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Dr. Marion Broome on Nurse Leadership, Part 2

An interview with the Dean of the Duke School of Nursing

  • transformational leadership
  • nurse leaders
  • nursing leadership
  • In the second part of the DailyNurse interview with Marion Broome (Ph.D, RN, FAAN), Dean of the Duke School of Nursing and author of Transformational Leadership in Nursing, Dr. Broome talks about what it takes to be a leader, team-building, changing trends in leadership, and more.

    Communication is an essential part of the leader’s toolkit

    Marion Broome: Communication is number one. It doesn’t mean you have to be super-articulate. I’ve watched people who weren’t incredibly articulate but they use humor, and use humility… I’ll tell you who’s amazing at this is Coach Kay at Duke. He uses humor, and he catches you off-guard while doing an interview, and it makes [a leader] seem so much more human. I have to force myself to do that; I’m not naturally very good with humor, but if I can, I’ve taken the opportunity to do that. It relaxes people almost immediately: “oh, she’s just like me.”

    Can you build a team before you’re actually a leader?

    MB: Oh, yes! You can. And you probably should, because every course that’s taught, every unit that is managing patients, every community agency that employs staff nurses and cares for families—all of those have very complex challenges to deal with. Everyone sees the challenges in their particular job, and if we each attack it with our own solutions, nothing’s going to happen. But if we together work with other people like us, and say, “have you ever noticed that… Have you ever seen—I have this family, and they do this, and I don’t really know what to do. I’ve tried this and this and this?” And if you get a bunch of nurses around the table, there’s no problem they can’t solve. Because they will all have good ideas.

    If you get a bunch of nurses around the table, there’s no problem they can’t solve. Because they will all have good ideas.

    There will be somebody in that group—you get into a little group of five or six people, and there will be some natural leadership or organizational strengths that will come forward. Somebody’s always good at taking notes, and somebody else will say “oh, I’ll report out on it.” Some people like to put everything into a chart, you know, that helps everybody see it more clearly. That’s all about team building. And the role of the senior leader lies in pulling those young folks together and saying, “what do you all think?” The leader will be helping to shape, because sometimes in small groups, you’ll get people who try to take over everything—there’s always insecurity driving some of that—and the facilitator, the more formal leader, needs to mentor everybody and make sure everybody is sharing their ideas.

    The leader as mentor

    MB: The word “mentor” is kind of overused now. You know, I get a lot of requests from people to be their mentor and have learned to ask questions first. I mentor Ph.D and DNP students, which is pretty structured, and early on, you have to figure out a communications style that works for that person, and a work style that works for both me and that person. I’ve learned to say to people, when they ask me to be a mentor, “you tell me; what would you like out of this relationship?” “What’s going to work best for you?” [For example] is it face-to-face meetings? Would you rather talk on the phone? What kind of things do you think you need help with? And how can I be of most use to you?

    I’ve learned to say to people, when they ask me to be a mentor, “you tell me; what would you like out of this relationship?”

    So, to me you could call that a “sponsor,” you could call that a “coach,” or you could call it a “mentor.” But it’s someone for whom I’m willing to invest the time it takes to help them achieve their goal. I’m willing to take the time as long as I know I’ve got what they need. If they need somebody that’s just going to “rah-rah-rah,” then I’m not the best person for that. I will “rah-rah” when it’s appropriate, but I will also share some observations that they may not want to hear.

    It takes a couple of meetings with people to figure out if you’re the best person for them or if you should recommend somebody else. It’s good to get to know each other, and figure out if I really have what they want, and also, sometimes—and this is really hard—I find out a couple of meetings later that I’m not the best person, because frankly, I can’t connect with them. We’re so different; our personality styles are so different, that I have to say, “you know, I really think you’d probably work better with someone else.”

    The humble leaders

    MB: When I think of the millennial leaders I know, who are clearly emerging leaders, I find they’re focused, they’re organized… Some of them are very quiet individuals from a personality standpoint, but because they’re so competent and so people-focused, others are just totally drawn to them. It’s amazing to watch, because our society has changed. You think of the leader—at least in nursing—as strong and opinionated, articulate and verbal. Now that doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to. Or, it just isn’t as valued as at one time was.

    So, there are young people now who are coming up and I am very clear with them about what I think are their strengths, and often they’re just so humble. But humility is important – if you read the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t – you’ll find a study about top organizations that have moved from being a really good organization to being a great organization—and they’re all headed by really humble leaders.

    What is a servant-leader?

    MB: There is an organization that is devoted to the study of servant-leadership—the Greenleaf Foundation. But in my own case, I was an Army nurse—and unbeknownst to me, that was where my training began in leadership. In that setting, the officer is responsible for everyone under their command. If you’re a nurse, you have medics working with you, along with other, lower-rank nurses, and you’re the last one who goes to dinner. You make sure that everybody else goes. And no matter what happens on ward or unit, it’s your problem. And if somebody’s having family issues, you’re expected to pay attention to that. You’re expected to uncover that and to talk to that person, and see how you can help. So, unconsciously, I think that really made an impact on me, and I think that servant-leaders never forget where they came from. To me, that’s what servant-leadership is: remembering why you’re getting paid, what your responsible for and why you’re here.

    Leading as Dean of the Duke School of Nursing

    MB: Now, I probably have one of the greatest jobs in nursing, and my job is to lead that school [the Duke School of Nursing], and to do it in a way that it’s a community. That’s how good organizations thrive. [Good organizations] are communities of very diverse talent and diverse perspectives, diverse jobs.

    You have to keep everybody moving in the right direction. We’re serving our students; that’s why we’re there. None of us would have jobs if our students didn’t want to be nurses. I’m in this job to make sure that the Duke School of Nursing continues to provide the best education possible at all levels- BSN to PhD. We have a heavy responsibility, as we’re one of the top-ten schools [ed. Note: Duke is listed as No. 1 on the recent top 10 nursing schools list].

    It’s my responsibility as leader to remind us that we, with all of the resources we have, comes a big, big responsibility. And we’re up to it. I have the most incredible faculty and staff that have pulled together, all the time, especially in crisis. It’s very gratifying when it works, and it has worked very well!