1. Doucette, Jeffrey N. DNP, RN, CEN, NEA-BC, FACHE

Article Content

Slow down to speed up

Q I'm constantly moving at a frenetic pace and feel like I can never slow down. What suggestions do you have for being more focused at work?

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

There's no question that, as nurse leaders, the demands on our time continue to grow. We're all feeling the pressure of exceeding outcomes in the pay-for-performance environment, delivering an exceptional patient experience, and balancing the countless issues we deal with on a daily basis. In addition to keeping up with meeting schedules and commitments, we've seemingly never been more connected to technology than we are today. This added pressure of needing to feel "constantly in touch" via various modes of technology puts many of us in the position of never really being away from work.


Just as important, our staff members are feeling these same pressures as they care for clinically complex patients with dwindling resources and support, and the same pay-for-performance expectations that we face as leaders. In order to cope with the ever-increasing demands of our work, we must find a way to slow down to speed up.


Although this might sound like absurd advice, there's a growing body of evidence that supports the practice of mindfulness, presence, and compassion as a means to increase productivity, work and life satisfaction, and an overall sense of higher purpose and fulfillment. As I talk with leaders about mindfulness, I'm often greeted with blank stares and confusion. What's mindfulness and what does it have to do with my leadership?


Simply put, mindfulness is practicing present moment awareness without judgment. It's your ability as a leader to increase your situational awareness of what's happening in the moment and accepting it for what it is without bias. The practice of mindfulness is a skill that can be built like any other tool in your leadership toolbox and may take many forms. Meditation, prayer, guided imagery, and rhythmic breathing exercises are all examples of practices that can increase your clarity, presence, and overall mindfulness. These practices have applications that can transcend the experience of leadership from the bedside to the boardroom.


I was recently part of a unique leadership experience where I was asked to help lead a horse through an obstacle course with a team of colleagues participating in an executive development program. Not being a horse person, I knew little about how horses work together in the herd to survive. It turns out that horses know and understand that leadership is a shared function; to fully lead and meet the desired outcome, the horse must be fully present and mindful.


The horse is always scanning at three levels: self, herd, and horizon. Four things have been identified that herd members must know about the leader to place their trust in them: leaders must pay attention to and detect subtle changes in the environment, leaders must give clear direction on how to respond to the shifts, leaders are able to follow the direction with focused energy and an appropriate pace to respond, and leaders must display congruence with their inner and outer expressions.1


As my team tried to lead the horse through the obstacle course as a member of the herd, we each had to take these various roles and execute them at just the right energy level and pace to achieve the result we desired: finishing the obstacle course. It was fascinating to me that when our team was focused, mindful, and fully present with each other and our horse, the horse readily followed our herd leader and we were able to easily complete tasks. When one or more of the team members gave too much or too little energy to the task, we were unable to get the horse to follow us. Likewise, if the pace of the leader was too fast or too slow, there was increased resistance from the horse and, once again, we couldn't accomplish our goal.


This was an eye-opening experience for me as a leader. If an animal can sense through our energy, movements, and emotions that we're going too fast or too slow and have too much or too little energy, imagine what our staff members and patients perceive as we hurry from meeting to meeting and patient to patient. The only way we can reduce the stress of our work pace is to slow down and commit to being fully present and mindful. In doing so, we'll see a measureable change in productivity and results.




1. Gunter J. Teaching Horse: Rediscovering Leadership. Bloomington, IN: Author House; 2007. [Context Link]