AACN News—October 2008—Opinions

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Vol. 25, No. 10, OCTOBER 2008


President’s Note

With Confidence

Am I Alpha?


My dog wanted to be the boss. Go where she chose no matter what I wanted. Until I saw Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, on cable TV. He’s published several books, too. Millan is a Super Nanny for humans whose dogs are out of control. When you tune in to his program, watch carefully, and you’ll notice that his message is all about confidence. “You must have the confidence that you have control over your dog … being calm and assertive works so much better than becoming angry.”

Becoming Alpha

The dog whisperer’s most profound lesson is this: Confidence isn’t accidental. It’s intentional. Dogs are pack animals so they instinctively do things in groups. Millan trains people to gain power by becoming a dog’s pack leader, the alpha dog. My curiosity led to amazement when I realized these lessons have enormous value for nurses, too.

Our high-risk work as nurses is often chaotic. Day in and day out we’re in the eye of the storm. Emotions run high and people easily become frustrated. Some nurses have figured out the advantage of being alpha in those situations. They expertly take on the storm. Standing tall, exuding confidence, they speak calmly and assertively. They seem to relish being the calming force.

Here are some alpha attributes that come from confidence and also lead to it:
• Tough but fair
• Quick to stop unwanted behavior
• Assertive, not aggressive
• Calmness
• Never lose control
• Persistent and consistent in correcting behavior
• Stand erect
• Expect respect
• Smart
• Know you will succeed in everything
• Lead courageously
• Control your environment by modeling correct behavior

Exerting Alpha Attributes

How can we apply alpha attributes in our everyday work? Much like unruly dogs, unruly issues such as unhealthy work environments require the alpha attributes of calmness and confidence.

Janie Heath and her AACN colleagues found that mutual respect, collaborative relationships, teamwork and can-do attitudes characterize the healthiest work environments. My work environment, the environment that I can control, will benefit from my confidence. That confidence, and my skillful use of alpha attributes, brings out the power to create a healthy environment for me, my co-workers and especially my patients. The alternative: unhappiness, stress and the likelihood that I’ll run away.

[Speaking of power, preliminary results of Dr. Joyce Fitzpatrick’s national study funded by the AACN Certification Corporation show that certified nurses perceive themselves as being more empowered than non-certified nurses.]

I can embrace consistent calm actions even when others might be spinning out of control. Consistent goals such as patient-centered care become my North Star. And I persist in achieving them each time I’m at work, emboldened by the confidence that I can create the workplace described in the AACN Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments.

What Are Your Alpha Successes?

As I continue to travel around the country I’m learning there are many alpha success stories to be shared. I’d like to hear yours so I can tell others. To hear about how you or someone you know is using alpha behaviors to create a healthy workplace with satisfied patients and nurses. Write to me at confidence@aacn.org.

P.S. – In my August column I told you about Keith Harrell’s Personal Attitude Interrupt, an intentional physical change on our part to stop negativity from staying in our mind. Atlanta member Kathy Peavy wrote: “My PAI is to put whatever it is – usually something I have no control over that became a real downer despite repeated attempts – into an imaginary box on an imaginary shelf. Then I can identify the issue, put it in perspective, put it away and move on with something that can truly make a difference at work and even in life.”.
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