Reality-Based Leadership Helps Nurses Cut the Drama So They Can Problem Solve

December 18, 2018 by Erin Dickman DNP, RN, OCN®

Nurses spend an average of 2.5 hours per day on drama per staff person, according to Cy Wakeman (, the opening keynote speaker at the 2018 American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Conference in Denver, CO, in October. That’s right, take 2.5 and multiply it by how many staff are working that day. 

Wakeman, an author on reality-based leadership and a drama researcher, in her session “No Ego: Cut the Cost of Drama, End Entitlement,” presented radically different approaches to turn an unhappy workforce into accountable, successful members of the team who drive results. Who wouldn’t want to lead or be a part of that kind of team? 

Cutting the Drama

What drives drama in the workplace? According to Wakeman,

Reality-based leaders (and all nurses are leaders) facilitate a healthy mental process and graciously accept the reality of a situation, manage their energy, and use that energy to impact reality.

Wakeman shared her personal background: she was never formally trained through leadership classes but rather has a degree in behavioral psychology. Her unique approach to leadership was evident in her work for a perioperative unit. The first time someone came to her with a process issue, the person was talking fast, breathing heavy, and demanding that it be fixed. We all have either been this person or seen this person on our units. Wakeman used her reality-based leadership to help move this person out of drama and into a state of self-reflection in two easy steps: 

  1. Told her to take a deep breath—her brain needed the oxygen.
  2. Asked her, “What would great look like in this moment?” This took the person to her higher brain, which is reflective and able to problem solve.

And it worked: the employee developed a multitude of solutions on the spot, which then empowered her to act. One of Wakeman’s takeaways is evident here—leaders need to stop encouraging venting and start encouraging greatness through questions aimed at self-reflection.

Put It in Action

No matter what nursing role we are in, we will be placed in many difficult and stressful situations. It could be numerous call offs, an incorrect order, or a new charting system. Wakeman stressed that during these times we should stop judging, step away from drama, and ask, “How can I help?” This takes us beyond ego where we are our best. 

Finally, she shared that overcoming a stressful situation involves managing your energy with two simple steps:

  1. Breath it through.
  2. Problem solve or let it go.

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