45 Minutes with Dr. Charisma Ututalum : Mindanao's Nurse Leader

Every once in a while, there are unique individuals who comes into our lives and make us realize the reason why things – whether bad or good – happens to us. This makes nursing a special field of expertise because human interaction is a basic tenet of our profession. Therapeutic communication from the bedside of hospital wards to the conference rooms of both academic and government offices is a must.

 This week, we are very fortunate to converse with a woman full of wisdom and compassion towards leadership in nursing. Her experiences as a woman-advocate and her mantra on the essence of lessons learned at any point in a person’s life encompass her belief that leadership knows no bounds. 

Charisma Samparani Ututalum RN, EdD gained her Doctor of Education major in Educational Management (2009), Masters in Public Administration (2002) at Sulu State College, and her BS in Nursing and Masters Degree in Nursing at the Ateneo De University, Zamboanga City.
Her thesis about stress in the workplace among nurses and her dissertation book was featured on organizational culture. Her management skills spread from being the Chief Nurse of Sulu Sanitarium (2004-2005), Dean of the College of Nursing (2005-2012) and Vice President of Sulu State College (2012-2014). She is frequently invited to various lectures, symposia, as a resource speaker on stress, VAWC and leadership. A woman-advocate for development, Ututalum is committed to improving the lives of every Tausug. Embedded in her is also the social conscience needed to carry us into the new millennium. She is currently a Zuellig Scholar at the Asian Institute of Management. 
Let us take a glimpse at Dr. Ututalum’s perspective on nursing leadership.
You were the former vice president of Sulu State College and the dean of the nursing school, how has your life experience honed you to be the leader that you are today?
I am a learner and the different experiences in my life had brought me forward. The stories in my life are a testament to the facts that I consider as significant experiences – some painful, some challenging, yet all meaningful – and lessons that have taught me things and helped me grow as a result. Significantly, these experiences have seeped through me and I found meaning and guidance that helped me serve better.
In this lifetime, I have been exposed to many challenges and these really opened my mind to the things that happens in the larger sphere outside my own immediate personal concerns. I cannot separate myself from the issues and challenges of the present generation and society as a whole in managing groups of people for a unified purpose, promoting new concepts and innovations which I know will affect many lives. I have taken part in influencing the larger social fabric of my generation. 
Thus, I tend to look at the broad canvas (the political, social, or group context) of any problem or situation. A simple fight between a man and a woman, for me is a view on how women are oppressed by the dominant male power structure in this society. Even if I am at home raising children and not significantly involved in the public arena, I try to raise them to be thinking individuals, aware of the effects their actions and choices to the rest of the world.  With my independent mind, I love to foster a community spirit, a sense of connectedness with the rest of the planet.
Leaders don’t always do the right thing even when people are looking. Part of being a leader is being human.  While we expect those that lead us in our day to day life (Boss, Community Leaders) as well as those on a larger scale (Fortune company CEO’s and World Leaders) to be effective leaders, we have to realize that these people suffer from the same human condition that you and I experience.  Mistakes will be made by everyone and the sooner you realize that and the sooner you figure out learning from them is always the key to become a better leader. Honestly, I have learned a lot from many of my mistakes.

Leadership is very hard, even if it is innate. It doesn’t matter if you have been a leader from birth or was promoted for the first time yesterday. In my experience as a leader and manager for 15 years, leading others or leading ideas are both very hard.  You may someday read that somewhere, but however hard they tell you it is, multiply it by a large number, square it, and raise it to the nth power.  Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much.  

You need to immediately realize that anytime you are dealing with other human beings, things will not be easy.  When you become responsible for others in a leadership role, times of impossibility will really exist. However, let me be the first (Or insert actual number here) to say that when you connect and lead even a few successfully, it is incredibly rewarding.

You will never be able to lead everyone, even if you want to. I have yet to come across more than a few humble (and quite successful) leaders that will admit they have struggled to lead certain people or personality types.  This one is actually quite simple.

You will find throughout your personal and professional life that you cannot connect and lead everyone in every group. This is where putting others on your team and surrounding yourself with great people is the key to success. If you find that you are a big picture leader, you may very well struggle with highly technical types that are very invested in the details.  Guess what? Not a big deal, you just need to find someone that can empathize with that audience, but understands your passion, and then delegate.

Your leadership style has to be you. Nobody likes a phony. Check that, no one that I associate with likes or enjoys the company of a phony.  And guess what, people don’t follow others that they perceive as fake. Genuineness is an immeasurable key to successful leadership.  While trust from your team, co-workers, boss, friends, and family is almost always built a bit differently, it is almost uniformly destroyed in an instance when people don’t trust you. Focus on being real, being you, and leading people naturally from within.  This may sound a bit clich√© but if you try to be someone you’re not or emulate something you’re not, people will take notice.  When they do, it is often the end of any respect you have earned and that is a death sentence to an aspiring leader.

The real world doesn’t value your education as much as you do. Formal education is a great thing. It provides a lot of great insight and keeps the mind fresh.  It often gives you an opportunity to better understand concepts and why they are important. However, what education doesn’t do is build you a reputation of success as a leader or much else for that matter. Unless, of course, if your goal is to be an educator.  Being a professor myself, I still feel that students are more interested in what I have accomplished outside of school than what I have done in the classroom.  (The sad thing is, I had to get the Nursing theories to teach, but 99% of the value I bring is from what I do in the real world).

