Power, Politics, and Possibilities
Managing the Art of the Possible
Savvy nurse managers know the importance of becoming comfortable with the “P” words: positive personal and professional power, becoming political, and seeing the possibilities in a changing workplace. The more nurse managers know and use these words to guide their leadership actions, the more influential and successful they will become in facilitating the critical linkages among professional nursing practice, quality of work life, and organizational success.
In this chapter, you will learn:
1. Attitude is the seat of personal and professional power
2. How “P” words can transform your professional practice and that of your staff
3. Strategies to guide your political development using personal and professional power
“P” WORDS: POSITIVE POWER, POLITICS, AND POSSIBILITIES
In the early days of health care restructuring, the battle cry of “lead, follow, or get out of the way” heralded a paradigm shift that resulted in organizational restructuring, revision of work processes, and reallocation of resources. Nurse managers were also challenged to manage their budgets “or we will find someone who will.” In the end, they were left feeling they had few choices. While some bravely decided to lead despite being unsure about what this new leadership would look like, many fell victim to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Hoping to defend themselves against job loss, nurse managers dug into their workplace bunkers, struggled to support their anxiety-ridden staff members, and turned most of their attention inward in survival mode. They focused on their budgets, doing more with less, and maintaining the status quo for fear of making a career-limiting move.
POWER, POLITICS, AND POSSIBILITY PONDERABLES
Today even with positional power, many nurse managers continue to feel powerlessness, caught in the middle, and that they have the responsibility without the authority. It is important to try to determine how much power you have in the organization by considering the following:
• How much personal and professional power do you have to influence staff, your peer group, and the organization?
• How effective is your interpersonal communication and ability to speak up about barriers to professional practice or practice issues in your clinical environment?
• How comfortable are you in sharing power through delegation and collaboration?
• Are you politically savvy enough to know what is happening beyond the four walls of your unit or organization; to acquire the resources you need to provide safe, ethical, and competent care; and to manage complex workplace relationships?
• What grade would you receive on a nurse manager report card if one existed?
• And, by the way, what is your “possibility quotient”? That is, how excited are you about the possibilities that exist in the evolving world of health care? Do you see your situation as a crisis or an opportunity?
The nursing literature tells us that nurses tend to shy away from the use of “P” words, especially power and politics. Power is regarded as antithetical to caring. Nurses will substitute empower for the word power to soften the perception of what may sound offensive to caring ears. And while nurses can readily express their feelings of powerlessness, they struggle with conversations about developing a sense of personal and professional power.
Nurse managers can model the use of positive language that reflects personal and professional power in order to help staff members move beyond using “soft” language that demeans, minimizes, or marginalizes their practice. The manager is the person with the positional power to lead nurses to discover the possibilities that lie within and the capacity to help facilitate their professional transformation.
FAST FACTS in a NUTSHELL
• Nurses must get comfortable with “P” words.
• These include personal and professional power, politics, and possibilities.
• Using “P” words to create new conversations can lead to new learning, growing, and changing.
POWER TO CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE
Before you can adequately lead your staff in getting comfortable with personal and professional power, politics, and possibilities in a changing workplace you must first determine where you fit. To do this, give yourself the gift of time to reflect on your own quality of life at work, your attitude, and your willingness to change. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I excited about the future? Or am I scared to death that I cannot do what is expected of me?
• Given the options of “lead, follow or get out of the way,” what will I choose?
• Do I have the courage to change?
The following statements can serve as guiding principles for you to embrace as you consider the scope of your personal and professional power as a nurse manager:
1. The one thing I have power over in my work life is the attitude I choose in response to change.
2. No one or no situation is responsible for my attitude. I choose my attitude.
3. The quality of my work life future and workplace relationships will largely depend on the attitude I choose.
4. I know that the best way to predict my future is to create it.
5. The only person I can change is me.
6. To successfully manage my changing role and workplace, I must be willing to learn, grow, and change.
7. Memo to self: For every crisis there is opportunity, there are two sides to every coin, yada, yada, yada!