Writtten by Adeline Falk-Rafael, PhD, FAAN, Professor, York University
For the past 4 years, I have taught a 4th year leadership course to Internationally Educated Nurses (IENs), who are in our RN-BScN program at York University in Toronto, Canada. The course is designed to support students to meet professional standards of leadership in whatever position they practice and to provide them with beginning knowledge and skills required for nursing leadership, particularly at the bedside, but applicable in positions of
leadership as well. The course reading materials include 2 “textbooks” – one that focuses on leadership (not management) and Peace and Power. My use of Peace and Power began simply as a process to use in the classroom, as I had in other courses for years. In reading it simultaneously with leadership literature, however, I began to see the strong relationship of its tenets with relational leadership approaches and the usefulness of its processes in helping students develop various leadership/followership skills.
Contemporary leadership theories, which stress the relationship of leaders with their followers, have their roots in the paradigmatic shift towards transformational leadership initiated by Burns in 1976. In this transformational context, followers and leaders are committed to realizing the vision articulated by the leader. Leadership and followership are not permanent “positions” but rather are context dependent and complementary (a concept closely related to the Peace and Power process of rotational leadership). Followers, no longer identified as “subordinates,” are essential for effective leadership; by definition there can be no leader without followers. Thus, contemporary leadership theories have begun to explore the qualities of effective followership, such as:
- Followers reflect critically about ideas and take an active role in advocating for them and in supporting the leader (PRAXIS);
- Followers are aware of their own strengths and step forward when they are needed (EMPOWERMENT);
- Followers seek out information to understand the “big picture” (AWARENESS);
- Followers need to trust and be trustworthy, to see themselves as a community and work as a team (COOPERATION); and
- Followership is an art and skill that can be learned and requires continual learning (EVOLVEMENT).
Peace and Power offers a critical, feminist perspective that augments traditional discussions of concepts such as power and empowerment, decision-making, effective communication, and conflict resolution. Furthermore, the “tools” offered in the Peace and Power text, such as rotational leadership, checking in and closing, circling, and conflict transformation, provide useful approaches to enacting some of the more abstract leadership principles learned throughout the course. That being said, however, one does not become an effective leader only through increasing one’s theoretical knowledge any more than one can become an accomplished pianist by learning to reading a music score. Both require practice.
To that end, I use group work in my leadership class as an experiential learning activity to provide an opportunity to practice leadership/followership skills. Students are randomly assigned to groups of 7 or 8 before the term begins. The groups are used for some group work during class but the primary purpose of each group is to prepare a presentation for the end of the term to present the profile of a nursing leader of their choice and elaborate on how this nurse exemplifies leadership principles.
In the past, it became evident that groups hadn’t always used the Peace and Power processes in their group work. To make that expectation clearer, this past year, as part of the “presentation mark,” I included 2 group worksheets. The first, due about 1/3 of the way through the course, asked groups to articulate their principles of solidarity and identify the PEACE powers that were important to them; in addition, they were encouraged to choose a group name which reflected their identity. The second worksheet, due about 2/3 of the way through the course, was to identify the nurse leader they had chosen, indicate their choice of presentation dates, describe briefly an example of conflict the group had experienced and reflect on it in terms of Peace and Power conflict transformation. Finally, it asked them to construct a 4-part statement that might have been used in the conflict.
The final aspect of the “presentation” assignment was an individual reflection, asking each student to critically reflect on her/his group’s use of the Peace and Power processes, and identify examples of their own leadership and followership activities. Individuals were asked to rate their group’s ability to work together effectively and transform conflict into positive outcomes.
The individual reflections not only affirmed the use of the worksheets as an effective way of requiring groups to attend to some of the Peace and Power processes during their group work but also served as a stimulus to begin planning presentations much earlier than had been the case in previous years. Students commented on how Peace and Power had changed their lives (as they had in past years) because they saw the process as useful for family interactions. A number commented favorably on being randomly assigned to groups. But in previous years, when I didn’t use the group worksheets, the reflections on the group’s use of the Peace and Power processes were generally quite superficial. That changed this year. With the permission of one of the students, Alma Perez, I share excerpts of her reflection:
The PEACE and Power (P & P) process turned my life inside out. It was the burning candle which enlightened my way back to believing in active group participation.
In the past, my group work experiences at … [this university were] similar to being forged in fire. Who desires extreme hardships and heartaches? Nobody. As I reflected on it, group work is an injustice that befell the active members of the group. They toiled day and night. . . . In contrast, the passive members were a picture of calmness. . . . In the end, both active and passive members got the same grade.
Consequently, I came to a conclusion that becoming a passive member is the better way to breeze through university. However, . . . . P & P concepts provided me with a different perspective which . . . worked leaving me with utmost gratification.
Alma proceeded to provide examples of the group’s effectiveness and areas in which it could have been more effective. In conclusion, she noted “this is the best team I have collaborated with.”