8 Keys to Becoming a Successful Nursing Leader

January 30, 2018

Leadership is hard. No matter how talented, intelligent or disciplined you may be, leadership takes practice, integrity and, intention.


There are no nurse leadership manuals that have all the rules laid out in a user-friendly format. On the job learning is the best learning. You will make mistakes. You will have hard days.


You will also have wins. Good days will back up to those hard days and ease the difficulty. All good leaders want more wins than losses.


Winning comes with practice, patience and, focus. It does not happen overnight. You must set goals and be intentional with meeting them.


Let’s explore 8 Keys to Being a Successful Nurse Leader:


Be Visionary - The unit, department or facility is now yours to grow and nurture. Set a vision. Write it down. Then tear it into small pieces and set attainable goals. Share your vision with others. You must get buy-in from the staff if you want your vision to become reality.


Don’t Abuse Your Power - Yes, you can write Susie up for being late for the 3rd time this week. Or, you can sit down with Susie in a private place and see what is going on in her life that is making her late.


Offer support to your staff. Build into them. Model the behavior you want them to use when working together. There will be times that discipline is the best thing you can offer an employee, but make sure you have a good relationship with them before that point comes.


Empower the Team - You don’t have to be the only one on the team with a  vision. Your nurses know what works for them.  They do the job day in and day out. Before making decisions, ask for their opinions.


Creating committees can be a great way to hear what is important to your staff. Give time to brainstorm and build community into your team. Exercises like this give you great insight into what your staff needs and offers them the ability to be heard and empowered.  


Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep - Overselling kills trust.


If you can’t guarantee Susie she can be off every year on Christmas, don’t ever tell she can. Once you over-promise and fail to deliver, trust disappears.


As leaders, we want our staff to be happy. Often we think if we can give them what they want regardless of boundaries, we can win them over. In reality, this can be detrimental to your relationships with staff.


Set clear boundaries and work within them. Negotiate if needed, but never over-promise.


Walk the Walk - If you expect your staff to be on time, then you must be on time. One of the best ways to get buy-in from staff is to model the behaviors you want to see in them.


If you want everyone to be a team player, then you best keep a pair of scrubs in the drawer for bad days on the unit. Your actions must always coincide with your words.


Talk to the Patients - If you want to get a really good idea of how your staff performs, ask the customer!


This is the simplest and most effective way to really understand how the nurse performs behind the closed door of a patient room or in a home. Take a few minutes to ask the patient about their experiences with the staff.

This simple practice will give you invaluable information to track, trend and use for teaching and goal setting with your staff.  


Never Act in Haste or Anger - Leadership requires you to make some big decisions. Take a day or two to think about decisions that impact your unit and the nurses who work there.


Leadership requires patience. Take this time to simply ponder. Don’t continue to research or collect more data. Give the decision the gift of your time. A little time and patience may offer clarity.


A  Title Does Not Make You a Leader - This is the biggest lesson every leader needs to understand. Titles mean nothing. You must earn your title as a leader.


Intentionally work towards being the type of leader you want to be every day. Meet your staff where they are and bring them along on your journey.


Leadership is not a race. It is a marathon.


As a leader, you will make mistakes. You will make other people cry and will likely be the face they associate with one of the worst days of their career.


Build thick skin. It can be lonely at the top. But, with these 8 Keys to Successful Leadership, you will be on your way to career success.

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