So you’ve found yourself in a leadership role. Maybe you’re the most senior nurse on your unit and the director suggested you become nurse manager. Or, even informally, you’re the most experienced nurse working the night shift, so they’ve put you in the charge nurse role position. Whether by promotion or simply years on the job, nurses find themselves in leadership positions all of the time.
Now here’s the million dollar question that can be seldom asked: Are you ready to be a nurse leader?
I’ve seen this in my own nursing career. In fact, I’ve experienced it! It was October, 2005. I had only been a nurse for just about six months. In PM report, the off-going charge nurse looks at me and said: “This is it. You’re in charge tonight. You’re ready for it; we know you’ll do fine.”
Just like that. No formal notice. No training. I hadn’t even taken the charge nurse workshop yet! It was just the nature of the staffing on my unit and the fact that this particular night shift I was actually the nurse with the ‘most experience’ on the unit.
Nurses have shared with me similar experiences related to formal leadership positions. Many times nurse managers are promoted into the role, simply because they have been there a long time and are the next likely fit. Advance practices nurses also struggle with this. They now have additional degrees, placing them in nurse leadership positions, without so much as an orientation to the job.
Even Clinical Nurse Leaders (CNLs)- a role formally created to bring nursing leadership to the hospital- are struggling with role identity. I recently keynoted at a research symposium at the Carolinas Healthcare System. After my talk, I was able to attend a breakout introducing the CNL role. The nurses presented data on the successes and challenges the CNL group had experienced with this new nurse leadership position.
Well, the question to be asked then is: How do we develop nurse leaders? What tips or strategies can be shared with a nurse who finds themselves in a leadership position? How can we proactively work to develop nursing leadership?
- Approach with A Beginner’s Mind. A good leader is curious in nature. The successful leader asks questions and then listens. They watch, observe, and learn. Sure, nurses want to be perceived as professional, well-educated, and expert in their craft. While we can tap into that information and those resources we already possess… nurse leaders who have the capacity to lead change are also aware of that which they do not know. One of my favorite quotes comes from Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” As you enter the leadership role, ask questions of the staff. Talk to the people around you. Get a sense for what’s working and what can be improved. Learn as much as you can; soak up tons of information. Listen more than you speak.
- Focus On and Leverage Strengths. As nurses, I am sure we are all aware of the focus of the profession. For the most part, we give attention to challenges. It’s no surprise- we’re problem solvers at heart! So… you’ll often be tempted to focus on what is wrong. The practice council will bring up the issues the OR is facing related to room times. The research committee will present the fact that there isn’t enough funds for the upcoming study. Left and right you’ll be inundated with challenges, problems, and issues. How will you fix it all? Well, focusing on what’s wrong will drive you crazy and stress you out. A strategic nurse leader focuses on the bigger picture. They are able to give attention to what’s working and leverage these assets. They ask visionary questions and propel groups forwards towards change. No matter how tough it gets (and it can be hard to do this, my friend), you have to be mindful to stay focused on the positives in the workplace. What you pay attention to grows; what you give energy to becomes successful.
- Connect with the Nurse Within. Being in a leadership role can become tiring. It can be emotionally exhausting as you work long hours, brainstorm during meetings, and even take projects home with you. It can be demoralizing at times as you attempt to engage and empower your colleagues and staff. It can even be lonely if you propose a new idea and close to no one is on board. Well, don’t let these potential pitfalls get in your way. On the other hand, entering into nursing leadership can be super rewarding. You accomplish great things, learn from world known mentors, and encourage new nurses to do the same. Gosh, it can be an amazing experience when a newer nurse that you’ve been teaching along the way experiences success themselves! Nursing leadership is fun, my friend. So… how can we be sure to enjoy the ride? Connect to the reasons you went into nursing in the first place. Remind yourself on a daily basis why you love the nursing profession. Check in with yourself on a routine basis to ensure you’re still on track with your nursing career goals. Re-energize the nurse within by connecting to the heart of your professional practice.
What did we miss? I’d love to hear how you increase your capacity for leadership. Leave a strategy to help new nurse leaders in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
About the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.