Learning from history: Frances Gillam Holden, a leadership perspective then and now

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Background: Critical evaluation of leadership styles through a historical lens is uncommon. There could be missed opportunity for current and emerging nurse leaders to critically evaluate the leadership styles of the past in order to discerningly reflect on their own current leadership. Aim: To critically examine the work of Australian nurse Frances Gillam Holden as she developed her vision for servant leadership for nursing in Australia in the late 19th century. Methods: Exploration of, and critical reflection on, literature outlining Frances Gillam Holden's work. Findings: Holden's work and experience demonstrate the challenges faced by the profession's leaders at the turn of the century as they attempted to negotiate new ‘scientific’ knowledge and integrate this into nursing leadership. An examination of Holden's experience also demonstrates the difficulties faced by Australian nurse leaders during this time and consideration is given to what leadership in nursing looks like in the present day. Discussion: Within the wealth of historical narratives, along with their complexities, the impact of this knowledge can have a demonstrated effect that can be far reaching and long lasting. This is particularly evident in regard to the role of nurses, nursing, and the development of modern approaches to nursing leadership, particularly with regard to the rise of nurse leaders in the form of ‘e-nurses’ and the use of social media to inform and lead the profession. Conclusion: Understanding the influence and impact of nursing history, and historical nursing leaders such as Holden, on current leadership practices is being recognised more as contributing to contemporary nursing identity.

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