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Developing Authentic Leadership Voice: Novice Faculty Experience

Patterson, Barbara J.; Dzurec, Laura; Sherwood, Gwen; Forrester, D. Anthony

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Nursing Education Perspectives: 1/2 2020 - Volume 41 - Issue 1 - p 10-15
doi: 10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000494
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As academically well-credentialed, clinically skilled providers, nurse faculty represent a special subset of the nursing community. However, the formal, full-time academic role with its accompanying demands may be one for which nurse faculty, even those prepared at advanced educational levels, are significantly underprepared (Cleeter, 2011). The skill of a clinical expert may not translate to the skill set needed as an academic educator and leader. Unfortunately, some novice nurse faculty who transition from practice careers to academia find it challenging and leave academia within five years (Yedidia, Chou, Brownlee, Flynn, & Tanner, 2014).

The academic environment can be complex and difficult to navigate, and the inherent politics and pace of an academic workplace are quite different from the clinical environment (Zull, 2002). Faculty manage a myriad of career responsibilities with expectations for sustained and active scholarship, involvement in professional organizations, maintenance of clinical expertise, engagement in community service, as well as the didactic and clinical education of students. These competing career responsibilities and the desire for work-life balance have been identified as barriers to nurses aspiring to lead (Sessler Branden & Sharts-Hopko, 2017). Faculty may struggle to develop the depth and breadth of leadership acumen that will propel them toward excellence and satisfaction in teaching (Cleeter, 2011). Nevertheless, nurturing and retaining novice faculty in the academic environment as leaders are crucial.

Leadership development of the next generation has been identified as essential to the long-term health of organizations (Sessler Branden & Sharts-Hopko, 2017). Of concern is the lack of leadership development of nurse faculty. Faculty turnover, low satisfaction, and difficulty in recruitment have been attributed to lack of leadership development and lack of opportunity for professional mentoring (Wilmoth & Shapiro, 2014). The aging of current faculty, salary concerns, and existing vacancies make leadership development a priority concern in nursing (Young, Pearsall, Stiles, & Horton-Deutsch, 2011).

Evidence suggests that faculty and administrators in nursing programs in the United States resist accepting positions with greater administrative responsibility, and those faculty who do accept formal leadership roles are often thrust into positions with insufficient preparation (Young et al., 2011). Moreover, the quality of academic leadership sets the stage for the health of the overall academic work environment (Brady, 2010), which in turn affects faculty satisfaction and retention, further evidence of the need for mentored faculty development.


Academic leadership qualities (Delgado & Mitchell, 2016) and competencies for leaders in nursing education (Patterson & Krouse, 2015) have been articulated in the literature. These qualities and competencies provide empirical evidence and a foundation for the leadership development of emerging nurse educator leaders. Delgado and Mitchell (2016) identified the top leadership qualities as integrity, communication clarity, and problem solving. Over half of their sample (N = 52) reported that the most helpful leadership experience came from mentoring; 70 percent received their leadership training through mentoring. Seventy-nine percent believed that participating in a leadership program or class made a difference for them.

In a qualitative descriptive design, Patterson and Krouse (2015) interviewed 15 leaders in nursing education. Demonstrating credibility as an educator surfaced as a prerequisite to being a leader. The four core competencies for leaders were to articulate and promote a vision for nursing education, function as a steward for the organization and nursing education, embrace professional values in the context of higher education, and develop and nurture relationships. The researchers concluded that “current leaders are challenged to be present to mentor and facilitate the leadership transition of the next generation of faculty” (p. 82).

The multiple roles of nurse faculty are challenging. With one of the core competencies for nurse educators being “function as a change agent and leader” (Halstead, 2007, p. 115), there remain questions about whether nurse faculty are adequately prepared to be leaders in nursing education. With a documented shortage of nurse faculty with terminal degrees, there is continued discussion in the literature about the need for leadership development programs for faculty (Sessler Branden & Sharts-Hopko, 2017), despite the various opportunities and programs offered nationally. These programs target the leadership development of the novice educator to the experienced educator as well as leadership role development for deans.

There are minimal reported outcomes of leadership programs and the empirical study of faculty who have completed these programs. Recently, Campbell, McBride, Etcher, and Deming (2017) reported on the impact of a three-year leadership training program, the Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Faculty Scholars program, that immersed junior faculty in leadership development in all aspects of the faculty role. The researchers concluded that the domains of this program could be used for other leadership development programs. In a separate article (McBride et al., 2017), they reported on the positive impact on the participating schools’ research portfolios from the scholars’ completion of the leadership training program.

