My Schools Of Leadership

August 01, 2014
Linda Crawford


I graduated from RN school forty-seven years ago next month.  Unfortunately, at the age of twenty-four when I obtained my first “management” job, I was not prepared to lead people. I spent a small fortune on leadership books, and I even read them too.  However, I finally realized that the people who worked “for me” were the professors in my school of leadership.  I was enlightened by a “nurse’s aide”, who was old enough to be my mother.

Her behavior helped me understand that I might have the title, but she was the unofficial leader of my unit.  Unfortunately, people were following her because they were afraid of the consequences if they didn’t.  Regrettably, I did not recognize my own fear and did not truly understand my role.  Therefore, I made the decision to dismiss her from her position without attempting to inspire her to lead through love instead of fear.  I learned it is dangerous to use fear to “manage” people, because wise decisions are not made in a state of fear.

Fast forward thirty-five years.  I thought I had learned a lot about “management” from my professors in the medical world school.  However, when I left the Hospital World and entered the Nursing Home World, I realized that my education was just beginning.  During my first week as Director of Nursing in a long-term care setting, I met the “twin” of the “nurse’s aide” who I dismissed all those years ago.

She was the unofficial leader of nursing. But this time, she was the Administrator, who was not a nurse; and to make it more complicated, she was my supervisor.  This time, I couldn’t just dismiss my new competition. This time, I had to deal with the problem in a positive way with the expectation of a positive outcome.  There were many heated discussions and apologies in those first few years.

But we learned to respect and love each other for our differences as well as our strengths.  We both learned through this experience that people don’t work “for you”; they work “with you.” We began to understand that we must model what we want to see.  After eight years, we empowered person-directed teams that worked together in four separate neighborhoods.  We became well acquainted with frosts and re-growth.  Our thought process changed from managing people with punitive disciplinary action to coaching person-directed teams.  We now understood the importance of holding people accountable but at the same time celebrating their successes.

The time came for me to graduate from my second school of leadership.  The Administrator and DON team that existed for eight years dissolved, but the friendship remains alive and well.  My third and present school of leadership has been frightening as well as challenging; but I have experienced tremendous growth.  I have no official power, so everything I do is based on my ability to inspire people and to persuade them to follow. I established alliances with people who are like-minded for support and creative ideas. We started with the premise that all people in our community, including people who visit our campus, are Care Partners.

We are learning to model dignity, respect, love and compassion for all people; regardless of whether they work or live in our community.   We encourage people to “get real” and talk about issues openly with people who can help and to have the expectation that a solution will be found.  There is a time to follow as well as lead.  Leadership is empowering and inspiring people to reach farther than they think they can reach.  Leadership is planting seeds, helping people reap the harvest and celebrating the frost as well as the victories.  Leadership is about personal transformation and a passion for helping others grow.

My professors in this school of leadership helped me understand that people have the same basic needs whether they live or work in our community.  It is as important that staff care partners love each other as much as they love the Elders.  It is not possible for person-directed care to grow and thrive until those relationships are built and nurtured.  It is critical that the Administrative team understands that the only way the Elder Care Partners will get the care they need and deserve is if the Staff Care Partners receive the same love, compassion, dignity and respect that the Elder Care Partners receive. Receiving and giving care must be reciprocal.

Most of all, Leadership is having the courage to consistently do the right thing; and having the fortitude to stay positive even when you don’t think it is possible.  If you do that, and look behind you, you will find people following you to the “Human Habitat” where all people have the opportunity to grow and thrive.  May the journey continue forever!!

2 Comments. Leave new

Linda, these experiences are so rich and meaningful. To be able to see our past as learning tools and stepping stones to a greater picture of how we need to be; loving, caring, and human. Leadership is so much more than being in charge. It is being inspired and strong enough to learn and grow. Thank you for this powerful personal story of becoming a transformational leader, what it is, and what it is not.


Beautifully stated! Thank you for a jump-start to the day.


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