Parting Thoughts: Linda Laskowski Jones

Linda Laskowski Jones retired at the end of February as Christiana Care’s vice president of emergency and trauma services. In 2015, she became the first nurse at the hospital system to be named a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (one of only eight in Delaware). Jones managed one of the nation’s busiest emergency departments with three locations (Christiana Hospital, Wilmington Hospital and the freestanding emergency department in Middletown.

She was also one of the founding members of the Delaware Trauma System Planning Group and helped write legislation that provided the organizing framework for the development and implementation of an inclusive trauma system in Delaware. She received the 2015 Warren D. Bowman M.D. Award from the Wilderness Medical Society for her leadership and commitment to wilderness medicine through volunteerism, teaching and publishing. She is also a 30-year volunteer member of the National Ski Patrol.

How do you want to be remembered? I’d like to be remembered as a leader who did the right thing as opposed to just doing things right. It takes a good measure of ethics, courage, empathy, and discernment to know the difference.

What’s more important in leadership: Make their strengths stronger or eliminate their weaknesses? I strongly believe that leveraging strengths of leaders as well as all employees is key to getting the best possible engagement in the work. When people can use their strengths and have them recognized and acknowledged, they demonstrate much higher degrees of interest and feel more enjoyment in their roles. The work may even become a passion; then there is practically no limit to what can be accomplished. All of this is not to say that weaknesses should be ignored; we can always improve ourselves. That means being open to insights and constructive feedback. If we don’t pay attention to the weaknesses, they can stand as a barrier to future growth and achievement. The weaknesses may never become strengths but having self-awareness enough to know that someone else may be better suited to a particular task, project, or role is critical to leading a successful team.

What’s the greatest compliment you’ve ever received? It came from one of my staff nurses. She shared that the staff quietly referred to me as the “velvet hammer.” She went on to say that I should be pretty pleased with that description because I was quite the force to be reckoned with when inspiring change or dealing with issues but exerted that force in a kind and empathetic way. Interestingly, I just received a very nice note from a leader from another department in the hospital after my recent retirement celebration; she referred to me as being a “quiet storm.” I think there’s a theme there. As a leader, I don’t feel you need to come into most situations like a hurricane, but you need to confidently inspire the team into action as well as respect the contributions of each team member to produce lasting change and ongoing engagement.

What’s your favorite quote? That’s an easy one: “Esse Quam Videri” is the Latin inscription on my high
school class ring. It means “to be and not to seem like.” Esse quam videri encompasses being authentic as a person and as a leader. It means gaining the requisite skills and competencies to develop expertise. It’s having the life experiences necessary to gain wisdom and insight. Each step along the path as a professional helps provide the tools to master the next step up. There are no short cuts. It also means knowing who you are, where you stand on issues, what you believe in, and what you will defend or let go.

I often lecture on achieving success in professional nursing. In that talk, I use the analogy of starting out in a career as a rough stone, one that has not been tossed about through the rocks of a fast-moving stream or tumbled in the ocean waves. Ultimately, that stone becomes smooth and polished with time, but it had to withstand many forces and get knocked around quite a bit in the process. To me, that’s how leadership is developed. It can be a rough road at times, but each challenge can add character strength. The secret is surviving and becoming smoother, but still remaining structurally intact.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? It might sound trite, but it came from my next-door neighbor, Mr. D, when I was about 4 or 5 years old. Mr. D told me “when you talk to people, you look ’em straight in the eye and you shake hands like you mean business,” I remember my 4- or 5-year-old self wanting to look away in shyness every time, but Mr. D would have none of that. Because of his tenacity during my formative years, I mastered direct eye contact and a strong handshake at a very young age as well as comfortable social conversation. Granted, these are soft skills, but I would never underestimate their importance in leadership and in forging positive relationships in general.

What was the key to your success? A deep and sustained passion for my work in trauma and emergency services and always striving to raise the proverbial bar in clinical excellence. I’ve long considered the origin of that passion. I’ve been trying to “pay forward” a good act that occurred well before I was born. A passerby nurse saved my father’s life when his legs were crushed by a truck with failed brakes; he was pinned up against his car as he changed a flat tire. She controlled the hemorrhage and assured he would receive immediate emergency care. Without her swift and selfless actions, I wouldn’t be here. Through direct clinical work, teaching, publishing, consulting, and serving as a leader to improve systems and services, I’m giving tribute to that unknown nurse and supporting the efforts of countless others who have dedicated their lives
to saving others.

What’s next for you? Though I have dearly loved my work, the staff, and my colleagues, the most exciting part about leaving is that it frees me to fully engage in the myriad of professional and personal pursuits that I enjoy, including consulting in the emergency and trauma services realm. I will also remain active through publishing (I am the Editor-in-Chief of Nursing 2019 Journal through Wolters Kluwer), involvement in professional organizations, wilderness medicine activities, and teaching. On the personal side, I look forward to having more time for my favorite outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, and volunteer work as a longstanding member of the National Ski Patrol at Blue Mountain Ski Area in Pennsylvania.

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