Leadership in Nursing_ Stand Tall & Shine Bright

Leadership in Nursing

During my burnout proof live presentation, I ask the nursing audience to raise their hands if they are a nurse leader. After several hands go up, I ask everyone to raise their hands. And raise them high! Leadership in nursing isn’t just about the formal titles we are given. It’s not about progressing up the clinical ladder, waiting for that next promotion.

When you really take the time to think about it- leadership in nursing is all around!

Yes, I am!

You are a nurse leader if:

  • you are a nursing student who is currently in a clinical rotation and interact with patients while in school
  • you are a brand new nurse, fresh off of orientation
  • you are a nurse who precepts other nurses, runs charge, takes call, and works holidays
  • you are a nurse who orients other nurses, educates staff, and works with patients and families
  • you are a nurse in academia, research, or some other administrative role
  • you are a nurse of 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years
  • you are a nurse who is part of a nursing organization, specialty group, or who has become certified in your field
  • you are a nurse!

I could go on and on. My point? EVERY nurse is a leader!!

So, how come when I ask that question, hands are still not raised up high? Well, one thing is we may not truly understand the full nature of leadership in nursing.

And maybe “understand” isn’t even the most accurate term. What I see often in the nursing profession is that while we have the book knowledge or professional education related to some topics- we don’t always identify with them when we lack the confidence or self-esteem to realize that we truly are competent in certain skills.

Leadership in nursing is one of those areas that we may not call ourselves “leader” or identify fully with the term because either we do not have a formal title or we aren’t really sure if we can call ourselves leader yet.

Everybody Raise Your Hand.

So, why the fear or discomfort with leadership in nursing? For the most part, nurses are humble. We don’t like to toot our own horns. In fact, when any type of praise or recognition comes our way, we sheepishly accept saying things like “I was just doing my job…”

Every nurse IS a leader. More importantly, each and every nurse needs to SEE themselves as leadership in nursing!

What have you done or do you do that makes you a leader?

  • You’ve studied really hard for really long and have an enormous amount of knowledge and skills. You ARE an expert when it comes to health- a leader, even!
  • You teach other people. You advocate for them. Literally, human being’s lives can be in your hands!! Leader? I think so.
  • You are there 24/7. Every day. All year long. A nurse is the eyes and ears of the patient. That patient entrusts their care- their life- in your hands. Another check for leadership in nursing- yes, sir!
  • You help nursing students, new nurses, or nurses of less experience than you. And, even those brand new nurses, they teach us a thing or two about nursing, don’t they? We ALL learn from each other and so we are constantly sharing our leadership assets with our colleagues.
  • You have published or presented. You participated in projects. You sat on committees or attended training. You travel for conferences and enjoy learning. You are ALWAYS growing! Leaders are constantly developing themselves and, as a nurse, you are continuously doing just that!

Leaders Unite!

OK, so I am hoping that you are coming around and starting to see how each and every nurse is a leader at heart. And, I do realize that this is still scary for some.

Because with leadership often comes power, right? Or, as leaders, are we always held in high regard? Maybe not. Does it instill a sense of responsibility that may even feel like pressure at first?

Living true leadership in nursing can be scary. It can even feel lonely at times or as though you are standing out apart from the crowd. And, it is definitely stressful. Being a nurse leader- whether formally through title or informally from the sheer nature that you are a nurse- brings up a certain amount of stress, for sure.

So, let’s help each other out! Rather than beating each other up, let’s bring along the leadership in nursing, helping each other out!

Let’s role model leader behaviors, encourage our aspiring leaders, and share strategies for confidence building and self-esteem.

Leadership Strategies – 3 Suggestions for Success

OK, leaders, listen up. Let’s go through 3 strategies together to help you develop those leadership skills in nursing.

First, look back.

I learned this technique from a business podcast several years back. It has stuck with me over the years as an interesting leadership development strategy.

