Fast-forward to the end of the decade—rapidly aging nurses and a pent-up demand for retirement postponed for too long spark a severe shortage of nurse leaders. What can you do right now to stop this crisis from becoming a reality?
The majority of current nurse leaders are over age 50, which means we must ensure that we provide an environment in which future leaders can be identified early and work diligently to mentor them. Unfortunately, many nurse leaders don't enter into the nursing administration specialty until they're in the middle or toward the end of their careers.
So how can we find young leaders? Often, future leaders work beside us but we miss the signs of their leadership potential. If you notice that someone on your staff is passionate about making a procedural change, engage and mentor him or her through the structure and process of incorporating change into practice. Your guidance may spark interest in nursing leadership as a career aspiration. Given the staff member's youth, he or she might need a significant amount of support and encouragement, which can easily be accomplished through recognition of his or her contributions to improving patient care.
Searching for future nurse leaders begins during the interview process. Ask potential candidates if they assumed a leadership role in their nursing program. Determine if they were involved in local, state, or national nursing student organizations. Did they receive any recognition for exceeding expectations? Do they like being part of the decision-making process? How will they continue to do so as direct care nurses at your facility? The answers to these questions can help you quickly identify emerging nurse leaders and get them involved in decision-making councils and structures.
Nurses who are actively engaged in unit- or hospital-based councils are prime recruits for positions in nursing management. Encouraging younger staff members to participate in these councils will broaden their exposure to more complex issues. Success in making positive change through unit-based leadership will quickly garnish support from colleagues.
After you identify and hire a young nurse leader to your management team, mentoring needs to be a daily occurrence. Nurses who've worked in the department for many years may not be willing to receive direction from someone significantly younger than themselves. The young nurse leader must understand and respect the seasoned nurse's position and take extra time explaining why certain changes need to take place. Young nurses should befriend those with more experience and continue to hold them in highest regard for their years of contributing to patient care. Carefully monitor new leaders' interactions and provide constructive criticism so they can constantly improve their work success.
Remember, it's up to us to pass the torch of passion for quality nursing care and leadership.