Being a nurse leader isn't an easy task in our often chaotic healthcare environment. Most nurse leaders face the stress of budget controls, staffing issues, technology advances, regulatory requirements, documentation needs, data reporting, and more. The future surely holds even more challenges for nurse leaders. It's often difficult to predict the knowledge and skills that will be needed in the years to come.1 But, even under these pressures, some stand out from the rest as great leaders.
When I look back on my more than 20 years of nursing, I recall an inspirational nurse leader who touched my career. This is dedicated to Pat Allinger, my mentor.
A Harvard Business Review study of 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries found that inspirational leaders possess the ability to focus on customer needs, collaborate, and motivate others.2 As a new nurse manager of an adult/pediatric unit in an acute care hospital, I wasn't provided with an orientation or training, so I needed to look to others for guidance. The busy hospital setting meant that nursing management didn't always have time to thoroughly teach new nurse leaders. In fact, the director of nursing to whom I reported was also new to her position and unable to provide the education I needed at the time. Research has indicated that the overwhelming responsibilities of nurse leaders affect their ability to recruit and retain nurses in leadership positions, but it's essential that these roles are filled to meet current healthcare challenges and the needs of the patients we serve.3
I was fortunate to have an inspirational leader to guide me to success in my new role. Even though she wasn't my direct supervisor, she helped me as my own supervisor learned the ropes of her new job. My mentor was always approachable, kind, and patient, and provided me with a pathway to the new skills I needed.
She not only taught me how to be successful on my own unit, but also what was needed for organizational success. She taught me the importance of working as a team, and her actions supported her teachings. I believed and trusted in her because she always did the right thing for her employees and patients. She inspired me to work hard, and I believe that she saw the bigger picture: if each employee does well and helps each other, then our patients, our community, and our profession shine. She helped me recognize that both my personal and professional goals aligned with the mission and vision of the organization. This helped me achieve my goals and continue to strive for performance improvement.
I admired her leadership, passion, and integrity. She always complimented, thanked, and praised employees who contributed to the success of a project, or had an idea on how best to improve patient care. This recognition made staff members work harder to achieve their goals.
Leadership for today
Inspirational leadership is needed in today's healthcare environment, especially in nursing. This leadership style positively affects nurse leaders' ability to elicit change and incite staff to higher levels of achievement.4 Having an inspirational leader motivated me to go back to school, obtain a higher degree, and mentor others to do the same.
Inspirational leaders know the importance of mentoring, which is critical to the future success of nursing in terms of succession planning and attracting and retaining new nurse leaders.3 These leaders ensure that high-quality and safe care is provided, so our healthcare institutions can thrive in the future.
Inspirational leaders are essential to creating change and truly making an institution a great place to work. They engage employees to do the best job they can, as well as encourage them to stay current and knowledgeable with nursing practice. This is the type of leadership that's needed for employee growth and job satisfaction; organizational growth and sustainability; and optimal, safe, and competent patient care.
Tips for aspiring mentors
Healthcare facilities often offer unit nurses the opportunity to mentor newly hired nurses, yet sometimes fail to provide opportunities for nurse leaders to mentor those new to leadership roles. As a result, nurse leaders must reach out to new nurse managers who are seeking guidance. Here are some helpful tips for effectively mentoring a new nurse leader.
First, you must dedicate time and energy to ensure that the experience is successful for both yourself and your mentee. Envision the qualities you would want in a mentor. Having empathy for your mentee's experience as a new nurse leader can help when providing the patience and guidance needed throughout the mentor-mentee experience. Setting realistic, attainable, and ongoing goals with frequent assessment of progress and mentee input is essential.
Role model being enthusiastic, positive, respectful, and caring toward not only your mentee, but also interdisciplinary team members and patients/families. This will help motivate and inspire your mentee to do the same. Freely share your knowledge and expertise, and be available and approachable for questions. Provide encouragement and constructive feedback to inspire your mentee to be the best nurse leader that he or she can be.
Being a mentor can leave a lasting impression and can be played forward for years to come.
2. Zenger J, Folkman J. What inspiring leaders do. https://hbr.org/2013/06/what-inspiring-leaders-do
3. Hodgson AK, Scanlan JM. A concept analysis of mentoring in nursing leadership. Open J Nurs
4. Schwartz DB, Spencer T, Wilson B, Wood K. Transformational leadership: implications for nursing leaders in facilities seeking magnet designation. AORN J