Effective Nursing Leadership

Keeping your staff motivated to perform at top quality takes clever nursing leadership.

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"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
- U.S. President John F. Kennedy

A good nurse leader is someone who can inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal, such as enhanced patient care.

An effective leader has a distinctive set of personal qualities: integrity, courage, initiative and an ability to handle stress. This individual is often admired in their efforts to think critically, set goals and skillfully communicate and collaborate.

Nurses "may hold the key to transforming healthcare and dragging it into the 21st century in terms of work practices and reform, Genevieve L. Thyer, Dip Ed, MN, BSN, RN, writes in the Journal of Nursing Management. "This is because nurses are visionary, creative, involved in decision making at patient level and have gender-based qualities, and communication strategies the healthcare sector needs," she says.

In today's quickly evolving environment of healthcare, it's time to develop creative leadership, i.e., the capacity to think and act beyond the boundaries limiting your potential and avoid professional derailment or faltering career moves.

Why is this a chaotic sandtrap for some?


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Making the Numbers

The short answer is it's usually because of blind spots, i.e, serious leadership weaknesses professional signored (or never even noticed at all) in the headlong rush to make the numbers.

Staying on track means staying focused on interpersonal skills, adaptability, team leadership and bottom line results.

Your path to successful leadership begins today. Here are some ways to begin to make that happen:

  • Never stop getting feedback.
  • Solicit feedback on a routine basis.
  • Periodically ask your manager and others, "Am I working on the right things?"
After a meeting, when you are walking back to your office with one of your colleagues, you might ask, "How do you think that meeting went? What could I have done better?"

Ask for feedback that describes the situation in which you were observed, what you did and how it affected the person giving you feedback.

Become more self-aware.

Recognize your emotional reaction to changes, know your values and don't let success go to your head. Your feelings of power can interfere with your willingness to learn from mistakes. Take time out to review the thoughts and feelings connected to your work.

Under constant pressure to produce, some leaders believe reflection is a waste of time, but looking for patterns and getting perspective helps you remain flexible in the face of change.

Navigating Your Organization's Culture

Understand your organizational culture.

Knowing how your organization thinks is critical to aligning yourself with its goals and helps you weather the changes that occur in every organization over time.

How do decisions get made? What assumptions does your organization make?

But be careful not to become too political in navigating the culture. Building on your interpersonal relationship means building trust.

Show empathy.

Your direct reports, peers and bosses are all human beings worthy of your respect. Listen without judgement. Don't cut people off in the middle of a sentence. Take the feelings and perspectives of others into account.

If you're talking to a direct report, for example, be aware of the balance of power in the relationship and the effect it can have on your interaction.

If someone tells you something in confidence, keep it private.

Learn to listen.

Hearing isn't the same thing as listening. Turn away from email and the pile of papers on your desk and focus on the person in front of you.

Separate what you think about the person from what he or she is saying. Ask questions to make sure you understand. If the person talking to you says something intriguing, make a note on it and get back to listening.

Make it a goal, by the time the discussion is over, to summarize what you just heard from your colleague - without passing judgement or making snap decisions.

Support your staff.

It is important to provide a supportive environment for staff members to try new skills. Learning the correct methods will allow them to develop their skills in a competent manner. Allow time to explore each individual and tailor your style to their best comprehension.

Act as a mentor.

Being a model for your team members is vital.

When you do your best, you will get the best from your team in return.

Adapt your style to your staff. Take time out to check how they are doing and guide them in the proper direction.

Role modeling will help your staff effectively absorb the necessary qualities your organization is seeking.


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Inspire and encourage.

Keeping your staff motivated to perform at top quality takes clever nursing leadership.

Burnout, dealing with absenteeism and reducing staff tensions takes careful skill. Nursing is very demanding as a profession.

Be sure to influence a person's performance and ensure their work has a positive effect. As a leader, you will need to support them and understand them in a way that is useful to them.

Onward & Upward

Remember, the goal is excellence in patient care.

Encourage your staff to have empathy with patients, understand their needs and their health and well being to provide progressive, excellent care.

A healthy relationship between patient and nurse will often lead to a quicker recovery time.

As a leader, you should seize every opportunity to motivate people by recognizing their worth, services or contributions.

By knowing the shortcomings that can knock your career off track, and conducting an honest self-assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses, you can start making adjustments right now.

The sooner you do, the longer you'll keep your career on an upward climb!

Catherine Meliniotis is a nurse on the acute care unit at Underwood-Memorial Hospital, Woodbury, NJ.

References for this article can be accessed here.

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What a wonderful synopsis and interpretation of great leadership. I have been fortunate to be in case management for the last 7 years and now have been honorably given a role as a Director of Wellness/ Nursing. When I went for my interview I answered all the questions as you wrote. I was an assistant administrator in a non profit for 15 years also.

having a servant heart exemplifies it all ! Clearly, nursing is not for the faint of heart but it is also takes personal Character traits that form a leader.. education and experience alone do not make a nurse a leader.... May God help me to bring my team and the patients we care for into personal best attitiudes and have fun while doing it !

Debora Messier Briggs,  DON,  Assisted Living/ Personal careJuly 23, 2014
Harrisburg, PA

Thank you for a well rounded article. I have had managers/bosses that were great and not so great. Two come to mind because they were supportive regarding staff needs for furthering education or personal issues. Sometimes management is so focused on staffing or lack there of, that missed opportunities occur with remaining staff to be allowed training time toward furthering their potential for growth or management, shame. Again, thank you for addressing those very issues.

Linda Davis,  LVN III,  KaiserApril 14, 2014
Los Angeles, CA

Excellent post. My favorite part was the advise given on having more self-awareness.

I read something today on a patient's experience at a hospital. The write described having three different nurses come into the room; the final one taking time to look the patient in the eye, listen, and understand where the patient was coming from. The patient felt safe, taken care of, and more grounded in their body. Fears and worries were less intense.

The same can hold true for our nursing leaders. Being accessible, approachable, and grounded in the challenges of their nursing staff makes it easier for them to motivate, inspire, and shift their team.

I thank you for providing the reminder to be mindful of emotional reactions as well. Our thoughts impact our emotions and our emotions influence how we behave. When we can get a hold of thoughts and feelings; our actions will infuse strong qualities of leadership and care.

Wonderful article, thank you!

Elizabeth ScalaDecember 06, 2013
Jarrettsville, MD

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