The Art of PossibilityBy: Susan Carlson, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, GNP-BC, FNGNA
If your latest reading choices are seed catalogs, travel books, and tips on how to de-clutter your life, you might just have a touch of Spring Fever! Spring’s tempo is fast and short-lived so take advantage of the wonderful feeling of anticipation brought by this emerging season. Like the natural laws of nature, the NGNA board follows a sequential and progressive schedule. We discuss and deliberate our strategic plan in the winter, we begin to cultivate and implement our plans in the spring, summer is the season to monitor and nurture the initiatives, and in the fall we measure our outcomes against our goals, gather for our annual convention and begin the cycle all over again. But this illustration is simply a linear process and although certainly important and fundamental to good business planning, the systems thinking approach used by our board, committees, SIGs and fellows is really the heart of NGNA’s innovation and focus on mission. Let’s discuss another approach that is much more than a “how to” guide to accomplish professional goals.
One of the recommended books from the Nursing Alliance Leadership Academy (NALA) when I attended as NGNA president-elect in 2009 was the The Art of Possibility by Zander & Zander (2000). The book offers a series of practices for generating creativity to transform one’s personal and professional life. Why is this important to NGNA? Here’s why: NGNA’s mission is very broad and ambitious – “To improve the quality of nursing care provided to older adults”. We cannot accomplish quantifiable, measurable outcomes simply by following a linear problem solving process. It requires the introduction of provocative new ideas that will not be generated by the “step-by-step” methodical and deliberate strategic planning process. There must be a human connection to our mission. Talk to any dedicated gerontologic nurse and they likely will not quote our strategic goal as the reason they belong to NGNA. NGNA is their connection to their passion for improving the quality of nursing care of their patients, residents, and clients. Our members ask: How can I make a difference? Here are a few supporting ideas from the book that will help each of us become engaged in our mission.
- “It’s all invented anyway”. Thankfully we all get to create a framework that defines our meaning of life. Why not choose one that is positive and full of promise rather than one focused on limitations and dead-end thinking?
- Stepping into a universe of possibility. Don’t focus only on the measurement of a goal. Although we are driven by metrics and an “evidence based” framework, look toward all possibilities that may seem beyond reach. This gives us permission to dream.
- Giving an “A”. This acknowledges people’s desire to live up to expectations but really reframes expectations into how we contribute to a team or relationship. The practice of giving an A recognizes the universal desire for us to contribute. In other words, when you offer respect and acknowledge others contributions, you are giving them an A.
- Being a contribution. This means that we step up to the challenge of contributing without even always knowing exactly what that might mean. In NGNA, it might mean that you volunteer to take on a role as committee member not because you have all of the answers, but because you have a lot to contribute and a commitment to participate.
- Leading from any chair. Leaders can lead from within, behind, or upfront. It doesn’t take a formal position within NGNA to demonstrate leadership. For instance, initiating a work group to identify outstanding gerontologic nurses and nominating them for an annual NGNA award takes leadership.
- Lighten up and enjoy yourself. Be a role model for encouraging the same in others. Creativity and productivity will follow. Both are stifled by the downward spiral of an intense “rule driven” environment.
- The way things are. Remaining non-judgmental and yet seeing the reality of a situation, even when things are not necessarily going in the direction we would want. This means taking the word “should” out of our vocabulary. Some of the most liberating advice I’ve ever received was when a mentor said to me, “Don’t worry about it, you can’t make a bad decision.” Wanting to do what is “right” and avoiding the “wrong” decision takes a tremendous emotional toll and doesn’t always render the best results anyway, so concentrate on seeing the way things are.
- Giving way to passion. Stop doing things that hold you back. Most of us know at least some of the barriers that prevent us from using our natural talents and strengths. It takes courage and trust to let go and decide to pursue your passion, but the energy gained is much greater than the energy required. Examples of this may be a decision to submit an abstract when you’ve never written one, or returning to school for a higher degree.
- Lighting a spark. This practice means becoming connected to others by remaining open to possibilities. Each person involved feels more energized by this force. By being both a mentor and allowing yourself to be mentored, there is a mutual commitment that results in positive outcomes. It could mean inviting someone to accompany you to an NGNA event, or being asked to consider running for an elected position. While both will take time and energy, and the answer may not always be a “yes”, a connection has been made, a spark has been generated, and possibilities are created for the future.
- Being the board. When the going gets tough and it seems that roadblocks are the only signs you are passing, you take the position that along the way you likely have made some incorrect assumptions. It doesn’t mean you are a loser or a victim, it means you have to revisit the potholes of life. We all have them, so use thoughtful reflection to rebuild and repair the damage.
- Frameworks for possibility. The NGNA Board of Directors practices this when we discuss bold new strategies for building a stronger association. We listen to each other describe the visions we have for our future, and we experiment with new technology and methodologies to improve our productivity. Fully understanding that we may not or could not pursue every idea or proposal discussed, we consider the possibilities.
- Telling the “WE” story. Finally, the practice of moving from the “I” to the We” emphasizes the possibilities as a whole rather than as separate individuals. It points the way to a kind of leadership within NGNA that promotes trust and respect and leads to a high-performance organization. Decisions are made after open dialogue and discussion. It is much more than a linear process or simply following a checklist of agenda items; rather, it’s a dynamic systems approach that supports creativity, innovation, connection, and growth.
Cheers and Best Wishes,