Gregarious. Vocal. Assertive. These are common traits used to describe commanders of groups. However, these dominant qualities can create a negative and misleading stereotype about leadership. In my experience as a Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), I have seen all types of people serve as leaders in the nursing profession and can say without a doubt that leaders come in many different forms. In fact, the most effective nurse leaders I've witnessed weren't exceptional because of their ability to "command," they were exceptional because they passionately focused on the larger goals of the team and knew how to empower and motivate their team, regardless of position.
In my nearly 40 years of experience working in nursing, I have seen firsthand that regardless of whether a nurse works bedside or in the boardroom, nurses at all levels of the care spectrum can become leaders. With the evolution of the 21st Century health care system, including more complex policy changes and advancements in medicine and technology, the safety of patients and successful delivery of care requires additional leadership development of CNOs, nurse managers and RNs across all areas of the profession1.
In fact, as an academic leader, I see increasingly that more employers seeking nurses who not only have the education and skills necessary to complete their primary job responsibilities, but who also have the leadership skills. These professional nurses are positioned to adapt to and lead through a challenging and continuously changing healthcare system while also continuing to grow in the profession throughout their careers.
Stay Focused on Care
Much has been written on the subject of leadership, and a common theme emerges. Leaders remain focused on their goals, despite challenges2. To thrive amongst the complexities of today's health care system, nurses must remain focused on why they joined the profession: to make a difference in patients' lives and improve health outcomes. This is the core mission of the nursing practice. Nurses of all levels who remain dedicated to this mission, who continually ask themselves if what they are doing is contributing to meeting those goals, will naturally integrate and aim toward better care into everything they do.
Resilience is essential in preparing a full care team to focus on continuing to achieve the health care organization's goals successfully in tough circumstances. To have this kind of resilience, nurses are aware of the mission of the health care organization, understand external trends and how they affect the long-term goals of the organization, and exercise flexibility to modify system structure and processes when it is required to improve patient outcomes or system performance.
Perception and Personal Brand
I learned throughout my nursing career that if I wanted to be perceived as a leader I needed to be mindful of my presence at all times and be cognizant that whether I liked it or not, I was a role model. The implications of a role model's actions are often heightened because of who they are, and determines whether others treat them with respect. This respect often leads to those around role models to adopt the role model's behavior in various workplace scenarios. It is critical for those nurse leaders to be at their best despite any personal or professional circumstances, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the team.
Great nurse leaders are aware of their personal brand and take time to maintain it. They are mindful of what others expected of them and hold themselves accountable to the highest standard.
SEE ALSO: Creating Emotionally Intelligent Nurses
Education: The Latest Exercise to Develop Leadership Capabilities
As part of holding yourself accountable, you must exercise your leadership muscle to get stronger. For me personally, one of the most valuable commitments to developing my leadership skills I made was pursuing advanced education3 and training beyond my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). My advanced degrees provide me the knowledge, skills and management capabilities to address changes in the industry and continue to improve patient outcomes4. The educational setting is a safe place to learn the ups and downs of working with teams and solving complex scenarios under pressure.
The success of any health care organization starts with the strength of their care team. As the health care industry continues to evolve, it will be increasingly important for nurses of all levels to grow as leaders and move their organization forward. As a nation, we must highlight the many opportunities for aspiring nurse leaders and provide them the resources to achieve these leadership capabilities. The health of our care system and patients depends on it.
1. Nursing Research
. American Association of Colleges of Nursing.http://www.aacn.nche.edu/publications/position/nursing-research
March 23, 2016
2. Marshall, E. Cultivating the Habits of a Transformational Leader. http://www.aacn.nche.edu/networks/oln/2013/Marshall-Day-2.pdf.
October 26, 2013.
3. The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice. American Association of Colleges of Nursing: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/impact-of-education.
May 19, 2015.
4. Creating a More Highly Qualified Nursing Workforce. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-workforce. March 19, 2016
Betty Nelson is academic dean for University of Phoenix® College of Health Professions School of Nursing