Bottom line is, school is nice, but the real world will judge you on what you accomplish in your respective field.  Whether that is nursing or being a wonderful parent.  Furthermore, you can read all of the Chicken Soup books and still be a bad parent/friend/spouse/neighbor.
While some of these things may come as a surprise to you, others may not.  For me, the items above were all things that at the very least stopped me in my tracks momentarily.  In the academe, at times, the bubble surrounds and protects you in a way that you believe that the world may actually operate the way it does on campus.  In the books, everything sounds so clear cut and easy. All you have to do are these 3 things and everyone will be mesmerized by your every word and you will become an instant peer to your industries greatest leaders.  Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.  The books and the academe are meant to provide you context.  If you use it that way, it can be a great support tool as you adapt to your surroundings.  I certainly recommend it as a stepping stone in self development and would never advise anyone against continued learning.  A road map for successful leadership is what formal education is not built for. That kind of leadership has to start with you, your values, your knowledge, and all the other intangibles.  All together and aligned in perfect harmony. That, my friends, creates great leadership.

As the governor for PNA ARMM, tell us about your plans and projects.

“Serving the PNA is not just a task, but a fulfillment to serve as the voice of ARMM”. From the southern part of Mindanao and the Province of Sulu, it is my honor to represent the ARMM as Board of Governor in The Philippine Nurses Association. There are 5 provinces under my stewardship namely Lanao del Sur, Marawi City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi. Each chapter is working in coordination with my office towards the attainment of the Philippine Nurses Association National Strategic Plan. No distance could stop these four provinces to unite as one for the good name of PNA.

The following are the plans, programs and projects:

1. Generate programs and activities that would prepare nurses to be globally competitive
a.​Provided continuing professional education for nurses, conducted seminar on STRESS in the workplace, Disaster Management Training, Emergency Nursing, and Orientation on MERS-COV;

b.​Attendance to Local, Regional and National seminars, workshops, trainings conducted by other agencies and organization.

2.​Promoted the socio-economic welfare of nurses

a.​Invited as member of the Provincial Peace and order council (PPOC) and attended the monthly meeting at the Sumadja Hall, ACC , Sulu – my courtesy to the former Governor of PNA, Fazlur-Rahman Abdulla for opening this opportunity to PNA.

b.​Coordinated with the head of the Provincial Disaster and Risk Management council on the available and active participation of PNA on Disaster Management.

c.​Coordinated and assisted the DOLE in the JOB – FAIR in Sulu

3.​Establish national and international networking/ linkages to advance the vision and life purpose of PNA-

a.​Regular partnership with LGU’s, Province, other Government organization and non-GO

b.​Maintain collaboration with the DOH, Municipal HealthUnits , Nursing schools and other agencies where nurses are involved.

4. ​Intensify membership campaign –

a. the executive officers together with the Board of Directors have actively participated in the organizational campaign to increase membership in the different provinces.

b. Coordinated with the heads of agencies where there are nurses regarding the importance of PNA membership.

c. Coordinated with PRC –regional office and the PNA region 9, during registration and oath taking ceremonies of new nurses

5.​Participate actively in the multi-sectored plans, projects, and programs in support of education and research, nursing practice and quality health care delivery

a. Conducted the Feeding program for the 80 Badjao children for 3 months

c. Participated in the OPLAN TULI- sponsored by the Sulu Provincial Women Council

 6.​Continue promoting the professional image of the nurse and nursing.

a.​Conducted the Search for MOST OUTSTANDING GRADUATE- NURSE, 2014 in Sulu where 3 nursing schools participated.

b.​Participated in the Pinning ceremonies of nurses in Sulu

c.​Spearheaded the International week celebration in Sulu to increase awareness of the society on the active roles of nurses in the province.

d.​Participated in the OATH TAKING of nurses in Region 9 and ARMM at Regency Convention Center, Zamboanga City last August 7, 2014.

e.​Attended the PRC Awards Night on June 18, 2014, where the Philippine Nurses Association was the recipient of the OUTSTANDING ACCREDITED PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career to date?

Although some lessons must be learned through experience, you don’t have to wait until midlife to become aware of what’s truly meaningful and worthwhile. You simply need the curiosity and desire for self-awareness and personal growth. Once you learn the lessons, you can apply them in your life at any age and see the benefits to your happiness and well-being.

The 21st century is a VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world. The many lives that I have touch has clearly proved that indeed as leaders we all have the CHOICE, to lead or not to lead, it’s all in our hands.

So always do what’s right.  It does make you a leader.  At least, that’s what I believe. What do you think? Does it make us a leader to take a stand for what we believe is right?  Are we leaders when we decide to have a positive impact on others around us?  Is it leading when we bring our absolute best with an intention to build into others? I’m not suggesting that everyone is qualified to run an organization, of course, but truly, can’t we all lead from where we are?  Or does it really require a title or position where people report to us?  To me, those things only give you authority.  I think that’s very different than leadership.

I have found that often times people who have gone through a myriad of challenges in their development to becoming a leader react towards those who may not have had to make a journey of equal or similar difficulty with a bit of contempt. It’s almost as if someone who hasn’t been through the fire, as it were, isn’t able to make the grade. There can be a sense of the difficult journey being somehow diluted or unnecessary. Because one person learned lessons from those challenges doesn’t mean that is the only way to learn certain lessons. It just happened to be their journey. I would venture to say that some of this contempt comes from a perspective that everyone’s journey has to look the same to arrive in the same destination, many roads lead to Rome. 

Lastly I would like to pitch to my fellow nurses an inspiring quote by Che Guevarra in his line....."In this world we need people who work more than criticize, who constructs more than destroy, who make fewer promises and deliver more solutions who expect to give more than receive and who say its better today than tomorrow." Mabuhay tayong mga Nars!