Department: Editor's Memo
While February is Black History Month, the Black experience in the United States cannot be compressed into just 1 month. This month, I will reflect on the life of one man who liberated many. On December 6, 2013, the world lost one of the most inspiring leaders of all time–Nelson Mandela. To use the words of Maya Angelou, “His Day is Done”–the title of a poem she wrote on behalf of the American people as a tribute to his life. The poem was written more than a year earlier at the request of the U.S. Department of State in expectancy of the imminent death of the ailing former President of South Africa. The tenor of the poem creates an atmosphere of joyful celebration rather than the burden of accustomed mourning. I will never cease to marvel at Dr. Angelou's mastery of written and spoken words. She captures the essence of the human spirit in her writing and speaking with accuracy, understanding, grace, and humility. She and Mandela echo greatness.
Secrets of leadership
In my September 2008 editorial, I cited the secrets of leadership that Mandela shared on his 90th birthday. His eight rules of leadership are indeed worthy of a reminder: 1) courage is not the absence of fear—it is inspiring others to move beyond it; 2) lead from the front—but do not leave your base behind; 3) lead from the back—and let others believe they are in front; 4) know your enemy—and learn about his favorite sport; 5) keep your friends close—and your rivals even closer; 6) appearances matter—and remember to smile; 7) nothing is black or white; and 8) quitting is leading, too.1 Like Dr. Angelou, Mandela had the ability to stir in others emotion and reason, attention and action, with power and gentleness. On the surface, these rules seem simple and direct, yet we know that the depth and complexity of true leadership belie this assumption. Anyone can strive to embody these tenets in their lives. But how does our profession prepare current and future nurses for the leadership roles needed at all levels?
Enabling nurses to lead change
In The Future of Nursing, Recommendation 7 calls for us not only to prepare nurses to lead change to advance health but also to implement strategies that will enable them to do so.2 Stakeholders who have a responsibility to work toward this goal include nurses, nursing associations, nurse education programs, and public, private, and governmental healthcare decision makers. Teaching leadership theories and business concepts to students, mentoring, creating different opportunities for nurses to practice leadership skills in all areas of practice, and intentionally designating positions at the decision tables to be filled by nurses are a few general ideas outlined in the report. Our healthcare delivery system is in flux—a situation that provides a platform for change; nursing must be an active participant in directing this change. We have a lot to do.
Lastly, in celebration of Black History Month, I honor the numerous Black nurses who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership amid seemingly insurmountable challenges. I have special personal memories of some, but from many I never met, I learned that leadership does not move a person further away but actually brings them closer to those they lead.
Jamesetta Newland, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, DNPNAP
1. Stengel R.. Mandela at 90: the secrets of leadership. Time. 2008; 172:(3):42–48.
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.