Leadership Through Followership: Examining the Life of Edith Cavell

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  • Topic: Nursing, Edith Cavell, Édith Piaf
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  • Published : March 29, 2011
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Leadership through Followership: Examining the Life of Edith Cavell During her final hours in the clutches of the German forces during the First World War, Edith Louisa Cavell summarized her life’s work with the famous quote, “I realize that patriotism is not enough; I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words capture not only the spirit of who Edith Cavell was and what she stood for; they embody the very essence of what it means to be a nurse. Theorists and scholars alike have stated that the core component of the nursing profession is caring. To Edith Cavell, caring knew no boundaries, and thus, neither did her nursing expertise. While it is correct to view Edith Cavell and her heroic actions during her life through the lens of leadership, one would be remiss should they choose to ignore the contributions she made to nursing and her country by being an exemplary follower. This essay will briefly explore the life of Edith Cavell and demonstrate how her actions and personal characteristics contributed to her ability to be an effective follower and thus, a visionary leader. Background

Edith Louisa Cavell was born on December 4th, 1865, in Swardeston parish in the county of Norfolk in Eastern England. She was raised in a household comprised of strict Anglican beliefs enforced by her father, Reverend Frederick Cavell. It has been written that no books were allowed in the house except for the bible. Her devout religious faith would prove to be the guiding force behind her charity during her life. She began to train as a nurse in 1900 at the age of twenty at the London Hospital. Seven years later, she was recruited to become the matron of Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels, Belgium. Not impressed with the current state of nursing in Belgium at the time, she sought to improve standards and regulate certain elements of practice by becoming an influential nurse educator. After the eruption of the First World War in 1914, Cavell vacated her again-home of England and returned to Belgium to resume her position as matron of the Berkendael Medical Institute, which had been converted by the Red Cross into a military hospital allowing the treatment of both German and Allied soldiers (Duffy, 2011). Despite Belgium’s declared neutrality, the country was promptly invaded and occupied by strict German forces. Cavell, knowing the inherent dangers of war, retained her post and continued to treat the sick and wounded. Knowing that many British soldiers were now trapped in German-occupied Belgium, her efforts were soon directed at assisting surrounded these British soldier’s in their return to England. Cavell was subsequently responsible for the safe removal of over 200 Allied soldiers from Belgium between 1914 and 1915. She provided shelter in safe houses, as well as false identification papers and guides out of the country. Unfortunately, she came under suspicion by the German military. This was not helped by her outspoken views on the perceived injustice of the German occupation (Tejvan, 2010). Cavell was apprehended by German authorities and eventually succumbed to interrogations. She was charged with treason and sentenced to death. Worldwide condemnation of the verdict (and the fact that she treated German and Allied soldiers indiscriminately) did little to detour the German military’s decision. Wearing a nursing uniform, Edith Cavell was executed by firing squad on the morning of Oct. 12, 1915. Global outrage ensued shortly thereafter. American and British mourners were particularly sensitive towards Cavell’s unjust execution; it ignited anti-German sentiment from both Americans and the British, serving as the catalyst for worldwide press coverage sympathetic towards the United States and Britain’s forthcoming war effort (Fee & Roth, 2010, pp. 1865-1866). Followership Behaviour

The concepts of leadership and followership are deeply intertwined (Grayson & Speckhart). Edith Cavell’s traits as a follower...
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