5 Great Questions to Ask When You're a Nurse Leader

Questions to Ask When You’re A Nurse Leader

Great leaders don’t just tell people what to do- they ask questions. Successful leaders know that they are one person and will have greater success when they engage their teams.

In addition to asking questions to support your work as a nurse leader, the nursing staff will appreciate the leader who elicits feedback and acts on it.

Whether you are a new or experienced nurse leader- asking questions of your team is a skill you want to develop. An added benefit is that you may hear an innovative solution that you had not yet thought of.

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1. What strengths?

Let’s say that you are getting a group together to work on a quality improvement (QI) initiative. Sure, you have to review the current data and figure out the intervention your team will put into place to improve certain rates.

Instead of focusing only on the problems- what’s not working- a successful leader asks the team about strengths. What are the strengths of each team member? What other areas is the group doing well in?

Say for example the QI project is related to patient falls. And at the same time your work group has exceptional rates when it comes to surgical site infections (SSIs). You would ask your team to look at the SSIs and review the strengths. What does the team do well when it comes to SSIs that you can possibly take and apply to the fall rate QI project.

What strengths does the organization have? What assets can you leverage and pull into this project? What experts do you have in other areas of your institution that you can refer to?

Focusing on what is working and encouraging people to ask for and consider strengths will spur on greater success.

2. What kind of leader?

A nursing leader who is transparent, encourages open communication, and is continuously growing is going to enjoy lasting success.

Nursing leaders have nursing staff report to them. They have peers and colleagues that they work side-by-side to. And of course, there are people above them that they work with.

Leadership are involved in budgets, meetings, projects, team assignments, and so much more. It takes a variety of skills and expertise to be a nurse leader. So, while the person is busy “doing” all of the work they may not realize the style that they are doing it in.

Asking your teams- those below, around, and above you- for feedback on your work style and skills will help you learn and grow. And, of course, the added benefit is that your team is able to provide that honest and direct communication to you…. since you asked for it!

And this is more than those annual employee engagement surveys or 360 evaluations that are completed. Set up one-on-one meetings with nursing staff. Keep your door open. Get out on the nursing units. Be visible and accessible.

Let your nurses know that they can come to you and share honestly. And go out there and find it from them… many tines they are just too busy to know that they can come to you. You may have to be the one seeking out the feedback.

3. How can we do something different?

As a nurse leader, I am sure that you have had the experience of someone on your nursing staff coming to you with a problem. They get into your office, sit down, and tear into all that is wrong with an issue. You, being a successful and encouraging leader, let them speak. And speak and speak and speak…

But what happens? They are talking so much about the problem and then stop, look at you, and ask… “So, what can you do about this?”

A leader who empowers his or her staff is able to turn the question back around in a professional manner to elicit solutions from the team.

When staff come to you with an issue, first you will want to know how do they know that is a problem? Do they have data- actual metrics– to support the fact that this is actually a situation that needs fixing?

Then, once you walk them through the specific measurements, you want to ask them what they would think is a possible solution. A nurse leader encourages his or her staff to go to the literature and look for evidence that may answer the question.

And a highly innovative nurse leader will allow the nurse to think outside-the-box. What solutions would you think of? What comes to mind for you to fix this problem? And- the best question yet- what is something we have never done before that might answer this question? Letting your nursing staff use their creativity can be one of the most positive experiences that there are.

4. What does the ideal look like?

Building on question 3 above, this next question takes the innovative process even further.

When staff present a challenge or obstacle to you and you want them to think about a creative out-of-the-box solution, you want to support them in visionary thinking.

Ask them to pretend that they had a magic fairy wand. That when they wave this wand a genie emerges and grants them three wishes. Tell them to suspend all disbelief. Do not worry about time, money, or resources. And brainstorm…

What does the ideal look like? What would the working environment be like if this problem was gone? Have them talk to you about the ideal and what that looks and feels like so that they can get to the “where they want to be” stage.

Then, you start to work with your team on ideas to propel you towards that ideal. What needs to be done to bridge those gaps? And again- suspending all disbelief and not worrying about time, money, or resources- have them tell you of possible solutions. Do a brain dump- listing everything that everyone can even think of or come up with. List out things that have never been tried. That no one even knows how to do at this time.

Because encouraging that creative process will engage the team, enthuse them around finding solutions to the issue, and instill buy in from all parties. A win-win-win for all!

5. How can I help you?

A great leader not only sets up the teams and delegates the work- he or she gets in there and gets their own hands dirty.

You want to be continuously asking your staff what you can do in your role to help and support the nurses. And after asking, you want to listen. Think about what can and cannot be done. Speak honestly as to how you can share your support.

Keeping open communication channels is a surefire way to enjoy success. All that the clinical nursing staff wants and needs is honest and open communication. They want to know what is going on in their organization and why.

When a nurse feels or senses that things are out of their control- they become worried, fearful, and upset. And putting up with this type of environment for some time is what ultimately creates a disengaged staff.

Involve your nursing teams in your work and ask them how you can help. After you listen and think about what is possible, get in there and take action. And then, tell the nursing staff the actions you took!

They are often so busy or may have forgotten about what they asked of you. The best nursing leader circles back and shares with the staff what you did, how you did it, why you did it (because they asked you to), and what the outcome was.

OK- what did we miss? What questions would you recommend nursing leadership ask? We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading and enjoy your health today.

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.