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The Authentic Leadership Model: Leading Change in Sterile Processing

Defining leadership is something each one of us must do on a philosophical level as we live and work within the establishments of our society. There are many definitions and ideas associated with leadership; however, a more recent focus has shifted to the role of influence as it relates to leading others. Kevin Kruse states in an article published by Forbes magazine that leadership has little to do with one’s title or role; instead,Leadership is the process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”1 Formal or informal positions can both have a direct or indirect level of impact on the engagement of individuals within a collective effort; therefore, a frontline technician can have just as much influence on a team for good or bad as someone in a higher-level leadership role.

Sterile processing leadership
In sterile processing, our global collective effort is to protect people by providing safe surgical and medical device reprocessing that promotes wellness by continually reducing the risk of cross-contamination. Sterility and high-level disinfection assurance are crucial in preventing infections and untimely death for millions of lives in our patient populations. This means that our industry must continue to develop leaders at every level who understand the challenges, are willing to embrace forward-thinking solutions, make paradigm shifts, and share a compelling message that inspires others to improve. Regardless of one’s title, sterile processing leaders can find their voice to inspire action by basing change initiatives on evidence-based research and challenging others to elevate quality in every task.

The change process
It is important to recognize that the process involved in creating lasting change often can take a significant investment of time and effort to adopt, implement, and sustain. While the process of change can be challenging, leaders who choose to view barriers as opportunities for further growth instead of allowing discouragement to impede progress may find the journey more rewarding. Perseverance and commitment can go a long way in leading change knowing that every milestone reached makes a difference in the continuum of care. The Transtheoretical Model demonstrates how of the process of change can cycle through stages of readiness that begin with increasing awareness for a need, builds into a call for action, and either fizzles out or persists into a maintenance phase.2

The Transtheoretical Model: Stages of Change (Boston University School of Public Health, 2019)

Leadership development
A leadership philosophy is a set of beliefs that align personal values, attitudes, and behaviors. Leadership development is a lifelong process and seeks to answer how one’s contribution can make a difference in an area of interest. Developing the leadership qualities needed to galvanize improvement efforts for people and processes takes patience and dedication. Seasoned leaders have usually been through enough situations to understand the importance of learning to first lead oneself. Every experience in leadership practice applies valuable lessons that build the character traits required for effective leadership. While painful, we learn the most from our mistakes; therefore, it is necessary to build awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses and take ownership in doing what is right, regardless of recognition.

Leaders are held to a higher standard of conduct because their behavior sets an example for how followers will respond to situations and interact with others. Leaders also shape the mental models of how people think about and relate to ideas. Leadership means guiding, challenging, and influencing people to adopt attitudes, frameworks, and strategies. Leadership is centered on relationships and outcomes for shared goals. Positive leadership character traits can include:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness
  • Adaptability
  • Personal growth
  • Lifelong learning
  • Competence
  • Respect
  • Credibility

Engaged leaders keep a pulse on what’s current, assess issues carefully, and use sound ethical judgement to evaluate and apply appropriate responses that align with best practice. Effective leaders have self-awareness acumen, high emotional intelligence, and a balanced perspective that enables them to adapt their response to the specific and interrelated contexts of situations to make wise and informed choices. They are able to communicate in a way that relates to each unique audience to inspire and motivate action. They are resourceful collaborative problem-solvers who use frameworks to guide them toward a vision for the future.

Authentic leadership
Authenticity is the ability and practice of being true to one’s self, expressed as a state of outward and inward congruency that reflects one’s genuine, legitimate, and honest self. The authentic leadership model is a structure which allows a leader to do purposeful work that coincides with who they are as a person.3 Being transparent is not necessarily easy in some contexts; however, by learning to let go of self-limiting beliefs and external facades, one can show others the potential and power that vulnerability can offer. Leading with authenticity can spur a higher-level thinker toward continual growth and personal discovery by exercising authentic functioning that takes greater ownership in the process of lifelong learning. Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and adaptability are key components for leaders to be able to regulate their responses so that they are empowered to inspire others, as well as themselves, toward continual personal growth. Through the lens of authenticity, one can build relationships where influence is possible to sustain interventional improvements.

The authentic leadership model encourages one to navigate the decision-making process using their internal compass as a guide. Leaders often work to clarify a vision for what is important to them by developing a personal mission statement to communicate concisely what they want to achieve. Understanding the purpose behind why they want to affect change helps to ground leaders by focusing on implementable goals that can make a meaningful difference in their scope of practice. Followers have an autonomous choice to willingly embrace the vision of a leader who demonstrates an alignment of their core values with behavioral integrity. Each of us has the opportunity to motivate and inspire others to improve, but to do so we must work to be our best selves first by committing to consistently lead by example. Advocating to effectively lead a case for change takes strength, resilience, a compelling message that is backed by evidence and able to influence the involvement of people for a just cause. While leadership has its moments of both triumph and despair, empowering people to unite in a collective effort that makes a positive difference for many lives is an accomplishment to be proud of and fulfilling reward.


  1. Kruse, Kevin, “What Is Leadership?” Forbes, April 9, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership/?sh=7440bfe35b90
  2. LaMorte, Wayne W., MD, PhD, MPH. “The Transtheoretical Model: Stages of Change,” Boston University School of Public Health. https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/BehavioralChangeTheories6.html
  3. Covelli, Bonnie J., and Mason, Iyana. (2017). “Linking Theory to Practice: Authentic Leadership.” Academy of Strategic Management Journal, Volume 16, Issue 3. 2017. https://www.abacademies.org/articles/linking-theory-to-practice-authentic-leadership-6786.html

Lisa M. McKown (Wakeman), MBA, CRCST, CIS, CHL, MBTI, is a manager of research and development for Beyond Clean. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Integrative Leadership and an MBA from Anderson University. Lisa is a doctoral student in the Richard Fairbanks School of Public Health: Global Health Leadership program through IUPUI in Indianapolis, IN. She also holds a certification as a Meyers-Briggs Practitioner, specializing in interpersonal communication. Lisa contributes as an SME volunteer for standards development and other industry-related projects that promote the sterile processing profession, including writing workshops focused on creating and revising questions for the IAHCSMM certification exams. As a healthcare professional driven to influence positive change for patient safety initiatives, Lisa is a catalyst for the advancement of infection prevention within sterile processing. Her passion is education and she is energized when she can use her experience to develop people.

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