Transitions in Leadership Positions: Is There a Best Time?

As we know, leaders transition to and from their positions within educational and clinical institutions. Meleis’ transitions theory, which focuses on “the human experiences, the responses, [and] the consequences of transitions on the well-being of people” (Meleis, as cited in Fawcett, 2017, p. 347) tells us that transitions may be anticipated, experienced in the here and now, or have been completed. Transitions may be development, situational, organizational, cultural, or well-illness; each type may occur singularly or with one or more others. (See https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/transitions-framework-transitions-theory/)

Transitioning to or from a leadership position is a situational transition, which could be combined with a cultural transition as the nursologist moves to or from a new academic or clinical institution or even another country. The situational transition could be combined with a developmental transition as the nursologist enters another lifespan developmental phase. Furthermore, the situational transition could be combined with an organizational transition as an academic institution undergoes a major shift in priorities or a clinical agency merges with another clinical agency.

Alternatively, the transition of a nursologist to or from a leadership position could create an organizational transition as all affected people and structures adjust to the change. Finally, the situational transition, especially transitions from a leadership position, could be combined with a wellness-illness transition if the nursologist experiences a sudden acute illness or can no longer effectively manage a chronic disease.

One question about leadership transitions is: How does a nursologist transition to becoming an effective leader? Another question is: Is there an optimal time for a nursologist to transition to or from a leadership position?

© 2020 Jacqueline Fawcett

HOW DOES A NURSOLOGIST TRANSITION TO BECOMING AN EFFECTIVE LEADER?

Transitioning to becoming an effective leader obviously first requires a desire to be a leader, although at times, a nursologist may find self gently (or not so gently!) pushed into a leadership position by colleagues or senior administrators or by a vacuum left by someone who transitioned from the position suddenly.

Transitioning to becoming an effective leader also requires certain competencies. The American Organization of Nurse Executives (now the American Organization for Nursing Leadership) identified five competencies for effective leadership in practice and education (Waxman, Roussel, Herrin-Griffith, & D’Alfonso, 2017).  Although the competencies focus on those for executive level leadership positions, they are relevant for all levels of leadership. The five competencies are listed here. The specifics of the competencies are available in the Waxman et al. (2017) journal article or at https://www.aonl.org/resources/nurse-leader-competencies:

  1. Communication and relationship-building
  2. Knowledge of the healthcare or academic environment
  3. Leadership
  4. Professionalism
  5. Business skills and principles

The nursologist may already have acquired these competencies or has to acquire them by enrolling in a formal program and/or finding a mentor or leadership coach. Formal programs for nursologists are offered by Sigma Theta Tau International, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The programs are:

Sigma Theta Tau International
American Association of Colleges of Nursing
American Organization for Nursing Leadership (formerly, American Organization of Nurse Executives)
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Mentors and leadership coaches may be included within formal programs or the nursologist may have to approach recognized leaders and ask that they share their wisdom about leadership.

IS THERE AN OPTIMAL TIME FOR A NURSOLOGIST TO TRANSITION TO OR FROM A LEADERSHIP POSITION?

Aspiring or actual leaders may ask: Am I too young or too old to transition to or from a leadership position? Inasmuch as many institutions do not have mandatory age requirements for employees, wisdom is an important element of the transition decision. Although, as Larson (2019) pointed out, wisdom may come with older age, my experience indicates that younger persons also may be wise. Wisdom at any age requires nursologists to use “mindfulness, empathy, and self-reflection to learn from their mistakes, failures, and successes over the years” (Larson, 2019, pp. 789-790). Thus, those people who aspire to be leaders or already are leaders may want to heed Larson’s words and engage in serious self-assessment to determine whether they are ready to transition to or from a leadership position. In addition, aspiring or actual leaders may want to assess their leadership competencies, which can be done using a self-assessment instrument that is available at https://www.aonl.org/resources/online-assessments.

