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Brave and Bold Crisis Leadership

May 12, 2020

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Open and honest communication allows leaders to address the unknown and connect the dots. There will be many questions we can’t answer. That is when we dig deep, lead with brave optimism and reassure staff we are in this together.

Stephanie Meyer


Caryl Goodyear, AACN practice excellence programs manager, recently connected with Stephanie Meyer, senior director of perioperative services at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, an NTI speaker and an expert in leadership, to ask her a few questions about leading during our current challenges.


In the AACN Bold Voices interview published in the October 2019 issue, you mentioned that nurses need to lead with brave optimism. Given our current COVID-19 crisis, what does leading with brave optimism mean for nurse managers and directors?

Great question. I believe that comment holds true now more than ever. As our staff go in and out of the fear zone, it is essential they see a leader walking toward the crisis and intentionally messaging “we will get through this — together.” Just as important is the validation of how our staff are feeling and experiencing this crisis. One of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, talks about naming our feelings and behaviors in order to successfully manage them. As we interact with our teams, open and honest communication allows leaders to address the unknown and connect the dots. There will be many questions we can’t answer. That is when we dig deep, lead with brave optimism and reassure staff we are in this together. The current situation is temporary; it will pass.


In a recent Harvard Business Review article on behaviors that help leaders manage a crisis, the authors noted that two of the four behaviors were to “adapt boldly” and “engage for impact.” How would nurse leaders live these behaviors today?

What great behaviors to call on during a pandemic. To adapt boldly goes hand in hand with our discussion above. Being bold and being brave are similar behaviors. As the landscape of this virus changes, so does our plan to manage its spread. We have been called on to be agile, flexible and decisive. We learn more about COVID-19 with each passing hour. Therefore, daily changes are necessary to keep staff and patients safe. We must analyze the data and make decisions quickly, yet purposefully. When leaders are transparent, the why behind their decisions and the necessary changes are more easily understood by staff. This is how we lead through bold adaptation. I think we are still in the process of engaging for impact. The impact of COVID-19 on daily functioning and the health of your community depends on where you are located in the country and how the disease has manifested itself in your area. The effect of this disease varies from state to state and city to city. Preparing yourself and your team for what lies ahead is necessary. Discussing the impact to your team, to your organization and to each person as an individual (moms, dads, daughters, sons, leaders and nurses) is important and necessary. As leaders we must try to prepare for what’s coming. This is one way we serve — even when we aren’t clear about what lies ahead.


In your experience, what is the most impactful unintended positive consequence as a result of leading in this crisis?

There have honestly been several positive consequences I have seen come from this difficult time. The teamwork and collaboration across organizations and communities have been remarkable. The willingness to share resources and to unite as we navigate this crisis demonstrate our commitment to caring for others and our ability to be resilient. I have also witnessed a more deliberate expression of thanks and gratitude. For many of us, this experience will change the way we live, the way we work and the way we lead. I believe it will be for the better.

Stephanie suggests many good actions in this interview that each of us can use. Perhaps you have been challenged in leading through this crisis and have found your own key ways to lead. Tell us how your leadership behaviors changed because of your experience with the COVID-19 crisis. For more stories and resources like this, please visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update page and our Blog webpage.