Leadership development is an essential part of a novice nurse faculty’s career trajectory and is crucial for success in meeting the challenges of the complex faculty role, transition to the new role, and leadership development. Results from the analysis of narrative descriptions provided by 14 novice faculty enrolled in the Nurse Faculty Leadership Academy (NFLA), offered by Sigma Theta Tau International and Elsevier Foundation, describe how the experiential leadership development and mentoring provided in the academy enabled study participants to determine “who I was as a leader.”


Formal mentoring offers one solution to leadership preparation to facilitate teaching behaviors and leadership development, both of which may contribute to the retention of new nursing faculty. However, despite broad recognition of the importance of mentoring, formal mentoring programs for leadership development are limited. The NFLA was an intense, 20-month mentored leadership development experience for novice faculty with less than five years of full-time teaching experience. It was designed to foster academic career success, promote nurse faculty retention and satisfaction, encourage personal leadership development, and cultivate high-performing, supportive work environments in academe.

The NFLA was led by a group of core faculty (faculty advisors). Scholars (novice faculty selected for the program) participated in two leadership development workshops, conducted in-depth reflective self-assessments, and designed an individualized leadership development plan guided by a leadership mentor, an experienced nurse faculty from another academic institution, and a faculty advisor from the NFLA core faculty. Together, the scholar, leadership mentor, and faculty advisor formed a triadic mentoring relationship. Scholars also created, implemented, and led a team project to advance nursing education through which they developed their leadership behaviors. They hosted two site visits for the triad with their local support and project team and used scheduled conference calls to reflect on their goals.

The Kouzes and Posner (2012) leadership model provided the theoretical foundation for the program curriculum and scholar development over the 20 months. Derived from extensive research, the Kouzes and Posner leadership framework is based on Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® that cultivate leadership potential:

  • Model the Way: demonstrate alignment of shared values with actions.
  • Inspire a Shared Vision: enlist others in shared aspirations.
  • Challenge the Process: seize opportunities for innovation to improve.
  • Enable Others to Act: build trust and relationships to facilitate collaboration.
  • Encourage the Heart: recognize contributions by others.


A qualitative descriptive study was conducted to better understand how scholars described the experience of the mentoring program on their leadership development. The research question that guided data collection and analysis was: What are the perceptions of new nurse faculty with less than five years of academic experience of a 20-month mentored leadership development program?

Human subjects protection approval was acquired prior to the start of the research. At the end of orientation during the first of the two experiential workshops, all scholars were invited to participate, and informed consent was obtained following study explanation. Participants were informed that research enrollment was voluntary, participation was confidential, faculty did not know who participated, deidentified data could not be linked to individual scholars, and participation did not affect their status as NFLA scholars.


The sample of 14 scholars consisted of 12 women and 2 men with a mean age of 49 years (range: 33 to 58 years). The average number of years in the scholars’ current teaching positions was 2.6; their average length of time as nurses was 23.5 years. The majority of scholar respondents (86 percent) were assistant professors. Additional demographic data are reported in Table 1.

Table 1
Table 1:
Participant Demographics (N = 14)


The data were the written responses to open-ended questions that were part of a reflective assessment instrument. Data were collected via online submission with only an identifying number (no names) from the scholars at the beginning of the academy, at midpoint, and again at the conclusion of the 20-month academy. Scholars described their experiences relative to the three domains of the NFLA: individual leadership development, advancing education through leadership of a team project, and expanding scope of influence. The three domains represent application of the Kouzes and Posner (2012) model to the scholar’s leadership development.

Data Analysis

Thematic analysis techniques described by Vaismoradi, Jones, Turunen, and Snelgrove (2016) guided the data analysis. The four investigators reviewed the responses to establish a sense of wholeness of the collective data, extracting specific text describing the participants’ leadership experiences. Independently, they next made notes of relevant information; they reviewed their notes to begin categorizing the information into patterns that made sense cognitively and noted links among the emergent patterns. Investigators then compared and contrasted both major and minor categories and patterns to collectively reach consensus on themes. Considering the themes as a single unit, the investigators’ interpretive findings revealed a meta-theme with four subthemes.

An audit trail was maintained to ensure credibility of the findings. The findings are situated within the context of the investigators’ biases and personal knowledge of leadership in nursing. However, investigators shared their individual analysis processes to reach consensus, rendering the findings reliable and credible, which helps to ensure their broader validity or truth value.


Analysis of participant responses revealed a meta-theme of “Finding Authentic Leadership Voice” supplemented by four subthemes: Identifying Inner Strengths and Areas for Improvement, Increasing Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness, Increasing Focus on Others, and Clarifying Aspirations for a Leadership Future. Narrative excerpts help to explain and clarify each theme. The themes represent the outgrowth of scholars’ leadership development journey vis-à-vis their NFLA experience and support the Kouzes and Posner (2012) leadership model for leadership development with novice nurse faculty.

