Nursing is a profession naturally associated with well-trained clinical professionals who dispense health and social care with compassion and dedication.
It is easy to forget that many also need strong leadership skills, particularly in the fast-changing world of modern medicine. There are advanced nurse practitioners these days who have earned their place at the head of teams of physicians and other colleagues. Nurses are also to be found driving forward many key health initiatives in communities, states and even countrywide.
As one study on this topic notes: “Strong leadership is critical if the vision of a transformed health care system is to be realized.” It goes on to point out that not all nurses start their careers with aspirations of leadership. Instead, the profession should do more to encourage them to prepare for and take on leadership positions “from the bedside to the boardroom.”
In this way, nurses can help to deliver high-quality care, while working in partnership with other leaders in a variety of healthcare professions.
Below, we discuss some of the ways that nurses can prepare to take on this role.
Developing Insights into Leadership Techniques and Attributes
Taking up this exciting challenge, or simply fulfilling your own personal career goals, starts with creating a clear understanding of the differences between managers and leaders.
There is a great deal of information available on the attributes of successful leadership, and it makes sense to thoroughly research the different styles of modern healthcare leaders.
When you look at the leadership skills that can land you a job, some may sound like characteristics that you are born with. However, to prepare for this sort of promotion or new job role, it is completely possible to hone and enhance the soft skills that make successful leaders.
This includes organizational and critical thinking abilities, as well as emotional intelligence.
You will need emotional intelligence to support your team and its individual members to achieve their business and personal goals. This involves being alert to other people’s emotional and mental status and taking a holistic approach with colleagues and other professional associates, not just patients.
A lot of this comes down to a word commonly attached to nursing as a profession — empathy.
Improving Your Emotional Intelligence
This is something that can be achieved during the training phase of your nursing career, but also by exploring your own reactions and responses to different situations.
It is also important to practice being acutely observant, and immersing yourself in the dynamics of any teams of people you engage with. It does not have to be confined to work teams either, as you can remain alert to interactions among any group of people.
Find opportunities to mentor and coach others too. It is amazing how much you learn about yourself as you help others move forward positively.
Boosting Your Communication Skills
To be an effective leader in healthcare, you will also require excellent communication skills and the ability to listen in a constructive and positive manner. This is also something you can practice in many aspects of your life, but especially during interactions in your workplace.
Constructive listening includes the ability to recognize and respond to body language and other non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice. You also need to be responsive and adaptive to the questions you ask, to gather all the information you need.
These are all things you can practice as preparation for a leadership role.
Another core communication ability you will need is to be able to explain things to others clearly, succinctly and in a way that informs, motivates, inspires, and influences them. This suggests that taking presentation skills training can be an asset for a career in nurse leadership.
Optimizing Work Experience and Training
Nurses with strong leadership abilities are intuitive in how they build good relationships with their patients, colleagues, and representatives of external agencies. Including creating a bond with patients that makes them more likely to be honest and understanding in the information they provide.
This links with attributes often described as the two central pillars of ‘social judgment’, which are competence and warmth. Nurses who are leaders certainly need to be able to demonstrate both in their relationship-building.
Warmth will be explored later, but you will find excellent opportunities to develop your technical competence during your training to qualify as a nurse. You can further enhance this through internships and work placements that offer opportunities to interact with a wide range of colleagues and patients.
It is recommended that you optimize every practical experience and placement to develop your technical and soft skills. Especially those linked to your qualification route.
You can acquire an especially strong set of professional and personal skills if you choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) qualification program.
A DNP in Leadership can even be earned online, allowing you to continue with your existing nursing job. Reputable institutions such as Baylor University offer this program with 100% online coursework. Students have the opportunity to fully explore vital topics such as influential leadership, transformative care models and data-driven business strategy.
It is also important to acknowledge the value of continuous professional development as a nurse, and to read as much as possible and make time to research emerging healthcare trends, new techniques and technology.
Developing ‘warmth’ as a Leader
Lastly, you should seek out opportunities to develop and demonstrate your ‘warmth’ to prepare for promotion to leadership and achieve success in that role.
Some of the preparation techniques mentioned above can help with this, including becoming more aware of the needs, motivations and barriers that other people in your team have, and then addressing those with empathy.
One great way to work on this is to widen your circle of influence at every opportunity and network with lots of different people. This could include healthcare-related networking opportunities or getting involved in other forms of committees and representative bodies.
Your ability to bring warmth to your relationships as a leader will also grow as your confidence in your nursing technical abilities and knowledge grows. This will also make you a better decision-maker and problem-solver.
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