Influence through lifelong learning: I developed leadership skills I didn’t think I’d ever have!

By Nomvuzo W. Diamini | 07/01/2016

Influence through lifelong learning: Academy participant empowers others.

Nomvuzo W. DiaminiIn her presidential call to action for the 2015-17 biennium, Cathy Catrambone, PhD, RN, FAAN, called all members of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) to “Influence to Advance Global Health & Nursing” in four areas: 1) advocacy, 2) policy, 3) lifelong learning, and 4) philanthropy. In this article, No. 4 in a six-part series on how members are answering President Catrambone’s call, the author addresses influence through lifelong learning.

 I am a registered nurse midwife currently practicing at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland. I was privileged to participate in the first cohort of Africa’s Maternal-Child Health Nurse Leadership Academy (MCHNLA). In cooperation with funding partner Johnson & Johnson and in collaboration with key South African nurse leaders, the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) adapted the successful MCHNLA model to develop specific leadership skills for maternal and child health nurses and midwives who work in African settings.
 
Nurses and midwives accepted for the program were placed in collegial relationships with mentors and a faculty adviser, who guided them through their leadership development over an 18-month period. My mentor was Sakhile Masuku, BSS, and our faculty adviser was Oslinah Buru Tagutanazvo, MSc, BA Curr, DipMidwifery, DipGnlNsg, CertHIV/AIDS, of the University of Swaziland. Triads from South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, and Swaziland participated in this MCHNLA Africa. As participants, we attended workshops designed to prepare us for effective interprofessional team leadership as we strive to improve quality of healthcare in our countries for childbearing women and for children less than 5 years of age.
 
I did it!
I remember clearly when my mentor asked me to consider participating in this academy. I didn’t know if I should. First of all, I had just started working in the maternity labor and delivery ward. Secondly, I had never heard of Sigma Theta Tau International. And third, I saw myself as incapable of successfully leading an interdepartmental team in a ward with people I didn’t know very well. As if those reasons weren’t daunting enough, the application to participate in the academy was probably the longest application I had ever seen! However, my mentor kindly sat down with me, explained everything in detail, and gave me the courage to “try my luck” and see this as an opportunity to learn. So I did it!
 
She helped me select a suitable quality-improvement project to work on. She mentored me like the nurturing mentor she is. On 27 January 2014, I received an email informing me that my application to participate in MCHNLA Africa was successful. You can imagine my excitement!
 
I attended the first intensive workshop in March, where we basically kicked off the leadership-learning process. The leadership component of the academy was based on the research and teachings of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. As I’ve mentioned, we had 18 months to successfully lead a quality-improvement project with an interdisciplinary team at our respective workplaces.

Not easy!
The next year and a half was not easy, to say the least, but the results were fruitful. One challenge I faced was, after gathering the courage and doing all the hard work that my mentor and I did to seek approval from the maternity unit manager to utilize the ward and its staff members to carry out my project, I was transferred to a different ward—the trauma department. This meant I had to start anew—seek permission from the trauma department to attend the STTI workshops, but carry out my project in the maternity ward.
 
After successfully getting over that hurdle, we faced another roadblock. The hospital matrons would not allow us to start our quality-improvement project without clearance from the ethics board. Despite efforts by my faculty adviser and mentor to reason with board members by pointing out that quality-improvement projects do not require ethical clearance, they remained adamant. If they heard we were conducting our project without clearance, there would be serious consequences. So, for the sake of peace, we sought ethical clearance, which took quite a while.
 
Not alone
I was glad to find out during our second workshop in February 2015 that I wasn’t the only one facing challenges in my leadership journey. The experiences and encouraging words I received at the workshop helped me to not give up and actually look forward to successfully seeing the project through. Collaborating with the Mbabane Municipality and the Swaziland Nutrition Council, we educated childbearing women on the importance of proper nutrition and also taught them how to develop backyard gardens using available resources. The municipality now recruits these women to train women in various communities on proper waste management and development of backyard gardens.
 
I graduated from the Maternal-Child Health Nurse Leadership Academy Africa in August 2015 during that year’s Tau Lambda-at-Large Chapter conference. What a journey it was! I developed leadership skills I didn’t think I’d ever have! Secondly, through the academy, my mentor and I helped empower women by educating them about nutrition. They are using the knowledge they gained to train others, thereby providing sustainability.
 
I thank Sakhile Masuku for believing in me and for always encouraging me whenever I felt like giving up. I couldn’t have asked for a more patient and exemplary faculty adviser than Oslinah Buru Tagutanazvo, who, throughout the project, was always willing to give advice and nurture me. Thanks, STTI and funding partner Johnson & Johnson for this wonderful opportunity, one example of lifelong learning! RNL
 
Nomvuzo W. Diamini, RN, RM, practices at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland.

Read the other installments in the "Answering the call" series:

Influence through advocacy: Raising awareness, advancing change

Influence through policy: Nurses have a unique role
 
Influence through policy: Four steps YOU can take

Influence through philanthropy: What philanthropy looks like

Influence through philanthropy: Giving back to pay it forward
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