10 March 2015

Influence, power, and activism

There is focused effort to get more nurses on governing boards. The goal is to have 10,000 nurses serving in that role by the year 2020. There is no doubt that nurses have much to offer in terms of knowledge, skills and experience, but many are apprehensive about issues of influence, power, and activism.

I continue to be perplexed by the paradox that, although nursing is ranked consistently as one of the most respected professions, nurses are not regarded as being very influential. What does it take for nurses to own and master their influence skills? Eleanor Sullivan, PhD, RN, FAAN, a past president of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), tackles this issue in her book Becoming Influential: A Guide for Nurses, 2nd edition (2013), Prentice Hall, Boston, MA. In "Taking the Mystery Out of Influence," Sullivan advises reading the subtext of situations and going beyond the non-verbal to gain influence insights. Suggesting that professional presence supports influence consciousness, she notes that power is a foundation for influence. Perhaps nurses need new ways to think about the powers they possess?

Six stages of power
Janet Hagberg’s model of personal power is a useful guide for reflecting on the dynamics of what she identifies as the six stages of power: 1) powerlessness, 2) power by association, 3) power by achievement, 4) power by reflection, 5) power by purpose, and 6) power by wisdom. She believes there is a developmental trajectory to these stages and that people grow and evolve from one stage to another. She describes the characteristics of each stage, where people can get stuck, and how a person can move forward from stage to stage. 

Observing that individuals can be, at any particular moment and relative to other people, at various stages of power, Hagberg links these stages to issues of leadership and motivation. Using her model and reflecting on one’s own developmental progress in regard to stages of power leads to insights and understanding of self and others. I personally believe that, to be effective and successful as a governing board member, power by reflection, power by purpose, and power by wisdom—stages 4, 5, and 6—are required.

Armed with influence, empowered nurses activate leadership skills. As Karen Kelly, EdD, RN, CNAA, BC, notes in “From apathy to political activism,” published in American Nurse Today (2007), there is a developmental trajectory associated with activism. It moves from apathy to buy in to self-interest to acquisition of political sophistication to leading the way. There is an emerging community of people who are becoming health activists and there are great stories about nurse activists. To prepare nurses to serve on boards, we need to do a better job of helping them own their influence, master their power, and be better activists, particularly at the grass-roots level.

What are your current beliefs and values in regard to the triple helix of influence, power, and activism? Where are you developmentally on the journey from powerlessness to wisdom? What are the compelling issues that ignite your reflection, purpose-power, and wisdom? How will you contribute your leadership talents to a nonprofit or for-profit organization that is meaningful to you? How will you move beyond apprehension to confidence? On what governing board will you serve? Will you be one of 10,000 nurses who serve on a board? The year 2020 is not far off.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.