Participants described how the NFLA experience provided scholars with opportunities to examine their leadership development in the nurse faculty role in a meaningful way. This subtheme captured their priorities for personal leadership growth and behavioral change. For some, it was their primary goal. Scholars repeatedly reported unique and personal experiences in recognizing the importance of finding one’s voice. Leadership growth and use of voice varied among scholars, and some noted that they were still learning to use their voice effectively. Over the reporting period, the data revealed a progression of development as scholars acquired greater comfort in asking, “How am I doing with my leadership development?” and “How can I do a better job at becoming a leader?”

Participants’ authentic voice represented their genuine voice. Finding voice required learning how to modulate its use. One scholar described this as learning how to use “tone of voice in critical times, particularly when there were conflicting points of view.” Finding one’s voice also included giving language to one’s experiences. Scholars noticed that others started approaching them for their opinion or advice. Recognizing that much communication in academia occurs outside of meetings, one participant noted: “I now find myself included in some of those conversations. Balancing when to speak up and when to keep others informed of potential changes continues to be important. I feel more comfortable in asking for support or guidance from others.”

Identifying Inner Strengths and Areas for Improvement

The ability to identify one’s inner strengths and areas for improvement within the context of the academic role was a subtheme of the meta-theme. Gathering personal assessment data through completion of several self-assessment tools used in the NFLA provided opportunities for self-reflection and feedback from administrators, colleagues, and an outside observer. This helped participants recognize areas for behavioral change. Modeling the Way and Encouraging the Heart, two leadership processes in the Kouzes and Posner (2012) leadership approach that guided the NFLA, were two areas identified for improvement. One participant commented: “I learned that my strengths were in setting up clear standards and expecting the best. It was encouraging for me to find validation that I was doing well in Modeling the Way for others.” However, this participant also noted that she was “weak” in Encouraging the Heart. This raised her level of consciousness, and she described how she became more available for events when she was invited. Other participants shared that they had not valued “the time taken to celebrate” nor recognized how important it is to a sense of community and relationships. Participants reported that these areas, important to the academic culture, were not something they had realized was part of leadership development.

As novice nurse faculty, many participants felt naïve in their understanding of the culture of academia. They questioned the relevance of their personal vision of whether they had the confidence necessary to share their vision. One participant wrote about avoiding political and interpersonal issues within academia, factors that would influence her decision to stay, leave, or participate in certain activities. She sought to change her avoidance behavior and use her leadership voice instead: “Now I have a much better understanding of why politics exist in academia, some of which are necessary for the organization to thrive, and how to deal with political issues, particularly when they are detrimental to the overall function of the college. I have learned how to work with different sides and try to bring people to a consensus; I have learned to stay outside of the political backbiting and try to help others move away from it; I have found a voice that can help create a positive political climate.”

Increasing Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness

Participants expressed a sense of increasing self-confidence and self-awareness as leaders. One said, “In my new faculty position, I’ve learned to challenge the process with greater confidence in my leadership skills,” and “I intentionally reflected on situations to assess how my behavior[s] affected others.”

Self-confidence emerged in various contexts. One participant reported: “I have had numerous comments made to me by colleagues and leaders regarding my leadership presence. Several have shared with me how confidently I present at faculty meetings,” and “the NFLA [experience] not only gave me confidence as envisioning myself as a leader, but also the foundation of how to lead.” Another participant poignantly described the behavior changes she experienced: “I realized I had made significant progress as a leader. It was a wow moment when I realized I was walking just a bit taller, talking with greater confidence, listening quietly to others, and reflecting after each meeting and encounter. I was feeling a strong inner strength.” Yet another participant said, “I felt my own confidence in realizing that I am indeed a leader. I made a note in my journal, ‘I did it!’ after successfully presenting at a national conference,” and “to internalize within myself that I am a leader is a shift from being an excellent team member, to being the leader of the team.”

Participants also reported an increasing sense of emotional competence. One said, “I have learned to be patient with others and myself when things do not go as planned…I am learning to patiently trust the process, myself and others.” Reflection with the mentoring triad and through journal writing were strategies some employed. One participant wrote: “Refection and discussions with my NFLA [leadership] mentor and [faculty] advisor helped tremendously for me to find a balance in when to speak and how much to reveal about what was going on inside my head” and “Reflection and journaling has also helped me to let go of perfectionism that seemed to be paralyzing.”

