Women have been called upon for centuries to be the stronghold of the family and society without getting the recognition. We played what was deemed to be a secondary, less important role in society. We were not seen as having the talent, gravitas or ability of a man. Of course, we now know that women are quite capable of leading. We persevere through great challenges. Our role is one of teacher, team builder, listener, encourager, and mentor. We are problem solvers and collaborators. We know how to be agile, shifting swiftly when the tides turn. Women transform lives through our capacity to love, listen, nurture, and lead.
I grew up in a time when my options for a career were limited to a select few: teacher, nurse, cashier—yes, cashier. When I was a senior in high school, my career counselor told me that the best I could hope for was to be a cashier in a store. I ignored her advice and retook chemistry to try and get a C, which is what I would need to get into nursing school. There was no talk of business school, it was not even an option at that point. Business school was for men.
I applied to 11 nursing schools and got rejected from 10 of them. I finally got accepted to Hahnemann School of Nursing because one woman saw my passion. She looked beyond my grades. She saw what was in front of her. A hungry, driven, and smart (in a different way) young woman who would find her way through nursing school. That woman was a leader! She took a risk with me because she saw something deep within me. She listened with empathy to my story. She would have to explain to the admissions team why she was accepting an average student who failed the SATs. Try and make sense of that. She went outside standard protocol. I remember telling her, “I know I can be a good nurse, I just need someone to give me a chance!” And she did! She exhibited some of the greatest attributes of a leader. Character, courage, the ability to discern, generosity, listening, and emotional intelligence. She did what 10 other admission counselors did not. She set the stage for a young woman from a poor family to succeed and change the lives of those she would serve in the future.
As a student nurse, I would work night shifts to defray the cost of school. At times, I would be the only staff person on a patient care unit. The nursing supervisor would come up and give the medications out to the patients and I would take care of the rest of their needs. Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind. I was, however beginning to develop a leadership mindset. I had to have a vision and strategy to get through each shift. The responsibility was huge! I had to do positive self-talk. I had to discern when to call for help. I had to assess patients effectively so I could make the right choices in how to keep them safe. I had to push through my own fears. Again, I did not know at the time, but I was learning to be a leader. I took my job as a student nurse very seriously. I was there to protect and care for the most vulnerable human beings who had to give control over to people they did not even know.
What I know now is that I was highly prepared to do that job. I was the youngest of nine in a family that struggled to put food on the table. I knew what it was like to be afraid, unsure, and scared. I had become a keen listener and observer. I knew what worked and didn’t work. I was using all those skills along with a large dose of compassion with my patients. I could sense their fear and I cradled them with respect and reassurance that they could get through this scary time. I started to realize that I could become a great nurse, but it was more than that. I knew I was a leader before I graduated from nursing school and so did others. I went on to become a Nurse Manager, Director of Nursing, Vice President, and eventually CEO. I now teach leadership and serve as an Executive Coach. I have learned that all people have a deep wisdom within. Our job as women leaders is to cultivate that first within ourselves and then within others. There is no greater gift that we can give to ourselves and society.
DeAngelis Leadership Consulting, LLC