Fang and Mainous (2019) examined factors related to short term deanship, which they regarded as problematic. (A short tenure leadership position is one that ends sooner than the specific term of the position, such as 3 years or 5 or 6 years.) Their study of data from the 2016 American Association of Colleges of Nursing Annual Survey revealed that certain personal and organizational characteristics are associated with short tenure chief nursing academic administrator positions, including the titles of dean, chair, director, or department head. The characteristics are: age (60 or older) at beginning of the leadership position, having a title other than dean, being a dean who subsequently takes another deanship, being a first time dean, being a dean in a school without a tenure system, and being a dean of an associate degree program or a baccalaureate degree program.

As I read Fang and Mainous’s (2019) article, I wondered whether short tenure leadership positions are always problematic. Could it be that the position is not consistent with what the person hopes and dreams it will be? Could it be that the person’s leadership style is not conducive to inspiring a faculty or clinical staff to attain personal, professional, and/or organizational goals? Perhaps, then, transitioning from a short tenure leadership position may be a positive event for the nursologist leader and for the faculty or clinical staff. Perhaps everyone breathes “a sigh of relief” that the leader has transitioned from the position (Larson, 2019, p. 789).

Another situational transition, which may be combined with a developmental transition and which affects almost everyone, is retirement. Those nursologists who are contemplating retirement most likely were or still are leaders in the institutions where they work, even if they are not “official” leaders, such as deans, directors, or chairs. Larson (2019) discussed her decision to retire from her faculty position. She regards retirement as “the next transition in my career development” (p. 789). At age 76, Larson (2019) noted, she “made the scary and difficult decision to retire in less than a year . . . [and] not wait until people breathed a sigh of relief that I was finally gone” (p. 789).

Meleis (2016) wrote about her situational transition of anticipating, experiencing, and completing stepping up from a deanship. She explained that stepping up “connotes climbing to a higher place in our lives, taking with us what we learned in the previous [step]” (p. 187). Meleis identified and described five phases in the transition to and from a deanship. I will presume to be so bold as to generalize Meleis’ (2016) description of the deanship transition to all leaders, add a sixth phase (expressing an initial professional voice), and adapt the phases to both transitioning to and from a leadership position. The six phases are:

  1. Expressing an initial professional voice
  2. Deciding to transition to or from a leadership position
  3. Searching for the leadership position
  4. Being named to the position
  5. Exiting from the position by stepping up
  6. Reclaiming a professional voice

© 2020 Jacqueline Fawcett

I applaud those nursologists who are willing to transition to a leadership position and congratulate those who have transitioned from a leadership position. I send best wishes to all for much happiness, wellbecoming, and exciting and stimulating next ventures in stepping up.

References

Fang, D., & Mainous, R. (2019). Individual and institutional characteristics associated with short tenures of deanships in academic nursing. Nursing Outlook, 67, 578–585. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2019.03.002

Fawcett, J. (2017). Applying conceptual models of nursing: Quality improvement, research, and practice. New York, NY: Springer.

Larson E. L. (2019). Musings on retirement. Nursing Outlook, 67, 789-790. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2019.04.008

Meleis, A. I. (2016). The undeaning transition: Toward becoming a former dean. Nursing Outlook, 64(2), 186–196. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2015.11.013

Waxman, K., Roussel, L., Herrin-Griffith, D., & D’Alfonso, J. (2017). The AONE nurse executive competencies: 12 years later. Nurse Leader, 15, 120–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mnl.2016.11.012

4 thoughts on “Transitions in Leadership Positions: Is There a Best Time?

  1. Thank you, Jacqui for this great blog. Having transitioned from the deanship in July, I’ve really appreciated Meleis’ article and the concept of “stepping up”. It is definitely the way I view it for myself.

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  2. Thank you Jacqui for sharing a blog focused on nursing theory and leadership in nursing! I often find that theories applied in the realm of nursing leadership fall outside of our discipline (e.g., change theory or systems theory). This was a nice breath of fresh air to see Meleis’ transition theory applied to the leadership role, and very practical too if I may say!

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  3. Chloe, Thank you. I agree that too many theories of leadership are non-nursology theories. I teach and write in publications that change theories are methodological theories that tell us HOW to implement a change. The selection of the change is based on a nursology conceptual model, and the change and its outcome are the concepts of the theory that is being tested. It probably is time that we as nursologists started thinking about nursology discipline-specific change theories, too! Again, thank you. Jacqui

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