Practices of Reflective Leaders: Taking Risks

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 4:20 PM

Karen Pardue, PhD, MS, BS, RN, CNE, ANEF
Westbrook College of Health Professions at the University of New England (UNE), University of New England, Biddeford/Portland, ME, Kennebunk, ME, USA

Stories of becoming a nurse faculty leader reveal the common experience of risk taking. This is not to imply that nurse leaders are risky about what they do, but to acknowledge that risk taking is an everyday occurrence in leadership. Faculty narratives help us to understand and identify the art and complexity of taking risks. The aim of this presentation is to examine leadership practices associated with risk taking. 

Faculty identify themselves as leaders when they take risks with their teaching by trying something new with students. Whether motivated by boredom, educational reform, or a desire to exercise creativity, moving out of one’s comfort zone feels risky because by doing so you open yourself to the possibility of failure. Moreover, teachers who lead educational change may be perceived by other faculty as disrupting the status quo, resulting in colleague resistance to their ideas. Leaders additionally describe how, in championing new approaches, they commonly enact the practice of speaking up. Reflection and rehearsal are essential activities for trying something new and speaking up.

A common leadership practice associated with risk taking involves doing your homework.  The process of engaging in homework is demanding, but the investment worthwhile, as well-executed homework enhances likelihood for risk taking success. A deliberate praxis of homework involves weighing the costs and the benefits of a decision. This involves careful consideration as to the pros and cons of a given situation. Homework also entails learning the context, as every leadership decision takes place within the nuances of an organizational climate.  Lastly, homework involves cultivating relationships as building community serves to unite and energize people. Collective action mitigates risk, as liability is subsequently distributed across all members of the organization.

Nurse leaders additionally describe risk taking in response to the desire to do the right thing. The underpinning for doing the right thing often stems from a sense of responsibility on the part of the leader. Narratives from nurse leaders reveal a deep personal responsibility to successfully execute their role. Additionally, they describe taking risks and doing the right thing in response to enacting their vision. This means leaders feel compelled to act based upon their individual vision and passion. Finally, doing the right thing is grounded in being true to a core self and following one’s own values. Knowing one’s values provides a strong foundation for leadership which supports the experience of risk taking.

Stories from nurse leaders highlight risk taking may result in failure. Being willing to fail reveals a less explored aspect of nursing leadership. Willingness to fail describes the disposition of being open to the possibilities which are realized through failure. Leaders who are willing to fail develop a culture supportive of experimentation. A climate of experimentation is characterized by curiosity; an environment where greater emphasis is placed on the testing process itself and less on the actual outcome. Learning lessons from failure reveals an important practice for being willing to fail. Examining adversity provides opportunity for personal, professional, and organizational growth. A final practice which supports being willing to fail is engagement in hard work.The experience of risk taking and failure may generate added leadership work, as more time and effort may be needed to “work out the kinks”. 

This workshop will provide opportunities for participants to engage with exemplars illustrative of leadership risk taking, and apply the described practices to their own leadership experiences. Reflective questions will additionally be posed designed to encourage participants’ growth and introspection as nurse leaders.