3 Traits That Make Nurses Good Leaders

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Leadership in nursing is about integrating a professional’s values, communication skills, and nursing abilities into behaviors that benefit the patient and peer interactions.

One can have outstanding leadership skills without ever assuming a management role. Even in nursing, there is a debate about leadership versus management, but it is safe to say that there are some in management who exhibit few leadership skills.

How a nurse’s leadership abilities are perceived will determine how those skills are rewarded.

Whether it’s as a director of nursing, an OB/GYN nursing supervisor on the evening shift, or a new nursing graduate on the general surgery floor, respect goes to those with good leadership skills. While there are many more, here are three leadership skills worth building.

Leading by example

Leadership is as much about what is not said as what is. People make decisions based on what they see, and leading by example is a sure way to convey confidence and ability.

The technical skills are taught in nursing programs, but in the field, people observing the style of a confident, capable nursing leader know that they are working with a true professional. It’s not about the ability to “act” a role, but to “be” the role.

Whatever level nurses achieve, they are trained to be comfortable taking part in any and all nursing activities. A compassionate health care provider, where there is need, steps in to help. Nothing should be seen as “beneath” one to participate.

How one reacts in conversation — with a patient, in a meeting with peers or in a group presentation with administration — also reveals a person’s leadership qualities. Subtle communication through body language will be interpreted, and not always as it was intended. Small changes in how one reacts in those situations can make big changes in the perception by others.

Consistency is also crucial. People can easily be confused when they see behavior that is inconsistent with what they’ve observed before. Being mindful of this can help one to stop and think for a moment before reacting.

Advocating growth and expansion

Being open to different ways of doing things helps the nursing professional grow and shows the nurse is flexible. The person who sticks to one way of doing things, especially because “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” is ultimately perceived as someone who can’t adapt to the environment.

Observing others and asking “How could their approach help me?” allows the professional to expand skills. Even new nurses arrive having learned techniques and procedures based on current nursing practice. Incorporating even a portion of someone else’s technique can make a big difference in the delivery.

Keeping current in the field of choice and being knowledgeable about other fields also enhances a nursing career. For instance, policies and procedures at a cancer clinic could be highly appropriate for a geriatric floor. Striving to find these differences is a form of leadership.

Respecting all roles

While the typical business model emphasizes hierarchy, every role in an organization has a purpose. The leader recognizes this and observes and learns from all. How does nursing management deal with critical decisions? How does the aide manage the workload? How does the technician deal with ad hoc requests? How does housekeeping keep everything in tip-top shape?

True professionals find the best way to perform their roles, and all have something to teach others. Soliciting suggestions and comments from various colleagues or asking questions and complimenting people on their work are among the traits of good leaders.

People notice good leaders

Leadership is seized, not conferred. Ability to distinguish leadership versus management and a focus on the skills and behaviors of a leader can make an individual effective. Peers will see the difference and acknowledge a nurse with those traits. By virtue of work ethic, communication skills and interaction with patients and peers, the nursing leader will be singled out, with many opportunities to advance a career.

edited by Colin Seymour

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