Dean Holzemer

The Dean’s Desk | Thoughts from Rutgers Nursing Leadership

A Bit of Introspection

Thursday, May 24, 2018

William L. Holzemer, RN, PhD, FAAN
Rutgers University School of Nursing

It’s always helpful when someone prompts you to reflect honestly on who you are and where you are going, personally and professionally – to engage in self-examination that might improve your daily approach to various challenges.

That was the case recently when Rutgers nursing student Kayla Louis asked to interview me for a class project on leadership. I found the entire one-hour conversation a fascinating opportunity to stop and think, in detail, about my work as Dean, how I got to this point in my life and career, and where I want to go – both for myself and the School of Nursing – moving forward.

With Kayla’s permission, I’d like to share a few of the points we discussed:

A memento on my office wall provided half of the answer to Kayla’s question, “Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact/mentor on you as a leader?” I pointed to a photo of Gretta Styles, my Dean from the University of California, San Francisco, and a former president of the International Council for Nurses (ICN). I also cited Virginia Ohlson, a mentor and well-known public health nurse from the University of Illinois, School of Nursing. She introduced me to Japan – the culture of which now has fascinated me, and drawn me for repeated visits, over decades.

“How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?” Kayla asked. That was harder, as creativity is really in the eye of the beholder. But I said a leader must reward, support, and thank people who offer out-of-the-box ideas. “It’s similar to the old adage that there are no bad questions,” I said.

And where do the great ideas come from in the school of nursing? I attributed them to discussion, dialogue, data, and trends in the profession and healthcare. I told Kayla that there’s really not much new under the sun - it’s more perspiration and hard work. Ultimately, specific ideas become attached to individuals and they are perceived to have expressed them first – but the truth often is that someone else already talked about it.

One of Kayla’s questions covered territory where we all probably should be more conscious throughout our daily lives: “What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?” My response, “Talking too much and not listening. Sometimes you need to talk, but listening is much more important.”

She asked what advice she should heed in her first leadership position. I told her to focus on clarity of purpose and collaboration. “If you come to the table and are only looking out for nursing, you won't have any friends. In the hospital, it's about the patient; therefore, support the social worker, the physician assistant, and the physician. If they bring up things that will help the patient, support them; if they don't, challenge them on it. Make it clear, that you supporting the patient.”

“What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?” Kayla asked, “Chaos in the world, when considering our government and its effects on healthcare and funding for nursing education. It's all up in the air.”

I had a one-word answer when she asked, “What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?”  Humor!



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