Excellence in action

Every now and then consultants such as I have the privilege of observing excellence in action. This happened to me earlier this year as I was given the opportunity to observe a nurse manager in action with different nursing shifts and groups over an extended period of time.  I was also given the opportunity to see similar people occupying similar roles in the same organization in very different ways, so comparing and contrasting was easy.  

What I observed, and what I learned was not specific to healthcare, but could apply to a host of situations and settings far removed. I thought back to clients with whom I have worked in heavy manufacturing, the military, mining, and many other related sectors: in each, and every case, my learnings from this person would apply equally to those situations. She was an extraordinary leader and manager. 

In the weeks and months since I was given this privilege, I have tried to think carefully about what was distinctive and core to her effectiveness and have distilled it down to two key patterns or perspectives that stood out. 

Community vs Machine 

In the dynamic landscape of modern organizational life, leadership styles play a pivotal role in shaping organizational culture, employee engagement, and overall success. My experience with this leader highlighted the stark contrast between average leader and extraordinary leaders, emphasizing how their perspectives on corporate structure and employee management significantly impact the workplace environment.  

Average leaders perceive their organization as a machine, with employees serving as mere cogs in the system. This mindset leads to rigid structures governed by inflexible rules. The focus is on maintaining control through mechanisms akin to “pulling levers” and “steering the ship.”  

My experience with this leader was very different from this: she clearly operates from a sense of higher purpose – in her case, the care and welfare of patients. The higher purpose (no matter what it is), in exceptional leaders aligns with the values and aspirations of employees and becomes a way to create a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the workplace. This leader certainly did that. 

Instead of relying on rigid rules, she inspired and motivated her teams. She encouraged innovation, creativity, and collaboration, and on more than one occasion demonstrated how clear recognition motivates, empowers and engages members to contribute significantly to the success of the organization. 

She went out of her way to foster a sense of community among her team members, emphasizing the interconnectedness of individual goals with the broader organization mission. It was part of the fabric of all her communications to her staff.

Employees as peers not children 

In today’s organizations, the attitude of leaders towards their employees plays a pivotal role in shaping workplace culture, productivity, and overall success. This article delves into the contrasting perspectives of average leaders, who view employees as inferior and in need of constant oversight, and extraordinary leaders, who treat every employee with respect and empower them to take charge of their own destinies. 

Average leaders adopt a paternalistic approach, perceiving employees as inferior and immature beings who require constant supervision. This attitude fosters an environment where trust is lacking or non-existent. The consequence is that employees tend to focus on appearing busy, safeguarding their own interests or protecting themselves from perceived threat, rather than contributing to the collective success of the organization.  

In reality this deficit means that average leaders struggle to trust their employees, and an atmosphere of suspicion creeps in. This in turn hampers collaboration, stifles creativity, and diminishes the potential for innovation within the organization. In an environment where employees feel undervalued and untrusted, the predominant motivation becomes fear. Rather than focusing on excellence and innovation, employees expend energy on covering their tracks to avoid potential reprimands. 

When paternalism pervades the professional growth of employees is inhibited. When individuals are not trusted with autonomy and responsibility, they are denied the opportunity to develop their skills, take on new challenges, and contribute meaningfully to the organization. 

My experience with this extraordinary leader was quite the opposite – she treated every team member as if they were the most important person in the organization. This mindset is rooted in respect, trust, and the expectation of excellence at all levels of an organization. As a result, employees are empowered to take charge of their own destinies, fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and collective success.  

She seemed to deliberately cultivate a culture of respect and trust by treating every team member as a valuable contributor, setting high standards and providing the necessary support and resources for employees to achieve and exceed these expectations.  This even extended to “mucking in” and helping each one of her team members do their job. She did not stand apart from her team – she presented as “one of them” ready to help them in whatever way was needed. 


In conclusion, my experience of an extraordinary nurse manager in action has illuminated key patterns and perspectives that transcend the healthcare sector, offering valuable insights for leadership across diverse organizational landscapes, including industries as diverse as mining, timber milling and law enforcement.  

The approach by this particular nurse manager whereby she treated her team as community of equals, coupled with active support and a hands-on approach, exemplified a leadership style that transcended traditional hierarchical boundaries. 

The significance of fostering a sense of community, aligning leadership with a higher purpose, and treating employees with respect and trust are fundamental pillars that contribute to organizational success and employee satisfaction. As organizations navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, the example set by this extraordinary leader serves as a beacon, highlighting the transformative power of leadership rooted in empathy, collaboration, and a commitment to excellence. 

Tim Dalmau

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