1. Sherman, Rose O. EdD, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN


It's the first step in learning to manage others.


Article Content

Learn to manage yourself before you try to lead anyone else.1


When nurses move into leadership roles, they usually focus their attention on learning core business skills such as financial management, human resource management, and monitoring outcomes and quality measures.1 Although these skills are crucial to effective leadership, leadership failure is usually due not to a lack of business skills but rather to a consequence of poor self-management.2 Skilled leadership begins with effective self-management. It means being aware of your automatic, passionate-and sometimes nonproductive-responses to situations in order to avoid "emotional hijacking." For some leaders, this is challenging because it requires both self-reflection and a willingness to change behaviors.3

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Self-management has three key components. The first is self-knowledge, which is the ability to reflect on our talents, values, and preferred working style and then strategically place ourselves where we can make the most significant contribution.4


The second is emotional intelligence, or the ability to effectively manage our reactions and emotions.5 Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to quickly scan a wide range of potential responses in a situation and then choose the one that is likely to yield the most favorable outcome. Leaders who develop skills in managing themselves know how their communication and actions affect others. They pay attention to cues in the environment.


The third is the ability to remain resilient when faced with adverse circumstances. A leader who is resilient can effectively bounce back from problems and challenges. Resilient leaders can grow from their failures. They don't view them as a negative reflection of their abilities or self-worth.


The good news is that these self-management skills can be learned. The purpose of this article is to present these three components of self-management along with strategies you can use in your professional and personal life to more effectively manage yourself.



In 1999, Peter Drucker wrote a now classic article, "Managing Oneself," for the Harvard Business Review.4 He observed that there are few natural achievers in life and that most of us will need to learn to manage ourselves to be successful. To do this, we need to know ourselves well enough to choose work in areas where we can make our greatest contribution. As an example, Mary is a staff nurse in critical care. She is an excellent clinician who enjoys patient care. Her chief nursing officer wants her to consider becoming a critical care manager. She has strong organizational skills and is well liked by staff, yet she is not sure that a leadership role is where she can make her greatest contribution. This is where self-knowledge becomes important before one makes a career change. Drucker suggested that self-knowledge involves asking ourselves the following four questions:


What are my strengths? When evaluating performance, most leaders have historically focused their attention on fixing weaknesses or deficits. Contemporary leaders now understand that to manage oneself effectively, it is important to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. In his work with leaders, Drucker observed that most people are not that good at identifying their strengths and weaknesses.4 He was an early proponent of the concept of strengths-based leadership. Excellence, he proposed, comes when one operates from a combination of one's strengths and self-knowledge. We lead in different ways, according to our talents. You can use talent assessments such as the CliftonStrengths assessment to learn about your unique gifts (available for purchase at In the absence of such an assessment tool, you can reflect on what you do best and which aspects of your role in your work come to you effortlessly.


How do I get things done? Drucker contended that few of us ever stop to analyze how we take in new information, what our learning style is, or how we get our work done.4


A good question to ask yourself is whether you are a reader or a listener. Understanding this dimension of how you learn helps you consider how you best absorb new information. If you are by nature a reader, you may need to follow up conversations with some reading on the topic. It is also helpful to understand your learning style. Do you need to write or take notes to gain clarity on a subject, or do you want to talk through a problem? Working style preferences are also important. Some of us work better alone, and others prefer teamwork. Consider how you manage stress. Not all of us can do our best work in highly stressful situations. Also, ask yourself whether you want to be a decision maker or prefer to play a supporting role.


What are my values? Your values should be the ultimate litmus test of whether a job is the right one for you or not. Do the organization's culture, mission, and strategic direction align with what you believe is essential in your work? They don't need to be the same, but they do need to be close enough to coexist. When your values and those of your organization conflict, it may be impossible to do your best work and support the company's goals.


Where do I belong? Figuring out where you belong in the world can be a challenge. Some roles are a great fit with our strengths and talents, and others are not. Many nurses are not comfortable in leadership roles and would prefer to work more closely with patients. Recognizing this to be true about yourself requires courage and insight.