One thing that tends to happen in nursing is we lose our sense of self-identity. And no- not putting anyone or anything about nursing down. It just happens.

We hang out with nurses in our departments or units. We study and learn with our specialty roles. We even travel to conferences and other learning opportunities with- other nurses!

So, it’s no wonder that after some time goes by, we start to forget about what makes us uniquely ourselves. And, this uniqueness is something that we need in order to identify as leadership in nursing.

OK, so what to you do?

  • Think back to when you were a child. Somewhere around school-aged through high-school…
  • What did you enjoy doing?
  • What would you lose time in?
  • What did you play? Indoors or outside? Games or puzzles? With people or alone?
  • What did your parents or other caretakers have to DRAG you away from so that you would come to the dinner table?
  • What were your hobbies, favorite games, or activities that you enjoyed?

From this list you can figure out some amazing things!

The answers to the above give you insights as to the activities that you are best at. So, for example, if you like traipsing around in the woods, finding various paths and hiking trails- this could mean that you enjoy or are very good at figuring out puzzles.

You will have to use a bit of creativity. As you reflect upon the things that you liked to do as a kid- how can you bring these into your professional roles today?

From the list that you have identified above, you now have ideas regarding the types of work or the certain skills that are uniquely yours.

And how does this impact leadership in nursing? Well, from the above answers, you can now bring these qualities to work with you. And you can use them to impact the lives of others.

Next, look around.

In the previous exercise above, I encouraged you to look to your past for ideas related to leadership skills and traits.

Now, I encourage you to look around in present day.

  • What accomplishments have you experienced as a nurse?
  • Why do people come to you? Meaning, what do they ask you for help for?
  • Is there something particular about being a nurse that you enjoy?
  • Why are you still nursing? What lights you up about being a nurse?
  • What is your favorite type of day?
  • How do you solve problems?
  • Do you learn best alone or with a group?
  • What types of projects are you currently working on?
  • What do you sign up for at work? Is there a type of committee that you sit on?
  • What are you good at? If you aren’t sure- what do other people say? And yes, ask them.

Another way to build up leadership in nursing is for you to figure out what makes you the very best nurse you can be!

By reviewing your responses to the above questions, you can get even more information on your unique leadership skills and style.

Every single person has their special sauce. Some of us are excellent communicators. Others have a knack for knowing the technology behind it all. Still others would rather be alone, sitting one-on-one with a patient in the middle of a long night shift.

In order to be a leader and help other leaders along- you must be yourself. The very best way we can develop our own leadership skills and role model those behaviors is by being that nurse within.

Finally, plan ahead.

Yup, you guessed it. Past, present, and now future.

You wouldn’t be a nurse leader if you didn’t have goals or some kind of plan. Every nurse that I know is thinking of his or her next step.

Is it time to go back for more education? When is that certification exam? How will I get promoted, make more money, or find that ideal nursing job?

In terms of leadership in nursing, you too can be forward-thinking.

Set goals that are for you, but also for the good of the profession. Make strides towards things that stretch you. Here’s some food-for-thought to get your creative juices flowing:

  • What type of nurse do you want to be remembered as? Meaning, if you were to retire from your current job today, what would your nursing colleagues say about you?
  • What is your nursing next step? Are you considering school, certification, or some kind of new job?
  • How can you mentor others? What do you have to give back to brand new or less experienced nurses than yourself?
  • What does the profession of nursing mean to you? When you really reflect on the fact that you are part of an amazing profession like nursing- how does that make you feel? And, what would you like to do beyond just your job? What can you do for the profession of nursing itself?
  • How can you get involved? What don’t you know that you’d like to learn more about? What kind of stretch goals can you set for your professional development and ultimate success?
  • What will it take for you to believe in yourself? You are a nurse leader- whether or not you believe it. So, if you need a bit of help and encouragement in this area- what can you do to get on board?

What did we miss? What are some other ways to highlight the joy of leadership in nursing? Share what has worked for you in the comments below and thanks for reading!

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.