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Leading Valiantly in Healthcare

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Title: Leading Valiantly in Healthcare

Author: Catherine Robinson-Walker

Publisher: Sigma Theta Tau International

Reviewer: Carol Cooper, senior lecturer in mental health nursing, Sheffield Hallam University

What was it like?

This is a book on leadership in healthcare that claims to deliver four steps to sustainable success based on the authors thirty years of experiences with skilled practitioners in the US. It goes on to say that the book offers four benefits to the reader:

  1. A reflection on who they can be and often are: a courageous, integrity filled and valiant steward of their system of care.
  2. A series of concrete steps and practices that allows them to claim their own version of Leadership Valor and sustain it with efficacy, personal satisfaction and solace.
  3. A way of thinking about how they engage as a leader: a way that builds on strengths they already possess, and a way that is both feasible and easy to remember.
  4. Hope, access to and greater ease with their sense of self, and the leadership assets that are already within them.

The author defines Leadership Valor as more than brave and courageous. She explains that it includes qualities such as being grounded, clear, open, flexible, confident, purposeful and inspired. Furthermore she goes on to say that this kind of leadership is human and humane and it is both a process of doing and an outcome.

The book is divided into three parts.

The first is devoted to understanding and developing leadership valor, which gives the background to this approach. This includes defining what this term means and how it can improve your leadership. It also highlights barriers to change that are headed as the six leadership seductions. This part then moves on to go through the four steps of leadership valor, which are cyclical. It finishes with a chapter on preparation and outcomes for the leader.

The second part is called leading valiantly in real life. This section is where theory is applied to practice through a series of vignettes and perspective tips. There are also exercises for the reader to practice and guidelines to help them apply this theory to their own practice.

The third and final part is concerned with sustaining success as a valiant leader. This part aims to build on the previous material and commences with an in depth look at how the reader can personalise the cycle and steps outlined to suit their own needs. The book closes with a discussion of the possible effects this style of leadership can have on others as well as the readers’ own development.

What were the highlights? 

The book is well structured and therefore easy to access the part(s) most relevant to the reader. It highlights the theory and application to practice while acknowledging the imperfect world in which health care practice takes place. It identifies that Leading with Valor involves practice, readiness to change, acknowledging resistance, reflection, bravery and acceptance of imperfection.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The author begins by acknowledging that practitioners frequently already have a range of skills and knowledge in this area. She then goes on to advise practitioners on how to hone these to become better leaders, giving them practical suggestions on how to address issues. The book draws on theory from both Benner (1984) and Dreyfus (1981, 1984), which are mostly familiar to any practitioner who has studied skill acquisition theory. Coupled with this the author identifies the familiar skills of self-awareness and reflection as being central to this theory. There are many practical easy to follow ideas in this book.

A potential weakness for UK practitioners is the US language, which might deter people from actually using the book in the first place- don’t be afraid!! Look beyond the language and use the good advice contained within this book.

Who should read it?

This book would be good for a wide range of practitioners from students about to qualify right through to experienced practitioners (or to use Benners’ terms anyone from ‘novice to expert’). It could help inexperienced practitioners to develop their own leadership style while at the same time reflecting on more experienced colleagues’ styles. Likewise for experienced practitioners’ they could critique their current strengths and work on perceived deficits by dipping into the relevant sections of this book. 

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