The second component to self-management is emotional intelligence. Where once your IQ or intelligence quotient was considered a crucial factor in career success, today it is more important to consider emotional intelligence (also known as emotional intelligence quotient, emotional quotient, and mostly commonly EQ).5 The concept of emotional intelligence has been discussed since the 1960s, but it was Daniel Goleman who popularized it in the 1990s, noting that rules relating to work had changed.6 Although expertise is obviously still important, we are now also judged on how effectively we manage ourselves.


Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor our emotions and control our responses to what we are feeling. In today's complex and rapidly changing health care environment, nurse leaders are often responsible for enacting new policies and procedures that personally frustrate them. What happened to another nurse, Mark, is a good example of this. He manages an ED that is short staffed. A new policy requires that his staff monitor a dashboard hourly to ensure that patient throughput, the time from arrival to discharge, occurs in less than 45 minutes. This is not practical during times of high patient volume. Mark gave his input to hospital leadership, but the new policy was approved and now needs to be implemented. In his case, part of being an emotionally intelligent leader means he needs to control his emotional reactions to the required change and help with implementation.


Emotional intelligence is crucial in today's health care work environments, which are emotionally demanding for both nurses and their leaders. There is a strong business case to be made for emotional intelligence. Codier and Codier suggested that higher emotional intelligence in the nursing workforce could make patient care safer and that the quality of relationships with patients and team members has a direct impact on patient outcomes.7 Nurses with high emotional intelligence have stronger problem-solving and conflict management skills. They don't take the negative emotions of others personally. Like Mark, they recognize that some decisions are within their control and others are not.


Goleman identified four crucial components of emotional intelligence6:


* Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and weaknesses and have self-confidence. You can accept feedback and are self-reflective, with a desire to continually improve.


* Self-management is the ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors. When you have strong self-management skills, you are able to think through your strong emotional reactions and not overreact to situations. You adapt to changing circumstances and focus on building trusting relationships.


* Social awareness is the ability to tune into the feelings of others. Empathy is an important part of social awareness. When we are socially aware, we are attuned to the needs and concerns of others. We can quickly pick up on social or emotional cues in our environment and adjust our behavior. We understand the power dynamics in situations and respect different points of view.


* Relationship management is the ability to apply emotional understanding when dealing with others. We recognize the need to clearly communicate with, inspire, and influence others if we want to lead effectively and manage conflict. When relationships are managed well, you can both give and receive constructive feedback.



These four dimensions of emotional intelligence are not only essential ingredients for effective nursing leadership but might also affect the style of leadership a manager chooses to adopt. Spano-Szekely and colleagues found in their work that there was a strong positive relationship between a nurse manager's emotional intelligence and her or his adoption of a transformational style of leadership.8


You can grow in your emotional intelligence skills and avoid letting your emotions hijack your behavior. Emotional intelligence is especially critical in leadership today with resource constraints and other environmental forces that make care delivery more challenging. In 2015, Mackoff described the importance of a leader being able to stop the clock and put space between an emotionally laden situation and one's response.9Choosing your response to significant events can be very liberating. The following are actions you can take to assess your emotional intelligence and potential problem areas:


* Seek feedback on your behavior to determine how you are being received by others.


* Evaluate all negative feedback and reactions to your behavior to look for areas where you may have problems with emotional intelligence.


* Reflect on how you have managed your emotions in highly charged encounters that involved conflict and ask yourself whether there is room for improvement.


* Assess how you manage your stress level and whether this interferes with relationships with others.


* Conduct cognitive rehearsals when confronted with difficult situations to plan how you will manage if you are losing control in an emotionally laden situation.




