The Association for Leadership Science in Nursing (ALSN) is unique because the membership consists of both key leaders from practice and academia with a special concentration on the latest research in leadership. ALSN hosts an annual international conference where the most recent research results and cutting edge issues in leadership are explored. There is time for rich dialogue around key issues, and the leaders who present are among the most noteworthy in the profession.
Membership in the American Nurses Association (ANA) supports the development of national standards of practice, the professional code of ethics and critical advocacy for the profession, including such efforts as safe needle practices, safe staffing, zero tolerance for violence against health care professionals, and many other campaigns that have improved the practice and practice environments for nurses for more than a century.
Beyond the main professional association, there are many practice specialty organizations, the honor society Sigma Theta Tau, and research-focused organizations (e.g., nursing research societies, the American Academy of Nursing, and others), as well as state nurses associations, specialty-focused association chapters and national collaboratives such as NEPIN (National Education Progression in Nursing Collaborative). In this dizzying array of groups, how does one choose the best alignment of practice priorities, organizational mission, advocacy, and impact and investment? This is a challenge faced by all who understand the importance of professional networking and how associations advance professional development.
The national meeting season typically begins in mid-September and continues well into mid-November. ALSN typically meets in early November in recognition of the conflicts and overlapping demands. As new and seasoned professionals evaluate their resources for joining and participating in an array of professional groups, time commitment and access to the annual meeting is often an important evaluation criterion.
A New Model for Collaboration
The former Council for Graduate Education in Administrative Nursing (CGEAN) was established more than 30 years ago with the aim of bringing together nurse educators focused on teaching nursing leadership. The idea was to ensure that nursing leadership education was relevant and connected with leadership knowledge more generally; in addition, there was a national connection for nursing leadership science. The organization has a long history of collaboration with the American Organization of Nurse Executives (recently renamed and rebranded as the American Organization of Nurse Leaders [AONL]) and has a strong relationship with the Journal of Nursing Administration (JONA). CGEAN has published a regular column in JONA and has focused on creating a research agenda for nursing leadership for many years.
In 2011, when the master's essentials were being debated, CGEAN took a strong position about the specialization of leadership and made an impact on how master's degrees in nursing leadership were aligned to the master's essentials and the associated requirements. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recognized CGEAN as a leader and a key stakeholder in that work, and incorporated CGEAN's recommendations into the essentials. These essentials are the guiding standards for all master-level nursing leadership programs.
Since then, CGEAN increased its connection to nurse leaders in practice through the leadership research priorities Delphi project, the regular JONA column, and deeper networking between individuals in leadership practice and individuals in leadership education. This shift in membership toward a more diverse and collaborative collective mirrored similar changes in practice where a more interdisciplinary and cross-functional environment was gaining significant traction and interest. In addition to forging stronger ties between practice and education, essentially closing the gap for new practitioners, leaders across the board also were exploring leadership science more generally. The trend of more nurse leaders obtaining a master in business administration (MBA) and the emergence of MSN/MBA programs led to a greater understanding of leadership science as a specific field of study traversing many professions.
New Brand, New Value
In 2018, the CGEAN Board began a discussion about the changes in the organization, its membership, and its mission and focus. As the mix of members shifted to include a greater percentage of nursing practice leaders, the value of the organization bringing multiple perspectives together was becoming more apparent. The name, CGEAN, didn't convey a meaningful name or value proposition to new leaders either in teaching or in practice. A common thread of commitment to “leadership science” as a unique and valuable specialization began to emerge, and with it, the notion that renaming or rebranding might be essential.
Rebranding is typically a risky, expensive, and complex venture. It was no less risky or complex for CGEAN, but with a relatively small (but mighty) membership base and a strong reliance on membership revenues to sustain the organization's work, the notion of renaming and rebranding was not an easy thing to consider. After a year of dialogue with members, the Board, and other stakeholders, the CGEAN Board rolled out its new name and brand, Association for Leadership Science in Nursing (ALSN) in November 2018, with a brand introduction campaign planned for 2019 ( https://www.nursingleadershipscience.org). In April 2019, AONE rolled out its new brand, American Organization for Nurse Leaders. The synchronicity of these two efforts signals that each organization is aligning around new value propositions and new connections.
As professional organizations seek to maintain and extend relevance to their members, the need for renaming and rebranding is important to create a more connected understanding for potential members of the value of the commitment to shared values and interests. One of the unique features of this organization and the international conference is the collaboration that happens between academic and practice leaders. The size of the conference, the attendees, and the presence of leaders from other countries affords an opportunity to discuss current issues and priorities together. Leaders leave knowing about the latest research on many important issues, while researchers learn a lot about the challenges and priorities practice leaders have and how this knowledge and insight should shape research priorities.
Professional organizations bring great value to members not only through professional development but also through professional networking. Organizations that seek to bring together more valuable and relevant networks are adding value for their members. The new mission of ALSN reflects this journey: “Where academia and practice collaborate to advance the science of leadership in nursing.”
What Are Professional Development Leaders to Do?
Professional development leaders have a responsibility to model professional association for everyone within their spheres of influence. Professional organizations offer an array of opportunities that can supplement what professional development leaders offer. Understanding how nursing organizations differ and add value can provide an additional asset for the professional development leader to leverage in working with various teams, including leaders. Professional development leaders also benefit from understanding how organizations must evolve and change to maintain relevance for members and to the larger nursing community.