9 Ways New Nurses Can Develop Strong Leadership Skills
By Tyler Faust
Before graduating with my BSN, I knew I didn’t aspire to bedside nurse for long. I had my eyes set on nursing leadership early on in my career. After two years of inpatient nursing on a medical/GI floor, I started taking graduate level classes towards obtaining a master’s degree in nursing administration with hopes of becoming a nurse manager.
Looking back on my road to obtaining a manager position, I would have done a lot of things differently. I learned so much along the way. If I were to sit down with my former self two years into my career, these are the things I would have reconsidered.
1. Be careful who you listen to
As a new nurse, other nurses will inevitably share their own opinions and values regarding career choices. It is good to listen to them but realize that your coworkers might not aspire to the same goals as you. A nurse who just wants a paycheck will have different motivations than a nurse looking to advance their career.
For example, an older nurse suggests not joining a unit committee because they “never get anything done and it’s all political.” They also advise you to delay being a charge nurse as long as possible because “it’s totally not worth the little bit extra money you make during your shift.”
While there may be a lot of truth to what this experienced nurse suggested, it’s important to note that their truth is not necessarily your truth. These opportunities are valuable to a new nurse who is aspiring to become a nurse leader.
Whether a manager, education specialist or any other nurse leadership position, unit leadership is vitally important to professional development and will aid in promotion to the next level.
2. Ask for the opportunities you want
Express interest to leaders. Everyone wants to wait for the perfect opportunity to join a committee or take on a project that they are a perfect fit for. The reality is that these opportunities are hard to come by.
Fear not! There are many opportunities that will be provided. Departmental, unit-based, or other leadership opportunities are a revolving door. Meaning that something will arise if you wait long enough. You don’t necessarily have to pick the first one you see but don’t get too picky. It is the experience you are concerned about, not the fit.
Talk to your nurse manager or supervisor and don’t be afraid to ask for more opportunities. When calls are put out for leadership opportunities you should definitely respond to them. If you are innovative enough, you could even discuss potential opportunities with your leadership team - opportunities that might not already exist. Your enthusiasm and creativity will show not only your leadership team but, also your coworkers the value you bring to the role.
Doing something like this will also boost your resume exponentially!
3. Develop yourself personally AND professionally
I find personal and professional development to be basically the same thing, expressed in a different setting. If your personal life is a mess and is unrefined, it spills over into your professional life. The opposite is true as well.
Think of that college student who goes out drinking on a Thursday night, only to try and show up to class the next day for an important test. That scenario doesn’t usually play out well for the individual.
Clearly, your personal life and decisions impact your ability to perform and develop at work. How you discipline yourself personally may be less obvious than professionally. Certain skills such as practicing follow-through with plans, making and sticking to a budget, becoming efficient in time management skills, developing effective communication skills within interpersonal relationships or simply organizing and managing your personal email, all have a positive impact on professionalism.
4. You don’t have to wait to go back to school
One of the best things I did was go back to school early on in my career. Nurses have a unique opportunity to be working full-time and going to school to advance their education. This means getting on-the-job experience while gaining valuable education to propel your career even more in the future. What makes this so valuable as a nurse is that you get to learn skills and apply them simultaneously. Sort of like clinicals on steroids because you are a fully functioning, independent nurse, while in school.
Going back to school early into your career, however, isn’t for everyone. However, I know that going back to school early in my career helped by career greatly in the long run and it will probably do wonders for yours as well. Now, more than ever, organizations are looking for ability, not years of experience, when hiring leaders. Professional athletes dominate sports in their early 20’s and there is no excuse why young professionals cannot be impacting the healthcare industry in a similar way.
5. Join a professional network
For me, it was AONE (American Organization of Nurse Executives). Joining a professional organization shows that you are willing to invest personally in your professional development (sound familiar?). It also exposes you to current issues and innovations relating to your desired future position. You must learn to speak the language and if what you are reading and being exposed to is unfamiliar, then you know what to learn about and explore.
6. Develop interview skills
Nobody knows if you are the best individual for a job if you can’t translate your experiences into meaningful talking points during an interview. The stakes are raised significantly when interviewing for a leadership position. It’s important to understand that interviewing is a skill and it needs to be developed just like any nursing or leadership skill.
Only now, in hindsight, do I realize how immature and underdeveloped I really was during my first few interviews for leadership positions. I interviewed about six different times before I was offered a nurse manager position and my ability to interview was a night and day difference. I’m almost embarrassed by how little I knew during my first interviews.
No matter how senior you are in your career, perfecting the interview process is truly a life-long process. Interview styles, especially in the healthcare setting, are constantly changing. It’s important to utilize interviewing guides and workbooks that include real-life examples with answers and are targeted specifically for the nursing profession.
7. Seek constructive criticism and apply it to your career
There are plenty of people who are filled with superficial feedback that might make you feel good but won’t propel your career. Although encouragement is a great thing, it won’t help you develop yourself professionally. Sometimes the people with critical attitudes or blunt ways of saying things can hold the power of constructive feedback. You might have to translate their poor ability to give feedback into a helpful recognition of areas to improve yourself. If you can find someone who can give you critique in a positive and constructive way, you’ve found the best of both worlds! Be friends with them.
Also, consider looking into the growth versus fixed mindset. There is research out there on this topic. In short, if you don’t seek to always be learning and growing or see yourself with a limited capacity to grow or develop, you will stop learning and plateau. There is far more to learn in nursing than any one individual could do in a lifetime.
8. Don’t avoid confrontation
Leaders cannot be afraid of confrontation. If you are paralyzed by the fear of confronting someone, you might not be fit for leadership. At best, you will never reach your full potential. At worst, you’ll never get important things done and you’ll lose the respect of your staff.
9. Show me what you can learn, not what you know
Everyone wants to come into a new job and show how much they know. That is foolishness. As a nursing student, I struggled with this and as a nurse, I see student nurses continue to struggle with this. As a student nurse what you should be seeking to show is how much you can learn and apply rather than how much you know. The ability to learn is the Swiss Army Knife of nursing. You could succeed in any unit or in any position if you can learn and adapt quickly.