Cracking the Code of “Good Nursing Leadership”

An interview with Jeffrey Adams, R.N., Ph.D., Center for Innovations in Care Delivery Massachusetts General Hospital, a Robert Wood Johnson executive nurse fellow, and a 2015 AONE Foundation Small Grant Recipient.
What makes a good nurse leader? What effect does good nursing leadership have on the patient? On quality outcomes? On staff satisfaction? What makes nurses loving leaders? How do we put the best nurses possible in those leadership roles?

Jeffrey Adams, R.N., Ph.D., and the team of researchers he works with are working to help quantifiably answer those questions and more in their research, Multi-Site Analysis of Nurse Leaders’ Influence Over Professional Practice Environments.

We recently sat down with Jeff to check in and see how the research is progressing.

Here’s some of our conversation.

AONE: You’ve talked in the past that one thing you want to do with this research is to “Quantify Love.” What exactly does that mean?
Jeff Adams (JA): The idea that “leadership is love” is not new. Jean Watson and others have been talking about it for a while now. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve learned from a real leader who cares and truly demonstrates that. With this research, we want to begin to learn how leaders who feel and express love influence the practice environments they work in. We want to be able to quantify love.

AONE: What do you see the possible outcomes of this research being?
Well, that’s a big question! (laughs)

There are so many ways this research will benefit the nursing profession, and health care overall. We are really at a starting point. We hope our research will fuel additional research. While we’re working to answer some questions, other questions are popping up. We hope that we, and other researchers, will have the opportunity to continue to build upon this study.

Initially though, we want to be able to say, or at least start to say, “This is what great nursing leadership looks like.”

We already know that great nurse leaders are influential. They need to be able to have their voice heard, and they need to be around the table with other leaders to do so. They need to lead both the nursing profession and their own organizations.

We want to begin to quantify those intangibles. We want to begin to build a profile of a person who fits those roles and what educational programs help them do so effectively.

We also know there is a relationship between great leaders and positive outcomes and successes. Health care organizations spend a lot of money on leadership development to achieve more and better positive outcomes and successes. There are over 400,000 nurses in middle management in the acute care settings in the United States. There are 5,000 hospitals and 5,000-6,000 CNOs and over 3.1 million nurses. That is a lot of people, and a lot of hospitals investing in leadership development. As of right now there is no quantifiable data on the outcomes of those leadership development dollars. There is also nothing quantifiably linking leadership development with the impact on patient outcomes. We want to change that.

AONE: Where are you currently in the research process?
: We finished collecting data at the end of August. Now we are analyzing and evaluating what the data tells us. We’re planning to present our findings at the 2016 AONE Annual meeting in Texas. Everyone should attend to hear us!

In all seriousness, in addition to the funding from the AONE Foundation, a big part of the success of this study will be due to the AONE members and their organizations. The members involved are committed to understanding nursing leadership in their own organizations as well as in the profession as a whole. We are tremendously grateful to them for taking the time to do this study and help with this research. Without the two pieces of funding from the AONE Foundation and the AONE constituency, we would not be able to do this research. We are so thankful.

AONE: Can you tell me about the role AONE Foundation played in supporting this research?
The thing is, there’s really no other place to start besides the AONE Foundation when it comes to funding research into nurse leadership. There are other organizations that offer funding, but the AONE Foundation is the primary place researchers in nurse leadership can go. This is because AONE Foundation is committed to the same things the researchers are – what makes nursing leaders excellent.

There have been great researchers who have committed their lives to helping grow and develop the nursing profession and nurse leaders, and they have had to work so hard to fit their research into the current funding paradigm.

With the AONE Foundation, researchers like us do not have to jump through such complicated hoops. AONE Foundation is the centerpiece of nursing leadership research, and AONE is known for being the place where nurse leaders congregate. It’s a wonderful opportunity that AONE Foundation has taken to develop research around the AONE member constituency and how to make them better.

And this is why people have to give to the Foundation because there is no other vehicle to fund research in nursing leadership right now.

(Can you tell I’m passionate about this?)

The AONE Foundation also helped to identify great collaboration opportunities. I have the privilege of working with an amazing team of both emerging and leading researchers from top academic institutions who are equally committed to understanding and quantifying great nursing leadership. That idea that “Leadership is Love” might sound corny, but starts right at our core! We’re going to be able to accomplish our long-term goal to crack the code of “good nursing leadership” (or at least make giant leaps), because we really like each other!

AONE: Who are the members of your research team on this study?
I am so privileged to work with an amazing team of researchers. They are:

Matt Gregas, Ph.D.
Senior Research Statistician
Boston College

Maja Djukic, Ph.D., R.N.
Assistant Professor
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar (2012 - 2015)
New York University - College of Nursing

Ashley-Kay Fryer
Doctoral Student in Health Policy Management
Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences | Harvard Business School

And we’re so appreciative of the advisement we receive from Drs. Linda Aiken, Jeanette Ives Erickson, Chris Kovner, and the support we’ve received from each of the nurse leaders and the organizations participating in our study.

AONE: Can you share any tidbits or insights you’ve gleaned so far?
No spoilers! Come see us in Texas next year at the 2016 AONE Annual Meeting in Fort Worth. We’ll share more there!