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Building Nursing Leadership in the Classroom and Beyond

The profession of nursing has expanded its scope of practice tremendously in the last half century.  This expansion is reflected in opportunities in nursing leadership.  Since the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have demonstrated leadership in the nursing spaces within practice and education, but as opportunities for women have grown, irrespective of gender, nurses have led nursing activities in all areas within acute health care organizations. They have also had new leadership opportunities in the C-Suites and board rooms of these organizations.

With expanded reach in many areas within community health and demonstrated expertise in research and health policy at the local, state, and national levels, nursing leadership is an essential skill for nursing students and practicing nurses to develop further.

The Leadership Trajectory Model

The Leadership Trajectory Model, upon which our new book is based, shows that leadership development is an intentional process, which all who aspire to leadership can accomplish over time.  The leaders’ growth begins with honest self-assessment and ongoing reflection on where they have been, what they have learned, and what they can do differently. 

The three core areas of leadership trajectory—The Strategies, The Personal, and The Environment—interact with each other to develop and advance our leadership competencies. The strategies focus on how well-grounded we are in our professional (and personal) lives and how we move from our values through to having attained a legacy. The Trajectory represents the strategies available to us as we make that movement. Two key elements influence the Trajectory, personal factors and environmental factors. Because leadership is a personal event, it can be exhibited in any position or work; it is not title dependent. Our environment also has an influence on us and how readily we can live out our leadership abilities. When the whole team—colleagues, a partner, the unit, the nursing department—supports one another and believes in the same vision for the work we do, we create great impact on the unit and the organization. We like to think of these three elements working in harmony to produce the best possible results in health care. 

Leadership in the Classroom

Numerous opportunities present themselves for students to engage in leadership, especially if a big project is subdivided so that many students have the opportunity to test what they can do. And, no matter the role someone played in a particular situation, everyone can reflect on what went well, what motivated us to do what we did, what leadership theory seemed to be operational at the moment and so forth. At a minimum, creating assignments that require reflection helps students develop themselves.

Although having content about leadership is important, the real way to help students learn leadership is through active engagement and reflection. Leadership experiences don’t have to be in the clinical area, although that is always highly beneficial. The key is to reflect on what happened during the day and what opportunities can be taken for growth and what can be taken for advocacy—for ourselves and others. Asking ourselves how our actions were effective, what our motivation for action was, what we could have done differently and so forth allow us to become more skilled at being an effective leader.

When working with students or clinical nurses, educators should establish and build a foundation for the concepts of leadership. The initial work might revolve around the question of purpose. For example, helping others figure out what they want to be (not do) in life and how that fits with nursing, leadership, family, an organization or a group of people helps people take important steps toward who they want to be.  In both formal and informal leadership, the most important tools leaders have is the knowledge of who they are and what they bring to any given situation. The emphasis is on the personal factors of the model – the discovery of self – the appreciation of the positive strengths of each student or clinical nurse. Blending in the foundation includes the skills to navigate the environmental factors of the model and the trajectory, which results in leading to a legacy.


The Leadership Trajectory provides a road map for ongoing leadership development, with personal stories and examples to highlight experiences that arise during the trajectory of an individual’s career can provide lessons upon which readers can build their own career. Learn more or request a copy.

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