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Felt leadership: When perception is reality

Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne MS, RN, NEA-BC

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000542299.05496.a0
Department: Editorial

Editor-in-Chief, Vice President and CNO, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, New York, N.Y.

Lead by example and show you really mean it. And you'll be felt.

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Have you heard of felt leadership? The concept immediately resonated with me at a recent workshop. After all, we want our leadership to matter; “feeling” leadership makes a lot of sense. I did wonder, however, how it's different from authentic, transformational, or servant leadership—concepts well-documented in nursing literature.

Finding more information about felt leadership was relatively easy with a quick search. It started in the manufacturing industry as the foundation for a safety culture. A CEO at a leading manufacturer was committed to reducing employee injuries, making the goal of zero harm the organization's front-and-center vision. The strategies he used were described as “felt” and transcended employee safety.

Felt leaders are constantly engaged with their staff at all levels: senior, middle, and frontline. They're visible and unrelenting when it comes to organizational values. How refreshing to have values lived every day rather than merely being a poster on the wall. That reminds me of my organization's nursing professional practice model (PPM); we see the elements in action from high-level strategy forums down to the unit level. We wouldn't think of ending a meeting without connecting content to the PPM, and the same holds true for unit council presentations. Maybe living our vision and values means feeling it.

Felt leaders don't just walk the talk, they act. They lead activities that demonstrate their values. If you talk about true collaboration, are you actually doing it? Are you setting and role modeling expectations; developing forums, structures, and discussions; and not accepting anything less? Your commitment as a leader shouldn't just be heard or e-mailed, it should be displayed and demonstrated throughout your scope of influence. Most likely, talking without action won't change behaviors on any issue because it won't be felt and it won't be reality.

Consistently start the day or meetings with what's important. Those of you using visibility boards as part of a Lean management system have probably seen the benefits. Team members can't escape priorities when you huddle and engage every day on your important accountability metrics for patient safety, clinical processes and outcomes, patient experience, efficiency, and other goals. Accountability and felt leadership change the trajectory. If you really mean it, and help remove barriers to success, then your leadership is real.

You have to be seen and heard regularly with singular, unrelenting messages that resonate. What works? Providing constant feedback, giving meaningful recognition, and using multiple communication strategies for starters. Add in a continuous learning environment with exemplar-sharing and transparent problem solving. This is relational work, including influencing and culture building. And it can be exhausting, so please use all your wellness and resilience strategies, too.

Authentic leaders are perceived as honest and genuine. Transformational leaders are inspirational and trustworthy. Servant leaders put others and their development first. If I had to pick a known style that best “matches” felt leadership, it would be authentic. Not that one of these is necessarily more desirable than another; we need elements of all of them in our toolboxes to be effective. Transactional leadership, anyone? Yes, even that style has its time and place.

Live your values. Make them matter. Walk, talk, act, and interact. Lead by example and show you really mean it. And you'll be felt.

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