Nurses are well educated in clinical skills and in the principles of nursing practice. Yet during their education, nurses often receive no training in leadership skills (in contrast, leadership principles are routinely taught in business schools and other types of vocational programs). Even so, many nurses leave the bedside and rise to positions at the management or executive level. How do they do it? This series will explore some of the secrets of effective nurse leaders.
It’s impossible to avoid advice about becoming a better communicator. It’s out there everywhere, in lists of tips for both career and interpersonal success. And it’s true that the ability to express yourself well is essential to leadership. You have to be able to communicate your vision, mission, and goals to others in a way that’s inspiring and motivating.
But there’s another whole side to effective communication that’s too often overlooked: attentiveness. The word can be defined simply as the act of paying close attention, and there are many ways this translates into good leadership practices. One of them is attentive listening.
Effective nurse leaders will never under-estimate the importance of listening with empathy and the goal of understanding another point of view. Empathizing can help to defuse negative emotions in a conflict. And the ability to listen attentively can allow you to connect with not only your staff but with leaders in other departments, who may have a different set of interests from yours.
A leader’s ability to listen attentively may also have an indirect effect on patient care. When you have a reputation for being a good listener, you empower your colleagues and staff to speak up. And when staff nurses, for example, are free to voice ideas or concerns, it eliminates many of the disparities in knowledge or power that are common within the health care hierarchy. Why wouldn’t you want to listen to frontline caregivers? Their ideas can lead to process improvements that can enhance patient safety or cut operating costs.
Effective leaders also demonstrate attentiveness in the form of positive feedback. They give praise and make compliments that are timely, sincere, meaningful, and personal. They know true attentiveness is not a superficial pat on the back, or an offhand comment like “great job, everyone.” And they understand that it matters to other team matters to have their efforts noticed and commented on personally.
If you’re not a nurse leader yet but would like to move into management, practicing attentiveness can help you climb the career ladder. Your attentiveness to details can help you provide input for quality initiatives that lead to better outcomes and patient safety. As an attentive listener, you can demonstrate your leadership skills by mentoring a younger nurse, either formally or informally, and helping that person to grow and improve.
The trait of attentiveness often drives a desire to improve and reach for a higher level of excellence—which is another hallmark trait of effective leaders. When you’re not content with the status quo for yourself, it’s likely you’ll also work hard to raise the status quo for colleagues and for patients. This can translate into a vision for a better healthcare system, through initiatives for disease management, wellness promotion, community outreach, public health, and patient safety.
American Sentinel’s online MSN, Management and Organizational Leadership degree is designed for experienced nurse professional who seek to develop both management and leadership skills. Through case studies and hands-on course work, nurses examine the various human resource challenges facing an organization as well as the dynamic nature of the strategic planning and management processes. Courses cover long-range planning, including budgeting, analysis and reporting.
Read the other parts of this four-part series to learn the other secrets of effective nurse leaders!