Growing as a Leader

Cathy Ivory, PhD, RNC-OB
2014 AWHONN President

At some point in their life, every person is called upon to lead.

As perinatal nurses, the call to lead may come from many directions. Perhaps you have a friend or loved one who needs to make an important decision about a pregnancy or birth experience and looks to you for advice. You base that advice on current evidence and your experience as a nurse; if we are honest, we acknowledge that our own birth experiences (if we have them) influence the advice given to others. Those who ask our advice look to us as leaders in nursing, even if we consider ourselves (to use a phrase I really dislike) “just a nurse”. At the bedside, we lead by advocating for our patients and families, by mentoring new nurses, and by participating in unit improvement activities.

Some nurses feel more comfortable than others with the notion that all nurses are leaders. Some nurses want to brush up or build upon their leadership skills. Did you know there are options to develop such skills tailored especially for  perinatal nurses?

AWHONN established the Emerging Leader Program (ELP) in 2008 to promote leadership development among AWHONN members. Emerging Leaders participate on AWHONN national committees, are exposed to leadership concepts and are assigned mentors along the way. I have grown as a leader myself by working alongside AWHONN’s Emerging Leaders who enthusiastically represent AWHONN in their workplaces and at the chapter, section and national levels. It is fun to watch AWHONN Emerging Leaders in action while they are in the program and in the years following their completion.  The application process for the ELP opens each September and all AWHONN members with more than one year of membership are eligible to apply. You may be asked by an Emerging Leader  to serve as their mentor.  This opportunity is well worth your time- say yes!

In my last health system role, I had the opportunity to participate in the Maternal Child Health (MCH) Leadership Academy through Sigma Theta Tau, an 18 month leadership development program. In this program, a mentor and mentee apply as a team, called a dyad, and propose a specific evidence-based project, which is presented at the Sigma Theta Tau biennial convention. Our lactation consultant decided to apply as a mentee, proposing a project to improve exclusive breastmilk feeding rates in our region, and asked me to serve as her mentor. With the support of our health system, we applied and were accepted. The MCH Leadership Academy dyads are assigned a Leadership Academy faculty member, based on the subject area of the proposed project. In our case, we worked with Diane Spatz, one of the best-known lactation experts in the United States (and an AWHONN member) who made two trips to our facility in Tennessee, giving our entire team the opportunity to learn from her expertise.

During this 10 month period my own leadership skills grew as I participated as a mentor for the MCH Leadership Academy and learned from expert faculty.

I am happy to report that exclusive breastmilk feeding rates really did increase in our institution, my mentee increased her own leadership skills and I grew along with her!

As perinatal nurses, we are lucky to have two formal programs for leadership development. Please consider learning more about AWHONN’s Emerging Leader Program (apply in Fall, 2016) and Sigma Theta Tau’s Maternal Child Health (MCH) Leadership Academy (accepting applications through Jan 3, 2016!). If you have the chance, be a mentor.

Above all, never forget that we are all leaders!

Cathy Ivory Photo 1Cathy Ivory, PhD, RNC-OB
As Immediate Past President, Cathy now chairs AWHONN’s Nominating Committee and also serves on the Development Committee. Her vision for AWHONN’s future includes continuing to grow support for AWHONN’s charitable giving program, Every Woman, Every Baby; building membership and collaborations with other organizations, corporate partners, physicians and midwives; and furthering research.

One thought on “Growing as a Leader

  1. Susan Peck says:

    I have been so honored to have been afforded many leadership opportunities within AWHONN in many different capacities. I highly recommend becoming more active in such a great organization…it really is our professional “home”:

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