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What a nursing assistant taught me about leadership

RICH Learning Solutions

At the age of 25 I was given between a 2% and 8% chance of surviving a serious head injury, which was pretty scary, thankfully I’m writing this which means the odds were in my favor!

The experience was, without doubt the hardest period in my life and it was also where a nursing assistant taught me about leadership.

I had just been moved from the High Dependency Unit (HDU) and I had never experienced such physical pain.

The good doctors had pumped me full of every pain killer known to man, to the point that if you switched off every light in the ward, I’m sure that I would have glowed in the dark!

I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of defeat.

The unbearable pain, combined with the loneliness of being on a ward with people I did not know was almost too much to bear.

I was overcome by the enormous sense of my vulnerability and I was convinced that I would not recover.

Thankfully the actions of a nursing assistant fundamentally changed my outlook!

That afternoon I’d managed to sit on the side of my bed to release a torrent of vomit into one of those grey cardboard sick bowls, not a pretty sight!

A nursing assistant noticed that I wasn’t doing too well, came over, sat next to me on the bed, her shoulder touching mine and while putting her hand around the sick bowl, simply said; “don’t worry Rich, you’ll feel better soon”.

It was the most simple, yet one of the most powerful actions I have experienced.

Almost instantly the sense of defeat and vulnerability disappeared, I felt as though someone cared and most importantly, my belief that I could recover returned.

From a leadership perspective, how many leaders do we know that just take a few moments to look at where members of their team are at and how they are getting on, and then take a few moments to show their support?

I’m sure that we have all come across Leaders that just seem to piss people off.

And hopefully we have also come across Leaders that make us feel good about ourselves and give us the belief that we can accomplish even the most challenging of tasks, as the nursing assistant did with me.

Now the great thing is that there is a leadership theory that underpins much of what that nursing assistant did called; Leader, Member Exchange Theory or LMX Theory. In short, this theory is all about how leaders and followers establish either positive, or not so positive relationships between each other. What’s great about this theory is that it identifies the 2 main reasons why some leaders are not effective in developing good relationships;

· Time
· Social Resource

The nursing assistant was rushed off her feet getting one of the beds ready for another patient and we all know how stretched the NHS is.

That said, she still took the time to come over to me.

She could see that I was in a bad way and was simply human, giving me the reassurance I needed that everything would be OK.

And it was the human aspect that had the impact, how she connected with me, her shoulder touching mine and putting her hand around my sick bowl.

It was as though she was taking the journey with me.

A couple of the questions I ask managers and leaders are;

How do you ensure that your people know that you are on the journey with them?

And how do you know that they believe that you are taking the journey with them?

The simple actions of the nursing assistant taught me that leadership does not need to be complex or hard, it just needs to be human because her simple actions completely changed my outlook and brought back my belief in being able to recover.

I’ve had the great fortune of spending time with many great leaders and one thing that makes them great is their ability to balance the wants and needs of the people around them, with the demands and pressures of other aspects of their day-job.

Ever since my encounter with the nursing assistant I have pursued a career in the world of learning and development and over the past 5 years really focused on Leadership and Management.

The space I occupy revolves around helping leaders and managers bring the LMX Theory to life to have better relationships with their teams and to annoy less people! If this area of Leadership and Management development interests you as well, feel free to drop me a line so we can connect and see where a conversation can take us!