Leading in a Collaborative Environment: A Top 10 List for Getting There

Oct 14, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, is senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action. Three years ago, the Institute of Medicine issued Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which supports “efforts to cultivate and promote leaders within the nursing profession—from the front lines of care to the boardroom.” The goal, the report says, is that nurses be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.


The only way to achieve a healthier future for everyone in this country is to work collaboratively toward that goal. Leading in a collaborative environment takes very special skills. To find effective leaders, we must consider the skills, talents, and experience of everyone who aspires to leadership, regardless of their profession.

Sue Hassmiller

In fact, there is no evidence pointing to a single profession as having all requisite leadership skills to get our population to a healthier state. It is truly about the skills, talents, and experience of the whole team, and everyone on the team should be considered a potential leader.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health states that all professions should be equal partners in leading health and health care efforts in this country to assure access, affordability, quality, and a healthier future for all. The IOM committee members who shaped that report made extremely thoughtful recommendations on leadership.

Below, I add my own take, based on experience, about what it takes to lead in a collaborative environment.

This is my top ten list:

1.       Speak up and advocate for those who cannot speak up or advocate for themselves. Whether it is the work you do as a provider at the front lines or your ideas, policies, speeches, and publications … people depend on us for this and speaking in unison will make an even bigger impact.

2.       Use evidence to make decisions. Forget about what you think, what might be easiest for you, or what you have done for years. Those who entrust their lives to you depend on evidence.

3.       Know what you don’t know and say you don’t know. Rely deeply and frequently on others who do know, or find out. Be honest about your limitations. 

4.       Be a team player. You have skills and unique knowledge, but so do others. Use all team members to the top of their education, training, and experience.

5.       Continue your education, either through additional college degrees or continuing education courses and experience. Take classes with other professions to better understand their role and contributions.

6.       Kindness, consideration, and respect carry the day. Treat others as you would like to be treated. That means everyone, not just those who you perceive to be above you in the pecking order.

7.       Recognize and give credit to others. It is a rare day when your accomplishments have been drawn from you alone. So why not let others know that their advice, work, words … whatever … have helped you. 

8.       Share freely.  Share information, tools, equipment, space, food, and especially your time.  Being there for others, especially through mentorship, is a professional responsibility.

9.       Be prepared to be at the table. Do your homework to make the most thoughtful contributions possible.  

10.   Lighten up. A sense of humor can get you and others through the most trying situations, not to mention add to the fun factor. It also helps you to be less intimidating to others.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.