Some people are born leaders and caretakers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Mother Teresa. They led by keeping the well-being of others in constant proximity to their objectives. In nursing, leading and caring are not mutually exclusive; you have to excel at both. But nobody is perfect and everyone can benefit from a few reminders on how to lead effectively, without sacrificing quality care. In many ways, leadership in nursing is similar to leadership in anything else; you need the standard set of tools, of which passion and moral certitude are but a few. But health care is a unique culture, and what follows is leadership tailored for the nursing profession. Take a few pointers from me, then fine-tune your leadership style by learning how to incorporate it into any role.
Everyone’s a Patient . . .
One of my favorite quotes from The Great Gatsby: “Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.” Show everyone in your organization the care, attention and respect you show your patients, for whom you are probably most capable at reserving critiques of character. Your co-workers are people working toward an end, too. Listen to their needs. Letting personal problems affect their careers is not wise, but it can’t always be helped. When you’re healthy, think about how easy it seems to keep a positive attitude through an illness. But then the common cold hits and makes a grinch out of you, i.e. it happens to the best and strongest people. If someone is a step-behind one day, don’t immediately assume it’s something as simple as a lack of interest or a hangover. Ask (privately) if anything is wrong and if there’s something you can do to help. Don’t be angry; the act of showing kindness and trust in this situation will not be soon forgotten, and simply having the conversation will communicate your intentions: their attitude is noticeably unusual. The best leaders are there to help, not to govern.
. . . and Nobody’s Perfect
That means you. A sure sign of maturity is asking for feedback and advice from those in a position to give it. You don’t want to patronize unqualified people (or feign ignorance) by asking shallow questions. Ask your managers if they have any suggestions, if they’ve noticed areas for improvement, if you should redirect your efforts for future projects, etc. Stubbornness and resistance to change are the nurse’s viruses.
On a similar note, give praise where praise is due. Honest compliments will keep your staff motivated, and try to deal them out equally without bias. I can’t stress this enough: do not let a single opportunity pass to note someone’s effort or worth. Conversely, creating jealousy and additional tension between staff members is not only unnecessary, it’s the opposite of good leadership. You want to build a strong team, and that means building confident individuals that share each other’s respect. But if you’re aren’t feeling sincere, let the moment pass, make sure your intentions are in the right place, and wait for a more appropriate time.
Recent developments in healthcare legislation have put a lot of people financially on edge, which doesn’t translate to excellent patient care. If your organization isn’t financially stable, building confidence is infinitely more difficult. So don’t underestimate how nursing impacts revenue. From staffing to day-to-day decisions, you have control over a significant percentage of capitol. I’m not suggesting you cut corners on necessities, but take some time to see where unnecessary expenses might be trimmed. You might also consider acquiring some fundamental finance knowledge. This will be invaluable in correlating staffing reports and productivity, especially with the growing trend of performance-based reimbursement. Don’t be ruled by numbers, but you’re living in the past if you think you don’t impact the bottom line.
Keep your communication lines open (definitely run this by your supervisors first, but this professional advice on social media in healthcare can help you build a positive presence online, too). This can be demanding and tiring, but you can’t be a leader 50% of the time. No doubt there are a million emails waiting to be answered and a depressingly large pile of papers on your desk. Welcome to the 21st century. Almost every professional faces the same daunting upkeep. But occasionally you need to put all that on hold (half those emails are spam anyway) and focus on the people on front of you. The last thing you want are problems simmering on the back burner because your co-workers are waiting around for the right time to tell you, especially when people’s health is on the line. Leaders have to know before anyone else. If someone informs you of a problem and you feel they should have spoken up earlier, approach the situation graciously; thank them for being pro-active, but suggest a quicker return time. Maybe there is a sign or signal indicative of “I need to know.” Gratitude will encourage people to aim for perfection the next time around.
All Hell Breaks Loose
Inevitably, and maybe even constantly (E.R. nurses know what I’m talking about), all hell breaks loose. It’s easy to lead on the slowest day of the year, but hardships are what define us. This is also when people will be looking to you to make informed decisions, to remain calm under pressure, to shoulder the burden and even to smile while you do it. The best leaders recognize adversity as an opportunity. In the words of Bill Shakespeare, “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity.” This is something you should relish; a chance to excel; the greatest test of your professional abilities. You won’t have time to take a breather in an empty room. Recognize the moment for what it is and seize it.
If pressure has been getting the best of you, don’t despair. Chin up, lads and ladies. In all likelihood, your career will be too long rather than too short. This course is specifically designed to help you lead in the face of adversity.