The Language of Leadership

By Lynn Sywyj - June 16, 2015

The Language of Leadership

Michelle Gale, MSN, RAC-CT, C-NE, remembers Mike with a smile. A Kansas farmer in his 80s, he was cantankerous and ornery and would brighten Michelle’s days. Often, she would arrive early for her shift and find Mike riled up, walking up and down the halls looking for his wife. Michelle would ask him if he wanted a cup of coffee and pull him in to her office. She would ask him about farming, and he would talk with her for a few minutes at ease, not anxious. Confused residents on the dementia floor who needed a moment frequented her office, which couldn’t fit more than two nurses and one wheelchair. This one-on-one time with residents, listening and making them laugh, was her joy during her first full-time role as an MDS coordinator in 2008.

But it wasn’t all kind smiles and hot coffee. “I learned the hard way what nurse leadership is,” she recalls. At that time, she was frequently frustrated in her role. “Why doesn’t everybody think like me? Why, when I tell the social worker what to do and that she has seven days to complete the task, how is it that she can’t get the task done? I know that she isn’t lazy, and I know that she is busy, but ‘we’re all adults’ and why can’t she get it done?” She found herself steaming.

Michelle slowly learned that if she didn’t make it her business to know where her colleagues were coming from and what their challenges were, she was going to be frustrated all of the time.

In the case of an activities coordinator who never seemed to be able to get her MDS input in on time, Michelle asked, “What is your best day to block out two hours? Which days do you have more help?” Once a time-block for MDS was established, Michelle would send a calendar reminder each week and after lunch on the “MDS day,” she would say, “Okay now work on your MDS!” Soon enough, she had her information on time each week, and the two began to become friends.

“Yes, I had to take a few extra steps and a few extra minutes. Yes, we are all adults. Nonetheless, I needed to learn how they thought and, more importantly, what I needed to bring to their way of thinking for both us to be successful.” For Michelle, this was a pivotal realization—learning how effective communication and collaboration leads to the successful implementation of the MDS and a happy team.

Now, Michelle is a case-mix specialist working to improve the MDS process in nine facilities across three states with all levels of staff. In her leadership role, her strategy is to engage the nurse aides, activities directors, social workers, and other team members at their own pace and level. “If I can’t relate and effectively communicate with them, I can’t get what I need and I’m dead in the water. I need to have a sense for the struggles of nurse-aide, an activities director, and so on, not just the workload.”

Just as an impactful nurse takes a few minutes to listen to residents, a successful nurse leader takes a few extra minutes to learn about the people they are working with and for. Learning to speak the other person’s language will foster effective communication--and MDS success! 


Lynn Sywyj is the membership marketing coordinator for AANAC and a guest-contributor to the Care Connection blog.

Reviewed on April 27, 2017.

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