Mentoring inspires next generation of leaders
Robin had Batman. Watson had Holmes. But who can the next generation of nurses look up to? For most nurses, the answer is right in front of their eyes: Their managers, their co-workers and their friends.
Whether it occurs formally in a classroom or seminar or informally over a cup of coffee, mentoring enriches both the senior staffer and the junior health care novice. Mentoring builds bridges, improves communication, unleashes creativity, reduces frustration, and enhances patient care and caregiver career opportunities.
"There are enough role models out there, but I don't think people see how important it is," said Cindy Balkstra, RN, C, MS, a pulmonary clinical nurse specialist at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah, Ga. Balkstra believes nurses need to rely on each other for their personal and professional development.
To expand her professional and leadership skills, Balkstra participated in the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International's mentorship program, the Chiron Mentor-Fellow Forum, in 2001. Working with her mentor, Dr. Marianne Matzo, Balkstra developed end-of-life directives for pulmonary patients.
Mentoring is something that should happen every day, not just inside formal mentorship programs such as Chiron, Balkstra said. "Nurses need to realize, once you get to a certain point in your career, it's part of your role to look back and see who else can you grow," she said.
Balkstra has several mentors, both in and outside of nursing. "They help me be more specific and they help me when my creativity is a little low," she said.
Mentoring is about giving, as well as taking. "You should look behind to see who needs help to grow, as well as look ahead to see what opportunities are there for you," Balkstra said.
Kathleen Sanford, RN, DBA, FACHE, agrees that mentoring is something every nurse does. As vice president of nursing services at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, Wash., and administrator at Harrison Silverdale Hospital in Silverdale, Wash., Sanford sees her job as being a leader, as well as a manager. A leader, she says, "is someone who inspires people to be the best they can be."
"I think mentorship is something that, if you have a management job, you owe it to every single person in the organization," she said.
Sanford seeks to inspire her employees to do as well as they can. When new managers come to her organization, she meets with them to discuss their roles in the organization. She shares her philosophy of nursing management, which includes how to treat patients and how nurses should treat themselves and each other. Sanford says she tells her managers that it's OK to make mistakes.
Honest discussion is key to mentoring, but it's not the most important thing. "Being a mentor means being able to listen," Sanford said. Mentors should ask these questions of those they are mentoring:
- What do you want out of your career?
- Where do you want to be in two, five or 10 years?
- How can I help you get there?
- What classes would help you achieve your goals?
Only when a mentor has listened to the subject, Sanford says, should he or she make suggestions for career advancement or enrichment.
Leaders should apply this lesson to everyone in the organization, not just those who actively seek mentoring, Sanford says. "I see it as a responsibility of leaders to mentor everyone they have a leadership position with."
Theresa Carroll, RN, PhD, professor and associate dean for academic affairs for the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, adds another ingredient to a successful mentoring relationship: confidentiality. "Relations between the mentor and the person being mentored have to be 100 percent confidential," she said.
Carroll is careful to note, however, that most leadership development takes place outside formal mentoring programs. "Informal experiences can be as profound in the development of leadership as anything," she said.
Carroll recently completed a study of what skills and attributes women leaders need to succeed in the 21st century. Through surveys and interviews with female leaders, including nurses, in the Houston area, Carroll identified six components of leadership:
- Personal integrity
- Strategic vision and action orientation
- Team building and communication skills
- Management and technical competency
- People skills, such as networking and working collaboratively
- Personal survival skills, such as political sensitivity and candor
These basic values should be instilled in young leaders, both in formal mentoring programs and in everyday life. "Everyone understands a leader needs to be truthful and be credible and have a degree of integrity. But it has to be explicit," she said.
Carroll's advice to up-and-coming leaders is equally straightforward: "You have to clarify your own value system and understand why things are important to you." Then, she says, it's a matter of acting in a manner consistent with one's values.
Consistency of word and action, she says, builds credibility and demonstrates positive values to younger people.
With proper leadership, Carroll sees a bright future for nursing. She describes her students as "bright, energetic, able people that can take over the profession just fine. I have no reservations about the future of nursing."
Originally published in Excellence, Second Quarter 2002; Vol. 3, No. 2, April.