S ometimes when you first meet someone you can tell they are a natural born leader. They have a passion and enthusiasm for life that is contagious. John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Real leaders understand that leadership is about lifting others up and helping them to be their best. I can usually spot a leader because they are thirsty for knowledge and seek continual growth. They listen more than they talk as they seek to learn from others. These leaders have a vision of a better future and lead others to stretch themselves to achieve more.
I recently met Rosalyn Smith-Howard, executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Foundation, and I knew that I had met someone who was a natural leader. Rosalyn grew up in a small town in the Delta called Gunnison and went to school in Rosedale. She went on to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Alcorn State University. Rosalyn started her career working as a counselor at Oakley Training School before joining the Mississippi Hospital Association as a recruiter. Over time, her role at the MHA evolved into becoming a healthcare workforce specialist in the Office of Nursing Workforce. In this job, Rosalyn collaborated with other organizations including schools of nursing, health care employers, health professionals, health-related associations, economic development professionals and local workforce investment areas (LWIAs) to promote improvement in healthcare workforce issues.
Rosalyn’s work with the MHA allowed her to interact with the Mississippi Nurses Foundation and when the executive director position opened up in 2008, she applied and was hired to run the organization. This nonprofit organization was created by the Mississippi Nurses Association board of directors in 1982, and its purposes are to administer scholarships, provide continuing education, promote health and to promote the professional image of nursing. The Mississippi Nurses Foundation also awards over $100,000 in scholarships and stipends each year to support nurses and nursing students with their education.
Rosalyn noted, “My time with the MHA really developed my leadership abilities. I was afforded opportunities to observe different styles of leadership and given assignments that allowed me to be creative and think outside the box.” This is noteworthy because it is important to give leaders a chance to grow and make mistakes. I often see organizations that micro-manage people and then there is never any real growth of leadership. Running a non-profit certainly has its challenges. Rosalyn credits Dr. Rebecca Askew- Rives, the board president, with teaching her how to lead a non-profit. Rosalyn noted, “Dr. Askew –Rives was a great mentor and taught me some hard lessons. She was knowledgeable and patient because she wanted me to succeed.”
Rosalyn’s leadership style is to lead by example and to be non-judgmental of others. She shared, “I aim to give all people the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and an opportunity to prove themselves.” She encourages her team to stay focused, prioritize their goals, and remain faithful. Her “can do” attitude comes through, and she emphasizes to young leaders that failure is not an option. She knows that it takes perseverance to succeed in life. In an age of “instant” everything, it is important to remember that real leadership takes time and experience to develop. There is a wisdom that you just can’t get out of a book. Instead, it takes time and constructive feedback to really develop as a leader.
Nursing is a critical part of the healthcare industry, and Rosalyn and her team do a great job of being ambassadors for the thousands of nurses that serve diligently day in and day out all over our state. I believe we will see even greater impact from Rosalyn’s leadership in the years to come.
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.