Nurse Keith: Relational Intelligence and Nurse Leaders

Nurse Keith: Relational Intelligence and Nurse Leaders

The idea of emotional intelligence has made its way into the mainstream worlds of business and healthcare. Simultaneously, nursing and healthcare leaders are noticing how emotional intelligence (EI) and an individual’s emotional quotient (EQ) are important factors in creating high-functioning, successful teams.

Meanwhile, relational intelligence is another area of human interaction highly worthy of nurse leaders’ attention, although its popularity and renown is eclipsed by that of EI.


Relational intelligence is closely linked to emotional intelligence. While emotional intelligence is centered on the awareness and management of one’s own emotional landscape, relational intelligence has to do entirely with how we interact with others.

That said, when we increase our emotional intelligence, our relational intelligence may very well be deepened due to an increased ability to navigate the complex emotional life of relationships; thus, the two can be seen as symbiotically interconnected.

The relational nurse leader

A savvy nurse studying for her DNP in Educational or Executive Leadership must be prepared to be a leader for the 21st century. Leaders who truly wish to be innovators and disrupters in their chosen industries or professions must take into account the ways in which relationships drive individual and collective forward movement.

In the 1950s, instructing a leader to be relationally or emotionally intelligent would have indeed been like speaking a language from another planet. In fact, those very concepts would not have translated into the vernacular and thought systems of the mid-20th century, and any leader speaking in that fashion would have been roundly ignored and ridiculed.

Nursing leadership is a powerful engine behind quality of care, nursing staff satisfaction, nursing innovation, and myriad other aspects of healthcare delivery. When a nurse leader seeks to inspire his or her nursing team to greater heights, it is that leader’s relational intelligence that will move the needle in terms of motivating change, ingenuity, and the harnessing of collective genius.

Collective genius and relationships

The notion of harnessing collective genius isn’t new, but the worlds of healthcare and nursing would do very well to take intra- and interdisciplinary collaboration to the next level by seeing how the quality of relationships can and do drive change.

A nurse leader who recognizes the crucial importance of the power of relationships will also recognize that his or her leadership style will not only impact the connection with nursing staff and colleagues, but also between staff members themselves.

A relationally intelligent nurse leader will serve as a role model for positive communication, “infecting” members of the team with his or her respectful and open-minded manner of relating.

In the group setting – whether in acute care, nursing education, research, or elsewhere – the relationally intelligent nurse leader can be a source of inspiring change, team cohesion, and institutional positivity.

Cohesion and inspiration rule

Relational intelligence in a leader can spread like wildfire through a team – and perhaps through an entire institution. When relationships flourish, inspiration and innovation are bred more easily in such a positive, uplifting culture.

Nurse leaders who tap into their own relational intelligence can be on the cutting edge of the nursing profession. As disrupters and change agents, relationally intelligent nurse leaders naturally ignite sparks of collective genius and inspired innovation in those who choose to follow their lead.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, consultant, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at

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