Secrets of Effective Nurse Leaders: AMBITION

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.

Nurse leaders have risen to the management or executive level mainly because they’ve had the ambition to advance their careers and leave the bedside. This sounds simple, yet it’s important for this reason: 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 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.

Nurses with ambition are very likely to develop a specialty. This can be in nursing management or other types of positions that rely on critical thinking and analytical skills: infection control, case management, or informatics, to name just a few. There are more opportunities for advancement in nursing than ever before. While a BSN opens many doors for ambitious nurses, an MSN is the golden ticket of opportunity. An MSN degree can help you expand both your career opportunities and earning power. If you’d like to move into management, an MSN is quickly becoming the minimum education you’ll need to hold a leadership position.

The best nurse leaders honor not only their own ambitions, but also the aspirations of others. Encouraging ambition in others can help future leaders learn management and leadership skills. Leadership expert John Maxwell has written that,

A leader’s lasting legacy will not be measured by the buildings we build, the institutions we establish, or what our team accomplished. Leaders are judged by how well the people they invest in carry on after they are gone.


There are many ways an ambitious nurse leader can honor the ambitions of others:

  • Mentoring and sharing knowledge with less experienced nurses, or setting up a formal mentoring program that matches nurses with an appropriate mentor.
  • Instituting a system of shared governance and recruiting nurses to sit on committees or provide input regarding hospital policies.
  • Targeting and coaching the next generation of leaders through formal succession planning.

For an ambitious nurse leader to be successful in today’s healthcare environment, it’s not enough to have clinical expertise. Today’s effective leaders have mastered essential business skills, like strategic planning, budget development, operations management, and organizational structure and policies. They’ve acquired expertise that allows them to apply technology, information systems, and critical thinking to their jobs, while adapting leadership theory to their personal leadership style.

It’s a different way of thinking, being accountable for organizational structures and aligning clinical goals with operational goals – and one that you may have been ill-prepared for. So how does an effective leader acquire these skills? 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!