Other personal insights were closely related to the five exemplary leadership practices espoused by Kouzes and Posner (2012). For example, one participant reported greater insight in terms of values clarification and the important role of self-reflection in his leadership development. He noted: “An important aspect of an authentic leader is to know one’s values. My values guide my practice as a nurse, leader, and educator; and…reflection on almost every communication encounter has become a habit — self-reflection is a powerful leadership tool.” This participant added: “[My leadership mentor] provided me with a sounding board where I could discuss my perception of various situations — validate my impressions — and listen to her interpretation of interactions and reactions.”

Participants frequently wrote of their sense of accomplishment and the resultant actions, for example, “The most significant progress I have made toward major changes in my leadership skills and behaviors is related to finding my leadership voice and actively seeking out leadership opportunities.” The participants’ increased sense of accomplishment was also made clear through greater risk-taking and assuming new roles within their schools. For example, one participant shared: “I found that I was able to apply the leadership principles that I had learned in [the NFLA] workshop I and assigned readings. At that time, I was also the chair of the Faculty Organization Committee. Here, I was also able to effectively apply my new leadership skills and behavior change.”

Increasing Focus on Others

Over the 20-month course of the NFLA, scholars found that their foci shifted from self to others with a sense of community. As they developed a leadership voice, participants increasingly listened to others before speaking and were more intentional in their interactions with colleagues. One participant set a goal to “listen to others’ ideas and respect their ideas regardless of my own personal thoughts.” She challenged herself to listen instead of dominating the conversation, which was her former tendency. Participants also reported their leadership observers recognized their new tendency to listen more to others in meetings before speaking. One participant noted that “being more socially aware of the needs of others provides opportunity for me to grow.”

As a group, participants shared that they were becoming more socially aware and valuing of the contributions of others with a desire to Model the Way and Encourage the Hearts of others, both Kouzes and Posner's (2012) practices. A key strategy used by one participant to achieve a goal was reflecting “on situations to assess how my behavior affected others.” Others wrote that they began “to seek out others to congratulate them on their accomplishments and to encourage those that were attempting to complete a project or achieve a goal.” As a result, participants observed how the impact of their leadership development was having a positive effect on others.

“Paying it forward” was an expression used frequently by participants for whom the NFLA was an opportunity to “help others” in the same way their mentors and faculty helped them: “I have worked to Encourage the Heart. I reflect that I found it easier to keep my head down and work harder, and I did not value the time taken to celebrate. I now recognize how important this is in developing a greater sense of community and relationships. Recognition is a powerful tool that makes others feel good about the work that they do and the contributions that they make.”

Participants frequently indicated their growing sense of community and made such comments as, “I was intentional in seeking out others to congratulate them on their accomplishments and to encourage those that were attempting to complete a project or achieve a goal” and “My leadership mentor commented on my behavior during meetings and noted that I was listening more while contributing pertinent information when it was really needed.”

This sense of community was often expressed within the NFLA triad of scholar, leadership mentor, and faculty advisor. Example comments shared were: “I…started reflecting on my own behavior and discovered that I…needed to make myself more available when I am invited to events where there may be opportunities to network” and “My faculty leadership observer provided feedback, support, and opportunities for me to be engaged in leadership roles in my organization.” One participant said, “Today, I call [my NFLA leadership mentor] and [NFLA faculty advisor] my friends and colleagues.”

Sense of community was also experienced both within the participants’ organizations and beyond. One participant wrote, “I surrounded myself with individuals who cared about me and wanted me to succeed.” Another reported, “Multiple individuals outside of the nursing profession and university also provided encouragement and support as I made a concentrated effort to change my behaviors to promote leadership development in myself.”

Clarifying Aspirations for a Leadership Future

The fourth subtheme expressed by the study participants captured their reflections on future goals and their behaviors as leaders. This subtheme is exemplified through such comments as, “I am expected to be present as a leader in my organization, profession, and community”; “I also made positive comments about how I can continue to grow, never considering an action as a negative, but only an opportunity to change in the future”; and “I am more thoughtful and even critical of how I lead now.”

One participant noted: “My relationship with my leadership mentor has grown to one of mutual respect. With the help of my leadership mentor, I have been able to be comfortable in identifying my primary goals for my individual leadership development. My leadership mentor knows my aspirations and my areas for improvement, and although we may not agree on everything, we are able to have honest and open dialogue. From this relationship, we have discovered our shared passion for advocating for those who are less fortunate, as well as challenging the process to make change.”

Aspirations for the long term were also made evident in comments about recognition within the profession. For example, one participant wrote, “I have been able to reflect on leaders and how they change during role changes.” Other spoke on changing aspirations, for example, “The long-term goal that I have now that was not part of my career planning before becoming a scholar in the NFLA” and “I see myself ultimately seeking a dean’s position in a college/university.”

