and pressurised working conditions.

It is imperative now that as a profession we step up and champion the values on which our profession is based. It is also essential that we emphasise the need for values-based self-care.

All nurses are leaders, whether in delivering individual nursing care or when providing a high-level vision for the profession. This is acknowledged by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and is a requirement of the standards by which we practice. However, the choice of leadership style we apply can result in quite different outcomes.

Stress and tiredness can lead to staff taking a more authoritarian approach to decision-making

Values-based leaders act on behalf of their followers, linking values with their actions. There is a risk, at times of increased pressure, that stress and tiredness can lead to staff taking a more authoritarian approach to decision-making, often driven by resource needs or targets, that may appear to others to be controlling.

Focusing on values can be challenging in these circumstances when there are staffing shortages or lack of capacity for patients.

While nursing faces the challenges associated with COVID-19, the driving forces may seem overwhelming and values-based leadership may be less evident. We are, after all, human and capable of responding as such.

However, we are also resilient and proud of our professional standards, so we suggest there are ways of keeping our values central to leading care and services, especially in times of crises.

It is essential that emotional intelligence is applied to its fullest extent

Leadership in times of crisis requires strength and energy, and nurses are already weary. As the winter crisis approaches it is essential that emotional intelligence is applied to its fullest extent, so that nurses are mindful of their own needs while core nursing values remain evident as we care for each other and our clients.

The current crisis may feel perpetual and uncertain, with imposed and rapid changes presenting a tremendous leadership challenge to nurses professionally and personally.

But values-based leadership can be beneficial for leaders, teams and individuals in the delivery of compassionate care for patients, colleagues and ourselves.

Tips for being a values-based leader

In view of the current clinical reality faced by many nurses, the need for maintaining values at the core of leadership and practice is imperative.

Book cover of Values-based Leadership in Healthcare by David Stanely

We suggest crisis leadership may comprise ‘formal’ (hierarchical) and ‘informal’ (multilevel) leadership.

Where values link to actions it can be described as ‘congruent leadership’, as set out in a recent book by David Stanley, one of the authors of this article.

Characteristics central to our leadership and management roles

We believe keeping the following characteristics central to our leadership and management roles can benefit patients, colleagues and organisations:

  • Be decisive, inspire trust and calmness
  • Be situational and emotionally aware
  • Coordinate and manage resources and the workforce effectively
  • Communicate clearly with, and motivate, the team
  • Work autonomously and step up when needed
  • Be aware of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Share the responsibilities and burdens
  • Be approachable and a visible role model and clearly demonstrate professional values
  • Be courageous and empowered
  • Be empathetic and show integrity, competence and knowledge

Source: Stanley D (2019) Values-based Leadership in Healthcare: Congruent Leadership Explored



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