As we celebrate Nurses Week, it is a good time to consider those nurses whose leadership inspires the ability to survive and thrive
amidst the current challenges inherent in our profession. No doubt many nurses might relate that it is not a “nurse leader” who has the most impact on their professional tenure, but instead a trusted nurse friend, role model, or colleague who keeps them coming back time and time again. Whoever they are, these are the nurses who promote true engagement in the profession and perhaps even spark the motivation to pursue advancement and overcome adversity. They are the advocates for positive change in workplaces, professional organizations, and in political arenas. That begs the question, then, who are the leaders in nursing and why is it so important to develop healthy leadership competencies in today’s healthcare environment? Hint: effective and inspirational leadership in nursing does not require a formal title or portfolio.
First and foremost, nurses are leaders when they motivate and influence others. Motivating
are the key ingredients of leadership’s secret sauce. Yes, a nurse leader may be in a role with a managerial title, but do not forget the nurses who act as mentors as well as those whose opinions can sway the views and attitudes of staff, other leaders, patients, or members of the public. Whether or not these “nurse influencers and motivators” are in formal management roles is immaterial; their “yay or nay” may be enough to make an initiative wildly successful or to hasten its demise. They have the power to promote a healthy workplace culture or destroy it. Most of us can readily identify the nurses who wield these powers, some for better and others for worse. There are nurses who thrive on new ideas, positive change, and promoting harmony; others with a penchant for the negative derive satisfaction by demeaning others, instilling unnecessary stress and worry, or generally behaving as an adversary when confronted with a clear choice to do the right thing.
True, the ability of any leader to motivate and influence can be wielded for good, or for less than honorable reasons. World history is replete with examples. We can probably all come up with our own personal stories as well. In some cases, the individual’s intent may be good, but the methods employed are immature, misguided or just plain wrong, potentially leading to unintended consequences. Rather than creating engagement and motivation, the opposite effect can occur; nurses on the receiving end may be left feeling angry, demoralized, or even persecuted. Work culture may take on a distinctly negative atmosphere. Long-term outcomes of this type of unchecked leadership behavior, whether by managers or influential clinical nurses, can result in apathy, burnout, and staff turnover. Nurses transfer to other units, leave the employer altogether, and may even leave the profession itself. Ultimately, nurses need to feel prepared to do their jobs, valued, respected, and offered a safe work environment that is resourced adequately and with barriers that threaten effective and efficient care delivery addressed.
High quality leadership fosters positive relationships through connecting with people, actively listening to diverse perspectives in a non-judgmental way, mentoring, and maintaining a focus on clinical excellence. Strengthening leadership abilities of clinical nursing staff as well as those in formal leadership roles can lead to more productive, collaborative planning discussions and problem solving.
Given that healthcare workers constitute the very fabric of our health systems, ECRI listed “burnout and its impact on patient safety” as the third-most important issue on their list of the top 10 healthcare safety concerns for 2019 (ECRI Institute, 2019). Accordingly, there is an urgent and compelling need to develop healthy leadership abilities in all levels of nurses, across healthcare organizations and in the community-at-large to recognize and fix issues in healthcare delivery systems that lead to burnout. Where nurses prosper, patients reap the benefits. Healthy leadership competencies from the frontline to the C-suite are key to successfully accomplishing this mission. Effective leadership does not equate to actions that impose rules or more complexity as many believe; it is more about having the courage and competency to change dysfunctional systems that negatively impact job performance and enjoyment.
By now it should be clear that leadership is not solely the domain of a nurse manager; that mindset deflects impact and accountability from other important sources of nursing influence. Although there are nurses with inherent leadership skills who have no formal leadership education, their skills can be further enhanced through mentoring and continuing education. Leadership skills and strategies can be taught. Leadership and management are concepts that are often felt to be the same; both are necessary but different. Managers can also be great leaders, but so can nurses without a management title. Leaders learn how to harness and use their own personal power to think critically and effectively in addressing workplace factors that create barriers to a workplace that fosters excellence for both nurses and patients. Success is contingent on having leaders exhibit intelligent, mature, and constructive behaviors and problem-solving skills. That means recognizing operational problems with the system itself rather than having a propensity to blame people.
This Nurses Week, remember the nurses who you looked to for healthy inspiration and motivation. Whether it is promoting the safe passage of new graduates to become experienced nurses, creating strategies to retain good employees, solving clinical, operational or health system issues, or leading change, developing nursing leadership knowledge and skills are foundational for all nurses to assure our ongoing success as a profession.
Happy Nurses Week!