home settings where nurses work more autonomously with patients and families than they do in the acute care setting. In community and home settings, nurses provide a direct link connecting patients, their caregivers, and other members of the health care team. Other members of the health care team may not have the time, expertise, or first-hand experience with the patient’s home environment and circumstances to understand and respond to patient and family needs. For example, a neurologist may not be able to help a caregiver of an Alzheimer’s patient understand or curtail excessive spending habits, or a surgeon may not be able to offer advice to a caregiver on ostomy care—roles that nurses are perfectly positioned to assume. Leadership in these situations sometimes requires nurses to be assertive and to have a strong voice in advocating for patients and their families to ensure that their needs are communicated and adequately met.
Box 5-3 describes a nurse who evolved over the course of her career from thinking that being an effective nurse was all about honing her nursing skills and competencies to realize that becoming an agent of change was an equally important part of her job.
Leadership does not occur in a social or political vacuum. As Bennis and Nanus (2003) note, the fast pace of change can be managed only if it is accompanied by leaders who can track the context of the “social architecture” to sustain and implement innovative ideas. Creating innovative care models at the bedside and in the community or taking the opportunity to fill a seat in a policy-making body or boardroom requires nurse leaders to develop ideas; approach management; and courageously make decisions within the political, economic, and social context that will make their solutions real and sustainable. A shift must take place in how nurses view their responsibility to those they care for; they must see themselves as full partners with other health professionals, and practice and education environments must socialize and educate them accordingly.
An important aspect of this socialization is mentoring others along the way. More experienced nurses must take the time to show those who are new and less experienced the most effective ways of being an exceptional nurse at the bedside, in the boardroom, and everywhere between. Technology such as chat rooms, Facebook, and even blogs can be used to support the mentoring role.
A crucial part of working within the social architecture is understanding how leadership and practice produce change over time. The nursing profession’s history includes many examples of the effect of nursing leadership on changes in systems and improvements in patient care. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, nurse Elizabeth Carnegie led the fight for the racial integration of nursing in Florida by example and through her extraordinary character and organizational skills. Her efforts to integrate the nursing profession were based in her sense of social justice not just for the profession, but also for the care of African American