What Every Nurse Leader Should Know About Themselves
Who among us has not looked at our own leadership ranks and said, “I think I’d like to give that a try”?
As nurses, we may aspire to both clinical and leadership excellence. As we become clinically competent, we may feel a new calling, a curiosity, or even a longing to lead. We (or others) recognize that our organizational, technical, and caring skills can be applied not just to our work with patients and their families, but also to guiding teams and our organization to achieving greatness.
Our initial excited “yes” to leadership can quickly become filled with fear and trepidation as we realize that while our acquired skills may be transferable, we may lack many other requirements needed for authentic leadership. Where do we begin?
Whether you have been a nurse leader for many years and are seeking to improve your ability to influence or you are a new leader needing to learn leadership fundamentals, the place to begin is with yourself. As a leader, you are the instrument. You are responsible in a new way for others—continuing to care for the patients in your organization but now also for the team members who report to you and for the outcomes of your area. By virtue of your role, you have become a means by which others will succeed, your patients will progress, and your organization will achieve its goals.
Developing yourself as an instrument of leadership is a life-long practice that includes honing your self-awareness, building your communication skills, growing your team, and learning to inspire and influence others. Today, we will examine 3 components of self-awareness that will help you become the leader you desire to be.
Confidence and Competence
“Confidence is believing you are able. Competence is knowing you are able,” says Lolly Daskal in The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness. As nurses, we are competent and confident. As new leaders, both our confidence and competence may suffer. Confidence, in particular, is a crucial component as we build relationships; this confidence allows others to feel safe and trust to be built. And safety allows everyone, whether patients or team members, to speak up and be heard, creating an environment in which quality and safety are not just allowed but supported. Over time, this setting becomes a place where others want to work, providers want their patients to be cared for, and other leaders seek to emulate. Even as new leaders, our authentic confidence, confidence in our team and our process as well as in our own skills, allows others’ confidence to grow as well.
Self-reflecting means holding up a figurative mirror in order to see what we do well and where we struggle. Such a practice helps us learn about ourselves at a deep level–how we react in various situations, what our triggers are, what we consider important, and where we have blind spots. This ability to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses is crucial in our development as leaders. We, as instruments, grow in our leadership capabilities as we analyze our skills objectively. Using this knowledge, we can build on the areas in which we excel and seek help and advice in areas where we have challenges. As we improve our ability to truly listen to our own feedback and the feedback of others, we grow in our ability to tolerate discomfort and learn from even the most trying of circumstances as well as those that are easy for us. This mindfulness, being present to our situation and to how we are in the situation, allows us to focus on the needs of our patients and our employees effectively, without being caught up in our own internal drama.
Resilience and Managing Stress
Closely connected with the mindfulness that comes from self-reflection is the ability to develop resilience. Despite the difficult situations we encounter as leaders, which can range from staffing issues to significant medical errors, we are responsible for leading, supporting, coaching, and making tough decisions. Resilience is that ability to continue to function well even in the midst of crisis. Personal practices help us to build that resilience and manage stress effectively. These include maintaining supportive relationships, seeing plans as meaningful, maintaining the confidence we examined previously, communicating effectively, and managing impulses well. We must take care of ourselves in order to effectively care for others, and this means learning the habits that help insulate us from the dangers of excessive stress. Our resilience also serves as an example to those around us, increasing their confidence and ability to care for themselves.
In short, we are miles ahead when we learn that while we have many tools and lots of knowledge at our disposal, our most valuable instrument is ourselves. Our ability to assess situations, our words and actions, our ability to sense others’ feelings, and our ability to read our own internal responses to unfolding events, all give us a good starting point to becoming great leaders. And, continually refining ourselves not only serves others but helps us to grow as human beings, giving us purpose and meaning beyond what we might have dreamed for ourselves.