An ability to remain resilient in the face of adversity is the final component of effective self-management. Taken from the Latin term for "leaping back," resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity.10 Leaders who are resilient view difficulties as challenges, not paralyzing events. They are better able to maintain perspective. They don't drift into catastrophic thinking in times of crisis. This can be a challenge for some nurse leaders. In a recent survey study of resiliency in nurse managers, the lowest (self-reported) scores were in the area of maintaining perspective during adversity.11


Our experiences with adversity affect our resiliency, as do our natural levels of optimism, the level of impact experiences have on our lives, our social support system, and our propensity to ruminate. Maria, a behavioral health director, is a good example of how one's experiences with adversity can affect resiliency. As a young nurse in 1992, she was working on the day Hurricane Andrew hit the Miami area. Maria lost her home in the storm, as did many of her colleagues. It was an extremely difficult time, but Maria rebuilt her life and today has a different perspective on adversity-she frequently counsels her young staff on the importance of resiliency. Martin Seligman, a psychiatrist and national expert on resilience, believes that reframing how we explain setbacks to ourselves is the key to developing resilience. Situations are rarely as bad or as good as we frame them.12 The following three-step framework is recommended by Roger and Petrie to evaluate challenging experiences13:


1. Describe the experience or event. When thinking about an incident, it is important to be objective and stick to the facts. The information you'll need includes when the incident occurred, who was involved, and where it happened.


2. Express your reaction to what happened. Reflective journaling has been found to be helpful in promoting resiliency. When writing, consider how you reacted and what you were feeling at the time of the incident. You can then wait a few days and go back and read what you wrote; you may find that the intensity of your emotions was not warranted in the situation.


3. Identify lessons learned. There are lessons to be learned in any event, no matter how negative-or positive. Assess what you have learned from both the event and your response to it. Consider whether there are things you might do differently to cope with such events in the future. Evaluate whether there is a pattern in the way you react to events? What would you do differently if a similar situation arose?



Recent thinking on resiliency indicates that positive adaptation with intentional reflection after adversity can be transformational.14, 15 Today, there is also a focus on helping nurses cope with moral distress by cultivating moral resilience using some of the strategies discussed above.16


The good news is that resiliency is like a muscle, it grows as we learn to navigate negative situations successfully, and there are evidence-based strategies, such as the following, that can help you and your staff to become more resilient.17


Maintain an attitude of gratitude. There is strong evidence that gratitude promotes adaptive coping and personal growth. Being grateful keeps us hopeful, which fosters resiliency. Gratitude reminds us that we have the power to act and expands our possibilities. A widely used gratitude technique is listing three things daily that you are grateful for in your life or that have gone well in your day. Some nursing units and departments have made a statement of gratitude part of their end-of-shift huddle. It is a positive way to end the workday.


Focus on your strengths and past successes. Drawing on your past successes can help to restore self-confidence. There is also strong evidence that knowing your strengths and talents and putting them to work can help to power you through challenging situations.


Practice meditation or yoga. When your self-confidence is challenged, you can quickly shift to worst-case scenarios by ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Yoga and meditation are both designed to move our attention to the present moment and reduce our anxiety about what-ifs. These practices force us to relax and slow down so we can be in the moment.


Adopt good personal wellness habits. There are strong correlations between resiliency and wellness habits. Sleeping seven hours each night, eating a balanced diet, seeking fun in your life, and exercising all promote higher levels of resiliency. Taking time for self-care is especially important in reducing stress levels during challenging times.


Develop a strong social support system. It can be very challenging to rebuild your self-confidence without someone to be your cheerleader and accountability partner. Although you may find it difficult to talk about your struggles with others, it is essential to reach out to family, friends, and professional colleagues. Connecting with others can keep us from wallowing in our situation. Sharing our goals with a trusted friend can help us to get back on track.



Leadership is both an art and a science; it involves not only leading people but also influencing them. Before we can do this, we must learn to manage ourselves successfully. Self-management requires reflection on our strengths, our values, and where we can best contribute in our work. It also involves developing emotional intelligence-and a willingness to change if our current behaviors are not working. Finally, effective self-management requires developing that resiliency muscle, so we are better able to cope with the ups and downs of life and work. These "soft skills" of self-management can be the hardest skills to learn in leadership. When you manage yourself, you are more likely to get the results you want. It is a skill that can be nurtured and improved.




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