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  1. Ann Phillips, Victoria MSN, RN, CNOR, CPAN

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One unit manager complained to another, "I can't even get ONE of the 30 nurses on my unit to commit to establishing a unit-based council." Her frustration was evident. The leadership in that small, rural hospital aspired to apply for the American Nurses Credentialing Center Pathway to Excellence(R) designation, but qualifications include confirmation of shared governance throughout the organization. Her unit was the only one without a unit-based council. As she theorized aloud why this group of nurses refused to participate in shared governance, she used words like "lazy," "difficult," and "stubborn."

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I had a picture in my mind of an exasperated youth pulling on the reins of a mule sitting squarely in the middle of a path with no intention of budging. As a nurse manager, have you experienced a similar challenge? Here, we'll explore a combination of useful strategies to motivate your staff.


Looking inward

Followers tend to reflect what they see in their leaders.1 What are you saying or not saying that may be contributing to this resistance? What are you doing or not doing that may be contributing to this lack of employee engagement? Reflect on your leadership style. Different approaches result in varied responses. A transformational leadership style inspires and empowers staff to take ownership and produce winning results. Being honest, fair, reliable, and courteous are key behaviors in effective transformational leaders.2 Showing care and concern for the personal and professional growth of your direct reports will motivate them to trust you and follow your lead.3


Looking outward

What staff member needs aren't being met? What barriers are hindering people from committing to this shared governance approach? If you're unsure, ask them. Hold a staff meeting, describe your vision for the benefits of shared governance, and address each of the concerns expressed by your staff. In his seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggested using the Socratic method to help others realize what they should be doing.4 Construct your questions in such a way that the answer will be "yes!"


When you ask staff members to join a unit-based council, you're in essence asking them to spend more time, energy, and resources on another commitment in their already busy lives. It's the leader's job to help them view this venture as an investment, not an expenditure. A line of questioning that may muster more yeas than nays looks something like this: Would you like to change the things that are bugging you about this job? Would you like to fix broken or ineffective processes on this unit? Would you like to have more influence over how this department is managed? Would you be willing to commit 1 hour a month to meet with your peers and brainstorm ideas to improve the quality of care we provide to our patients? Framing the questions in this way should lead your staff to a positive answer.


Looking forward

As you share your vision with the group and convince staff to give it a try, the newly formed council may still be at a loss for how to proceed. Using your resources within the organization may prove beneficial to initiating a unit-based council and ensuring sustainability of the new collaborative. Invite unit-based council members from other departments to share their triumphs and challenges with the shared governance approach. Introduce representatives from staff development, clinical research, performance improvement, and risk management to the council members as resources who can share their expertise and offer support for related projects that the newly formed council may choose to undertake. As this council begins its shared governance journey, the nurse manager should be there to support its endeavors, empower the council as it prioritizes projects, and celebrate accomplishments.


In the world of veterinary science, it's taught that balking mules will only strengthen their resolve to freeze in place when their leader stops and turns in an effort to get them to move.5 The recommended response is for the leader to march in place and continue looking forward. This assures the mule that all is well and the leader knows where he or she is going. Soon, the mule will follow and even synchronize steps with the leader. The prominent belief that mules are stubborn simply isn't true. They're very smart, and if they've surmised through their observations that you can't be trusted, they won't follow you. You can see where I'm going with this analogy. Self-assured leaders who move forward and know where they're going gain the trust and confidence of their direct reports and inspire them to take part in the journey.




1. Bossidy L, Charan R. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York, NY: Crown Business; 2009. [Context Link]


2. Clawson JG. Level Three Leadership: Getting Below the Surface. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; 2012. [Context Link]


3. Maxwell JC. The Leadership Handbook. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books; 2008. [Context Link]


4. Carnegie D. How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY: GalleryBooks; 1936. [Context Link]


5. Miller RM. Behavior of the horse. J Equine Vet Sci. 1996;16(7):282-284. [Context Link]