May 01, 2013
By Paris Jalali, RN, Bscn, Ma , Judy Shearer, RN, Bscn, Mn, Che , Maureen Leyser, RN (ec), Bscn, Mn , Marilyn Kelly, RN, Bn, M.ed. , Lisa-anne Hagerman, RN, Bscn, Mba, Mscn, Edd

Growing Tomorrow's Leaders

The experiences of mid-career nurses connecting with their inner leader through leadership development opportunities

A group of nurse educators working at Conestoga College, in Kitchener, Ont., and eight health-care facilities in the Waterloo Wellington region came together to bring to life their vision of a leadership program for local mid-career nurses in direct care. These nurses need access to formalized leadership training. The idea was to pair emerging nurse leaders with experienced nurse leaders in a structured format. The Emerging Nurse Leader program was funded by a grant from the Nursing Secretariat, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

We drew on Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership to create the program content. We hoped we could guide mentors and mentees in understanding their leadership roles and in navigating their way through complex organizational environments.

Applicants were required to have a minimum of five years of nursing experience, an intention to remain in the profession for another 10 years and a desire to develop personal leadership. Each applicant would be required to complete a project to support quality improvements in their organizations. Mentors, who were identified by the applicants, had to be in formal leadership positions, have a desire to support the development of the ENL and be willing to collaborate on the ENL’s project.

A total of 23 mentors and 23 ENLs (43 RNs and 3 registered practical nurses) completed the program. All participants came from non-teaching facilities. Conestoga faculty donated their time to create the content, line up guest speakers, give presentations and facilitate discussion.

Mentors and ENLs attended four day-long sessions over a six-week period, for which they were paid. The first three sessions were workshops on the qualities of a good leader, project management, personality inventory, change theory and conflict resolution. The final session was devoted to reviewing the projects.

Upon completion of the program, all participants were invited to sign up for focus group discussion. From these discussions, it was apparent that the mentees felt empowered to make changes in their organizations and believed their projects were valued by their organizations. Examples of ENL projects included improving medication reconciliation during patient transfers from an emergency department and creating an orientation guide for new staff in a pacemaker clinic. Through the implementation of these projects, ENLs reported feeling satisfied with the way their contributions enhanced patient care.

The ENLs came to the realization that implementing change is not an overwhelming process and is manageable with the right guidance. The program also highlighted for them the personal and professional growth that can occur during a mentoring relationship. The ENLs found a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a nurse leader.

Mentors expressed a profound satisfaction in sharing their knowledge, guiding ENLs through organizational systems and processes and connecting them with key stakeholders. As well, mentors said they had been able to learn about themselves by reflecting on their leadership style, on the project work itself and on the need to restrain themselves from taking over the project. They had been able to apply the knowledge and leadership skills they already had, while developing and learning new skills.

Participants reported challenges in finding time to connect, scheduling time off to attend workshops and balancing work and personal/family obligations. After the first session, one ENL and mentor pair withdrew from the program for these reasons. Some pairs had to stay after work or meet outside the workplace. Participants recommended that designated meeting times be built into future workshop schedules.

Participants voiced concern over the lack of support from employers for time off to attend the workshops. They felt that their involvement in the program in some ways added to their overall workload.

Mentors reported experiencing conflict between their desire to mentor and the barriers they encountered in the organization. They felt that more organizational investment in and support of mentorship was needed.

Both ENLs and mentors mentioned that the project work made them aware of the hidden bureaucracy that is often at the root of change in organizations. It was clear that employers should provide the structural and administrative supports such as flexible scheduling, networking opportunities and accessible educational opportunities — on-site whenever possible.

As creators of this initiative, one of our goals was to inspire nurses and instil confidence in their ability to initiate change and take on additional leadership activities. As the participants learned more about what leadership is and what it means to them, we, too, felt a sense of accomplishment. We encourage employers to recognize the value of mentoring and incorporate mentorship programs for nursing leadership into their organizations.


The authors recognize Heather Cross, Conestoga College; Sherry Frizzell, St. Joseph’s Health Care London; Maria Pena, Guelph Hospital and Kim Pittaway, Brant Community Healthcare System, for their contributions to the Emerging Nurse Leaders program and to the development of this article.

Paris Jalali, RN, Bscn, Ma, is a Former Project Manager, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

Judy Shearer, RN, Bscn, Mn, Che, is the Associate Vice President, Mental Health & Addictions Program, Grand River Hospital, Kitchener, Ont.

Maureen Leyser, RN (ec), Bscn, Mn, is a Nurse Practitioner at the St. Mary’s General Hospital Regional Cardiac Care Center, Kitchener.

Marilyn Kelly, RN, Bn, M.ed., is a Professor in the BScN Program, Conestoga College, Kitchener.

Lisa-anne Hagerman, RN, Bscn, Mba, Mscn, Edd, is a Professor in the Bscn Program, Conestoga College.
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