Transitioning to a different position was a thread mentioned by participants. For example, “I realized through my participation in the NFLA that I am really good at putting programs together and organizing. I will be looking for a position where I can apply this skill.” Participants also referred to a long-term goal of changing positions: “The one thing I see differently about my organization since becoming an NFLA scholar is that my vision for myself will not be supported by the organization and that, in order for me to achieve my goals, I need to move on. I am no longer with the organization; however, the relationships that I have developed with the faculty, students, and staff are still intact and flourishing.”

Specific goals for future leadership development and increasing scope of influence in the nursing profession also emerged. This is captured by one participant: “I would like to be recognized for my contributions to nursing education beyond my own local and regional area. I now have goals that include achieving academy at national levels.” Another wrote: “[My goal] of find[ing] my voice was the most challenging. Before the NFLA, I struggled to find the perfect words to congratulate or encourage someone because I wanted every word of encouragement to be perfect. Reflection and journaling assisted me with this goal. I realize now that having the perfect words isn’t important, it is important to be myself, sincere, and encouraging to others on a continual basis.”


Findings from this study summarize the leadership development of 14 nurse scholars who participated in the NFLA. Participants expressed how finding voice was central to their individual leadership development and how, over time, they were able to commit their energies to others, as they became more secure in their own leadership growth. The meta-theme of Finding Authentic Leadership Voice supports Kouzes and Posner’s (2012) exemplary practice of Model the Way. One must find one’s voice to become a credible leader. As the scholars found themselves “standing taller” as emerging leaders, they found that they expanded the scope of their influence and contributed, through the many activities of the NFLA, to advancing the science of nursing education. Participants in this study found that, as they became more secure in their own development, their leadership voice expanded as well.

Through the 20 months of guided mentoring and reflection, participants developed increased self-awareness and reflected on their impact on others and the workplace, thus demonstrating emotional competence. This is captured in the subthemes of Increasing Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness and Increasing Focus on Others. Reflective practice is a transformative process that involves thinking about one’s work to be able to improve (Sherwood & Horton-Deutsch, 2012); mindfulness and sense-making are key in developing leadership. Mindful leaders grow and develop sense-making when confronted with dilemmas and complex situations that replace old patterns of problem solving. The study findings are consistent with the literature (Linderman, Pesut, & Disch, 2015). Developmental strategies of inquiry, mindfulness, self-regulation of emotion, and affect lead to elevated sense-making experiences that promote integration, collaboration, and transformation of systems (Linderman et al., 2015).

Petrie (2014) suggested there is a need to shift leadership development programs away from the acquisition of skills and competencies (horizontal development) to vertical development in which a leader’s sense and meaning-making abilities are advanced to support more sophisticated ways of thinking. The results of this study also mirror new evidence of the importance of vertical leadership development, focusing more on developing mindset and sense-making than on specific skills as reflected in horizontal leadership (Plews-Ogan & Beyt, 2014). This shift from skill acquisition to behavioral change with accompanying action is captured by Kouzes and Posner's (2012) Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. The data from the scholars in this academy captured this change in thinking and behavior.

Few nursing education programs help nurses develop reflective, mindful practice that engages learners in thinking deeply about their experiences and exposing what they have learned for future experiences or to make sense of contradictions (Horton-Deutsch & Sherwood, 2008). Creating a workplace where all belong and thrive consistent with the five practices of the Kouzes and Posner (2012) model challenges traditional leadership development. Leadership is influence. How we develop, manage, and influence relationships across the organization influences our effectiveness, satisfaction with our work, and the overall work environment (Johns, 2016). These together influence the organizational environment. Leadership observers within the local context can help facilitate leader development through situational awareness of self and others in the environment.


The findings of this study contribute to the advancement of the science of nursing education globally by providing empirical evidence for mentored leadership development programs. A greater emphasis on leadership development is needed for nurse faculty during graduate education and in the early years of an academic career. Results from this 20-month program support the usefulness of a leadership model to guide mentored experiences.

Leadership is an essential component of the academic nurse faculty role. Leadership development is an ongoing journey rooted in reflective practices to increase awareness of self, others, and context (Horton-Deutsch & Sherwood, 2008). For the scholars in this NFLA cohort, the guided mentoring from NFLA programming contributed to behavioral changes in their leadership trajectory and helped clarify their faculty role amid expanding responsibilities. Finding their authentic voices was a major developmental step in contributing to their organizations, learning to work with other faculty, and speaking up to help lead initiatives.


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Academic Nursing; Leadership Development; Novice Faculty; Triad Mentoring

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