My Leadership Story: Gladys Campbell, MSN, RN

ImageAONE interviewed Gladys Campbell, chief executive officer, Northwest Organization of Nurse Executives (NWONE); chief nursing officer and senior leader for Clinical Strategy, Washington Hospital Association in Seattle, WA, to learn more about her work inspiring nurses to become involved in legislative matters. Campbell, who refers to herself as an “association junky,” says her annual legislative boot-camp, has become more popular each year. Over the past five years, more than 200 nurse leaders have been educated on policy and advocacy through the boot-camp and 17 have gone on to give expert testimony in public hearings on health care and nursing issues.

How long have you been a member of AONE and how has being a member benefited you?
I’ve been a member for 14 years. Over the years, AONE has allowed me to connect with and build a rich network of professional colleagues. AONE also allows me to stay connected to my profession from a national perspective and to fully appreciate the power of the collective within the nursing profession. 

How did you know you wanted to become a nurse leader?
Initially I was a reluctant leader because I associated leadership with management and I was not sure I wanted to be a manager. I did end up stepping into management at a very young age because I was frustrated with my work experience at the time and wanted to see if I could change my work environment for the better. 

What is your biggest challenge at your job?
I would have to say time management.  My coach tells me I am “addicted to opportunity.” I get excited by all of the possibilities in nursing today, especially during this time of health care transformation, but there is always more I want to do than there is time to get these things done. I am challenged to make my optimal contribution in the workplace while also maintain some semblance of work/life balance.

How does AONE help you with this challenge?
The AONE chapter leader meetings I attend twice a year allow me to not only learn from my colleagues who have roles similar to mine, but to also hear what others are doing in their regions and how they are setting their priorities. The meetings leave me inspired and motivated to try new ideas and implement the creative solutions shared by other nurse leaders from across the country.  It is not uncommon for me to meet with a colleague at these meetings who has found a creative solution to a problem with which I have been struggling.   

What has been your involvement with the NWONE legislative boot camp?
When I first came to NWONE I wanted to be able to continue the good work of my predecessor Karen Haase-Herrick. As part of my orientation to this role, I asked Karen what one thing she would like to see promoted in NWONE’s future and she said she would like our nurse leaders to advance their knowledge and involvement in health policy and advocacy. To honor Karen’s vision, we instituted the annual NWONE Legislative Boot-Camp. 

The legislative boot-camp is held each year as a full-day pre-conference session that is part of the annual NWONE fall program. During the boot-camp nurses are taught basic civics, such as how a bill becomes a law, who their legislators are and how to access websites to track proposed legislation. We also educate nurse leaders about what policy issues are anticipated in the upcoming legislative session and have a legislator from our state come and speak to us about their position on specific health care issues. Nurse leaders who have provided testimony at public hearings often present as a panel, sharing their experience and learnings. Lastly, we have incorporated a mock testimony session into the boot-camp program that allows participants to actively engage in the process of testimony while in a safe and supportive environment. 

Who inspired you to become a nurse leader?
In my career I have been lucky to have had many mentors and positive role models. I stand on their shoulders and remain grateful for their wisdom and generosity in supporting my growth and development. I would say that Dr. Marianne Chulay influenced my leadership development more than anyone else, as she was the person who really helped me understand the difference between my job and my profession and pushed my professional involvement in nursing associations. Marianne encouraged my professional leadership development and also mentored me as both an author and public speaker. Additionally, she was a strong partner with me in my first management position and provided valuable feedback and encouragement during my first steps into nursing management and leadership. I have always been grateful to have her in my life. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring nurse leaders?
I would advise new and aspiring leaders to remember that the first step in the development of leadership is self-leadership, and that the development of self-leadership is a life-long journey. We hold up authentic leaders as an ideal, and to be authentic you need to have deep knowledge of who you are and who is that person that you bring into every room. Leaders are held to a higher standard so the commitment to a life of learning and humble development goes with the territory. 

I would also share that leaders “take people somewhere,” so you need to know where you are going; you need to have a professional vision of what it is you are trying to accomplish through your leadership.  That focus can guide your life of leadership.

Lastly, leaders need to have a spirit of abundance that allows them to generously mentor, guide, support and develop others. Our time is often short and we need to always be thinking about the future of nursing, which is the next generation. How can we give to those who will come behind us so that the leaders of nursing form an inter-connected tapestry, one generation to the next?

What is your favorite memory as a nurse?
I remember well the spirit, love and naivety I brought with me as I entered into nursing, and hope to never lose those qualities. As a novice nurse, I deeply believed in the power of caring and touch and approached my patients with a strong level of intention and presence.  With the fast pace of today’s health care world, that approach may seem so very naïve. My favorite memory as a nurse is of the first patient I became deeply attached to.  Though my caring could not spare him the ravages of a cancer diagnosis, I have never forgotten him, or his family, and hope that I made a difference in the last days of his life. 

What do you like to do in their spare time?
My husband and I are city folks who are attempting to learn how to be serious gardeners. We were inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and now have 14 raised-bed garden plots. We also have huge compost bins to create rich soil and grow what my husband calls the “$65 tomato.” With all of our gardening missteps at this stage of our development, the cost of success is high!  We keep a sense of humor about this, but are learning and getting better at our vegetable gardening each year. When my fingers are not in the dirt, my favorite things are: family, friends, reading, cooking and Rocky, my lab-thing rescue dog.

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  • Karyn Buxman  On February 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    What a terrific piece on such a wonderful leader. I agree with and echo so many of Gladys Campbell’s comments. I have had so many wonderful mentors in my life. This made me think back to those who have helped shaped my life’s journey. I would love to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank nurse speaker and author, Melody Chenevert. She was a wonderful mentor early in my speaking and writing career. There are so many others (and this inspires me to drop each of them a note and let them know how much I appreciate them…). I love the comment about leadership starting with self-leadership—so true! And I had to chuckle at Gladys’ comment, “I would also share that leaders “take people somewhere,” so you need to know where you are going.” I found that this is not as obvious as it sounds! (I even titled my leadership program: “I’m The Leader… Which Way Did They GO?” based on the lack of direction of so many followers AND leaders!). And most of all, I can attest to Gladys’ tremendous sense of humor—an admired (and in my humble opinion) vital trait among great leaders today. Thanks again for such a wonderful interview.

  • Carol N. Velasquez  On March 7, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Gladys is the perfect example of “paying it forward.” I have been fortunate to work with and learn from Gladys as one of my mentors, as well as Nancy Moore and Jane Hanson, two other stellar nurse leaders who have brought so much to nurses and nurse leaders.

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