The advent of modernization has seen a far greater number of people placed in positions of leadership than any time in human history. The complexities of modern living have also posed great challenges before people faced with multitude of dilemmas in day to day situations. Lack of support systems which existed hither to fore implies that there is greater need for reference to a guiding light, who can show the path to self awareness and an ethical course in life with a view to contribute to the larger society. Stephen Covey has been performing the stellar role of being a philosophical mentor to thousands of people across the globe.
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He is the founder and chairman of the Covey Leadership Center, which has over 250 international members and is doing pioneering work in enhancing effectiveness of inpiduals and guiding them to be high quality leaders of today and tomorrow. As an author of international repute, Covey has penned down thoughts on effectively facing the challenges in a modern world very lucidly, in a style which is easily understood and correlated with real life situations by a common man.
Covey’ key contribution has been the book under review which provides a vision for energizing people and creating leaders in an organization at all levels. It is however not restricted to just management of organizations but is also slated to impact the lives of those who read and have the courage and application to follow it. It is a book about human relations and leadership. (Covey. 2004). These facets touch the profession of nurses very intimately as nursing is closely linked to providing succor to the sick and ailing with a constant need to provide the human touch, compassion and sympathy.
On the other hand every nurse is not just an attendant but a leader of a large and complex team. She has a major responsibility to goad and motivate the members to address to the challenge of attending to the sick in a compassionate manner. (Grossman, Valiga: 2005).They are like the proverbial geese flying in V formation with every one getting the opportunity to be at the point position. Every nurse is thus required to develop qualities of leadership. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005). Covey’s book is an ideal guide for nursing leaders.
The book covers the seven basic habits which people must cultivate to lead a successful and fulfilling life. (Covey, 2004) The author has indicated these principles with numerous examples from real life situations. He aims at increasing productivity at work as well as in personal life. Inasmuch as nurses are concerned, productivity is linked to relief of the sick and ailing and their early and painless recovery. This will only come about once a person is personally productive and looks at work with a sense of fulfillment rather than drudgery. Covey indicates the key to professional as well as personal efficiency being cultivating seven principal habits.
The author associates the first three habits with primary endowments, self awareness, imagination and conscience and will power, which if exercised correctly will lead to secondary endowments which are an attitude of abundance, courage and consideration and creativity with the seventh endowment being self renewal. (Covey. 2004)
The first habit stated in the book is, “Be Proactive”. This implies functioning from knowledge of the self, one’s capabilities and proclivities. Taking responsibility for one’s action is the principal trajectory for being proactive. It involves ensuring that one does not indulge in shifting blame or evading accountability. (Covey. 2004).
This principle is extremely important in nursing life. A nurse has to administer treatment to patients based on the firm belief that she is personally responsible for providing it in the best manner possible. (Grossman, Valiga.). She cannot shift the blame if the patient does not recover in time or suffers a relapse. She is the leader of a team which is undertaking the task of care of a number of patients and will succeed if she does it with a sense of self belief in her own self and her team’s ability to ensure that the patient recovers speedily. For nursing leaders it would be appropriate to create a partnership of accountability with the team and the patient. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005)
“Begin with the end in mind” is the second habit which Covey has covered in the book. It implies application of imagination and conscience. (Covey. 2004). A leader has to decide how he will make the difference in his own circle of influence. Covey has stated that one must always work with hope, imagination and creativity. At the same time ingenuity has to be applied ethically. A nursing leader thus has to see how she can influence the treatment of patients in her own ward, her sub ward or even a single patient who is being treated for a critical condition, with multiple medical as well as surgical management undertaken simultaneously. This is a highly complex assignment and one error can lead to loss of life. Thus the nurse has to apply her creativity with conscience to treat patients. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005)
The third habit covers the aspect of ensuring correct priorities in work and personal life or “put first things first”. In life as well as while treating the patient, there would be many distractions and issues which need concurrent attention. It is the ability to place each item in the correct perspective of its immediate, short and long term significance which ensures key issues are not lost sight of. (Covey. 2004). This is particularly important for a nursing leader. Treatment is given in a time sequence which cannot be altered, while there would be many things which may need attention concurrently. It is the ability for correct prioritization that will lead to effective fulfillment of the task. On the other hand a nurse has to navigate through chaos especially during major emergencies. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005). Cultivating this habit will enable overcoming the fog of crisis.
The fourth habit elucidated by the author is that of, “thinking win win” or through abundance. (Covey. 2004). It is a feeling of confidence that pervades an inpidual preventing him from being insecure about persons and organizations making mistakes and enables each case being treated with compassion. Power is shared with each other rather than kept exclusively with the leader. This is most relevant for a nursing leader who does not think of why or how the patient has inflicted upon himself the illness and disease but is only concerned with providing him the necessary relief to recover early.
While it is very difficult to state which habit brought out by Covey is the most relevant for a nurse, the fifth habit does strike as being perhaps the most significant as it deals with listening. Listening to the patients woes with an open mind is the key to successful treatment, it can lead to correct diagnosis, avoids preconceived notions while at the same time providing a psychological fillip to the patient having provided an ear to his suffering. Thus the habit, “seek first to understand and then be understood”, establishes a very effective bond of communication and empathy, which is the key to leadership for nursing leaders. (Covey. 2004)
“Synergize” is the sixth habit talked of by Covey. (Covey. 2004). It is very important for any head particularly the nursing leader, who has to synergize the entire gamut of treatment to a number of patients with varied symptoms and recovery charts. The synergy has to be between the types of tests to be carried out, rationalization of reports for effective diagnosis by the doctor, administering drugs and injections and various other lines of treatment. Then is the challenge of creating synergy between doctors, specialists, pathologists and surgical assistants to ensure effective canalizing of palliatives to the patient, who is the principal recipient of the overall effort. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005).
Covey denotes synergy is achieved through effective communication, synergistic rather than positional negotiation and creative approach to people. These are very essential attributes to follow by effective nursing leaders.
The final habit is the one universally acknowledged for all leaders, self renewal and continuous learning or as Covey has called it, “Sharpen the Saw”. (Covey. 2004)
All professions today pose varying challenges and continuously improving skills and techniques is an ongoing process. The medical profession is advancing apace and new lines of treatment are being evolved every day. It is essential that nurses attempt to imbibe the basic principles of these effectively to ensure that they are able to provide to the patient the best line of treatment available. Nurses are also increasingly being asked to provide outpatient dialysis, chemotherapy, run cardiac rehabilitation centers and restoration clinics. (Grossman, Valiga 2005). Learning and self renewal is thus an essential part of a nurse’s life as a treatment provider as well as a leader.
Covey’s book is a practical guide for people for a path of success in life as well as in the chosen profession. The principles outlined by him are essentially human values either related to emotional stability as compassion, empathy and confidence or human capability as creativity, communication and coordination. They create the power within a person to be a beacon of hope for others. A patient on the bed is looking up to the nurse in particular to be a source of inspiration to recover. By imbibing these habits, a nursing leader can provide effective and early hopes of recovery to the patient as also act as a source of inspiration to the team which she leads. For nurses have always been role models. Adoption of the seven habits by nurses will enable them to be true transformational leaders of tomorrow. (Grossman, Valiga. 2005).
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