Some leaders may be born, but others are shaped. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you aren’t always charismatic. It doesn’t matter if, in the past, you were never really the one to lead anything. With the right time, dedication, and training, you can become a great leader.
And nursing needs leaders.
Nurses are the key support in healthcare, and though each and everyone makes a difference in a patient’s experience and their recovery, they are nowhere near effective unless they are also being led effectively. It’s the same with any industry and any workplace.
The difference is that great leaders in nursing have a large, real-world impact. A well-run team of nurses is not just better at their jobs, but they are better supported. With how stressful it can be to work as a nurse – especially in a hospital – it cannot be stressed enough that having the right support is critical in nursing.
If you want to lead and make a difference, use this guide to help you understand your options and the tools out there that can make it happen.
How You Can Be a Leader in Nursing
To start, it’s important to acknowledge that leadership will look vastly different from one example to another. Leaders are not just managers or directors. You may also be a community leader or just someone that others look to for support. Leaders help others be their best selves, and when you use that definition, leaders can be found in many different places:
1. Head a Team, Department, or Hospital
The most obvious and immediate examples of leadership in nursing are team leaders. As a nurse, you may have other nurses under you. They go to you for advice, for guidance, and of course, to understand what they need to do for the day. This means that it isn’t just team leads that are leaders but also administrators that work to ensure that everyone is working in rotation and to the best of their ability.
Further up, you have the lead nurse that covers the unit you work in, and higher still, the director of nursing. The further up you go in the traditional career ladder, the less time you will spend working directly with other nurses and instead focusing on the bigger picture.
2. Work as an Educator
All educators are leaders in their own way. If you want to help the next generation by teaching them, guiding them, and leading them, then work to become a nurse educator. These educators usually have a doctorate, though there may be options where you could earn an EdD, for example. No matter how you teach or where, however, know you are making a big impact on the nurses in your care.
3. Work in Policy
Nurses are needed in policy-making. They have long influenced healthcare in big and small ways, and today we need them directly in the room when new laws, regulations, and recommendations are made.
You may work on the ground and aim to improve care treatment plans or the approach that nurses take in certain situations. You can also work all the way up to government levels and use your background in nursing to make real, influential changes across the country.
4. Start Your Own Business
Many nurses can work privately. Some can even open up their own practice (state-dependent). There are so many ways that you can combine your nursing background with your entrepreneurial goals. You will, of course, need to know what your options are before you start investing time and money into your venture. There are many ways that you can use your background and become your own boss (and potentially the boss of others) and ways you won’t. Know in advance, especially at the start of your career, so that you can move or make adjustments so that your state supports your dreams.
How to Develop the Skills You’ll Need to Lead
Even those that are naturally charismatic and have been in leadership situations before owe it to themselves to brush up on their hard and soft skills. Being a natural leader does not mean you are a good fit to be a manager, for example. You need both interpersonal skills and be organized and analytical.
The good news is that there are several different ways that you can develop or perfect the skills you’ll need to lead.
Earn a Leadership Degree
If your goal isn’t just to build the soft skills that you need to lead successfully but also to establish a firm grounding in leadership and management principles, then you are better off earning a degree. You can enroll in an online MSN leadership program, and once accepted, develop your team building, problem-solving, critical thinking, and ethical decision-making skills.
Degrees like these take between four to six semesters, depending on whether you commit to them full-time or part-time. As this degree is not a medical one, however, know you can start to put what you learn to good use as you study. This makes part-time an attractive option. You can immediately start to use and adapt what you learn to benefit your career.
Learn About Psychology
A person’s mental health plays a huge role in their life. Even if you are not a mental health nurse, it is in your best interest to understand the various conditions and be aware of how certain triggers, like chronic stress, can impact the body and the mind. You need to train yourself on how to identify signs of poor mental health as a leader so that you can help avert burnout.
Chronic stress is common in nurses. Knowing the signs and the ways you can help will directly impact your team. Done right, you can help build a support system that everyone benefits from.
You may even lack the resources to properly provide the help and care your team needs, and that is okay. Doing your best and acknowledging the struggles that your team is experiencing can still go a long way. Work together to figure out how you can help them, even with budget constraints or a lack of staff.
Continually Invest in Sensitivity Training
As a nurse, you will be working with people from all backgrounds. This includes staff, other nurses, and patients. If you want to be a great leader, you are going to want to understand what these backgrounds mean to your patient or staff.
Having an understanding of different backgrounds is more than simply nice for others; it can also help you adapt your approach no matter who the individual in front of you is. While you should never automatically assume or stereotype anyone, having a wealth of knowledge can help you understand where people are coming from.
Leaders need to adapt their style based on who they are talking to. Some respond well to authority; others need a gentle touch. Just as leaders need to work with those working under them to help them thrive, all nurses need to be able to adapt their approach to suit their patients.
As a nurse leader, you need to be able to do both. Practice is going to make a big difference, yes, but never underestimate the importance of having a primer on various religions, cultures, and critical thinking theories will have on your ability to do your job.
Be Open to Feedback
Being open to feedback can make a huge difference in your career. You won’t do everything correctly. Sometimes you won’t have a choice (for example, if a team member doesn’t meet you halfway), and other times, the mistake will be yours and yours alone.
Getting feedback can mean setting up an anonymous feedback system. It could also mean having informal conversations with members of your team. It can even look like progress reports and consider how a different approach impacted things like job satisfaction and productivity.
Improve Your Soft Skills
Practice makes perfect, but if you find you are struggling with your interpersonal skills or soft skills, it is okay to get help. This is particularly important for those who struggle to connect with others. The good news is that you don’t need to be everyone’s best friend in order to succeed. You just need to be clear, fair and set consistent expectations.
Sometimes you won’t be liked. Being liked isn’t essential to lead effectively. If you are having difficulty finding your own approach or getting your point across, then getting help, practicing, and even using a mode of communication you find most comfortable can all be great options. You may be better at communicating with written words than your voice, in which case you’ll want to send emails as your primary point of contact. Similarly, you may be terrible at writing and are better off in one-to-one conversations.
Work with your strengths, look for ways to improve on your weaknesses, and you’ll be good to go.
Read more: The Key Steps to Starting a Nursing Career